Getting the Hang? Passive Income Further Deconstructed

Nothing keeps my head in the game as effectively as rereading the first few posts on this blog. As you climb the mountain, sometimes it’s useful to glance behind you.

One week ago I was posting about shooting my drum DVD imminently (I began last Friday), and lamenting the demise of my Shoe Muse but entertaining the idea of doing something else – designing an iPhone app, perhaps. The further I get into this, and the more I listen to things like the Smart Passive Income podcast, the more I understand the fundamentals at work.

-Most of us have something we’re exceptional at, or a problem we’ve solved, that others would value.

-Many of us are already making money with these skills – for instance teaching music students, creating websites, or personal training – but in ways that aren’t scalable. (There’s only one of you, so you can’t teach two $50-an-hour lessons at once.)

-There are at least two easy ways to “scale up” the montization of our skill:

1) Sell our information directly (simplest but probably lowest reach). This is basically the approach with my drum DVD. Instead of teaching hundreds of hours of lessons, I’m putting my best practices in one place where thousands of people can access them with no effort on my part once the DVD is complete.

2) Get a little “meta” on our skill, and figure out something we have to offer others with our same skill set. An example of this would be finding something I as a drummer or musician can do that other drummers or musicians would value, for instance creating a website to review teaching materials (uggh), or a personal trainer with a programming background creating a software to help other trainers manage their clients’ diets.

…and two ways to make money from it-
1) Sell it directly – wall the content off and charge a price for a download, DVD, eBook, whatever.
2) Give it away for free and build a community by establishing ourselves as authority figures in our niche, then charge the corporations to recommend products useful to our readers/viewers.
These can be used in combination, too, and a combination will most likely be what I use for the drum DVD. Some people post tons of high value free content, then use that to promote their paid product (“freemium”, even though that’s borrowed from software), and some even enjoy success by giving away all their content for free, but charging for a video series or eBook that puts things into an organized, easy to use format.
The deeper I get into this the more I understand I have pretty good instincts too. Maybe it’s the years on social media, the years in music. When you’ve seen every pitch you’re naturally suspicious, and if you’re savvy and ethical you won’t expect people to put up with anything you wouldn’t put up with, and you want to deliver to them the same value you would expect. I’m kind of playing it by ear with The 8020 Drummer. As it stands I’m bifurcating free and paid content, but if as it nears completion I feel like I wouldn’t pay for it myself, I’ll give it away and find another way to monetize.
Two other things, briefly, to update you about-
Drum DVD – so how’d it go?
Taping was difficult, as I expected, but fun. Over the course of two days I found a rhythm. Instead of using the standard model of sitting behind the drums and alternating talking and playing, I’m using a more “behind the music” documentary style. My practice space actually looks really cool with Marshall amps in the background. Have to reshoot a few things due to lighting. Learning curve.
Above all it needs to be clear, and the deeper into it I get the more clear the thesis becomes: you can accelerate your progress in a complex skill by focusing on the steep part of the diminishing-returns curve for multiple skills. Uncoached, many musicians will waste countless hours practicing things in the flat part of the curve (things they’ve already got pretty well under their hands/chops, and for which further progress requires a huge investment of time), letting other skills where they could make quick progress go unattended. To get from mediocre to top 5%, simply aim for 95% proficiency at a whole portfolio of skills, and you’ll improve quickly. In the video I tell you what those skills probably are, from years of teaching, playing, teaching myself, and passive observation, and show you the tools for the most important meta-skill in the arts: self diagnosis.
Or, put more simply, “practice your weaknesses!”
Have a growing laundry list of free content to record, including many of the foundational skills for a lot of things I discuss in the DVD (aimed at intermediates looking to advance or proficient high schoolers headed for college auditions), and just for fun I used Google’s keyword search tool to identify a few things a lot of people want to learn, most of which are going woefully unaddressed by the vast majority of instructional material.
Flow-charted the whole launch below, and I think this hews pretty closely to the best-practices recommended by my blogger heroes.
Other Ideas, Foundational Skills
Really quickly, I learned last week that you can make money from a skill long before somebody will hire you to do it. I must admit it stung to receive a message from a recruiter that she didn’t believe my content creation skills or grasp of online marketing was adequate for a managerial level PR job in higher ed. Nope. I needed a corporation to pay me a salary for using those skills so I could get them on a resume under a title at a real company (guess they didn’t dig 8020 Creative?) Hah. I’ve spoken before about how my day job teeters on the edge of tolerable. (If they’d just listen to me:P) So I’m in a constant search for something to transition to while I make the more long-term transition to online commerce.
One such skill, which I’ll either teach myself or invest a few paltry hundred dollars to learn, is web design. Before I can launch any products, free or paid, I need to have baller websites. Luckily and the oodles of cheap templates (many themselves created by Ferrisite passive income “NR”), make it easy, once I devote the few hours necessary to learn it. Good luck finding an institution to pay me for low level coding and baller site creation. Their loss.
Finally, the third way to make passive income I didn’t mention above is the latest “alternate joze” I’m looking into: niche sites that aren’t authority sites but which survive by using smarts to get to the first page of google, dropping just enough content to provide value to readers, then sending them off to the affiliate races. This is a marketing approach that doesn’t require a particular skill (drums, programming, Crossfit, what-have-you), save the meta-skill of Search Engine Optimization.
Patt Flynn talks extensively about his niche site, a security guard training resource, on his blog under a dedicated url, and he has niche-selection down to an evil genius science (basically it’s a function of specific clicks-per-month/competition), but I’ve been around the block a few times with keyword search and I prefer to be a little more right-brain, and this morning I woke up with two I suspected (and Adwords Keyword Tool confirmed) were winners. On a lark, I bought the urls:

No idea yet how, or even if, I’ll make those work, but now I’ve opened the door. See you soon!


Eve of first DVD Taping Session, and Ten-Thousand Foot View of Passive Income

I’ll tell you right now what’s probably going to happen. I’m going to complete the drum DVD, kicking and screaming the whole way, at every stage clawing to any other muse I can find (iPhone Apps? Niche sites for people avoiding sugar?), and it’s going to be far-and-away the most successful.

Let’s take a page from Pi (no, not The Life Of), and “restate my assumptions.” More accurately, “revise my assumptions to reflect my growing understanding.”

-Ways to make passive income – posting articles on “content farms” (low leverage and no fun), affiliate marketing, niche sites, blogging, eBooks and other informational products, physical products (whoa Nelly), and software, including iPhone and android Aps.

-Actually pretty much everything above (with the exception of physical products, and even sometimes websites for selling those) relates back to affiliate marketing, and here’s how: niche sites, blogging, eBooks, and even free iPhone apps all make money by trading eyeballs for dollars. More exactly, trading eyeballs you’ve carefully screened for interest in a certain thing for money from those advertising that thing. Which brings us to a truism:

-Your currency is your ability to attract people around a single item of interest to a single point in space. The network is not the means to the end, the network is the end.

This has startling implications for music. For starters, music no longer has to be “zero sum.” In a traditional music culture, we’d trade dollars back and forth. I buy your CD, you buy mine, I go to your gig, you go to mine, and if somebody builds more influence, he’s getting more dollars from more people and spending fewer on fewer. It’s the textbook scarcity context, where I succeed only at your expense, and it’s rife with “pyramid”-style relationships, where people trade dollars for the possibility of a “boost” up the ladder, which more often than not doesn’t materialize.

But say you and I both have successful web channels, and we appear on each other’s shows. Say we both attract a substantial enough following to make money from affiliate marketing. Here’s the crux – if I “click through” on your site then you “click through” on mine, we don’t trade the same dollar back and forth. We both earn original money. (This assumes, or course, that we’re actually deriving value from the product from the affiliate and not just buying crap we don’t need in order to support each other.) As such we can have an overlapping fan base, and your success doesn’t hinder mine – indeed by creating a network of like-minded people and cross-promoting each other’s music/sites/products, we can help each other succeed.

I wonder how quick musicians will be to adopt this. Pop musicians are miles ahead of jazz musicians. One of the many things inspiring me is seeing a group last night that was the “total package”: amazing product that sells itself (the show has to be seen to be believed), and whip-smart online marketing dynamo, complete with search-engine-optimized social network pages linked to youtube, and music’s equivalent of “guest posts”: covers of oft-searched pop songs redone cleverly and catchilly. (Remember Pomplamoose?) (Oh, and in the spirit of abundance, find the group I’m talking about here.)

The thing is, it’s still difficult for me to view music as a moneymaker. And in truth, it shouldn’t be one. Music should be the thing you make money so you can do, not the thing you try to make money from. And, strangely, many of the most successful ideas were just that – things people were passionate about and never viewed as vehicles to riches. (Want a little example? How about Steve Jobs.)

Still, I’m living this experiment/writing this blog to test the viability of passive income, so I need something whose primary purpose is money. Enter: iPhone apps. More on that next post.

By the way, anyone who’s read Four Hour Work Week owes it to him/herself to spend a week with Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast/blog before delving in. SOOOOO much has changed since FHWW was written. Adwords are too expensive. Content farms were “demoted” in google’s algorithm. All of which means people who were in it to get rich quickly should probably look elsewhere. But the model of leveraging (ugh buzzword) something you’re good at/passionate about to create something of value (truly of value, not just exploiting an information asymmetry), and attracting loyal fans whose lives you enrich, and benefiting financially either directly from them (by selling informational products like my drum DVD – yes I’m backlinking the hell out of it – or a paid iPhone app) or indirectly (via affiliate marketing) is a viable one for people passionate about and dedicated to the meta-skill of organic marketing.

Anyway, my experiences with my first taping session, as well as all things app, next post.

(photo depicts the electronica duo I posted about)


If You Build it Will They Come? Meditations on SEO

I promised a post on search engine optimization, and as I dial in on my drum DVD and web show, it’s at the front of my mind.I’m going to go ahead and recommend that new readers read the first couple of posts to get the gist of this blog, rather than devoting 50% of each new post to bringing everybody up to speed.I will, however, supply some new details. I have a web show. It’s called Shed Science with Nate Smith ( on youtube, and look for soon), and I just learned a lesson from a minor wasted opportunity. People will usually only watch a new episode once, so the per-viewer half life of each episode is short. Once posted, you want a click on that episode to redirect users to the correct YouTube channel, where they see an ad directing them to the correct website to see more, where they’re prompted to subscribe, and to click a button to “like” your Facebook page, which in-turn directs new users to the Facebook page, which prompts them to “like” and share content, and to subscribe to the YouTube channel, etc. And I posted an episode from my personal Facebook page, which directed viewers to my personal YouTube page, where they encountered a dead end.And it’s here that most arts-related content goes to die. There’s a gravitation pull that few artists escape, and that’s the 250-some fans threshold. I have only anecdotal evidence, but I have a couple of theories as to why.

-Most artists don’t think beyond their existing network. My network – New York musicians – is probably the most jaded, overstimulated group in the universe. We’re constantly besieging each other with our gig invitations, gig videos, album release parties, etc., but instead of thinking beyond its borders most musicians continue to “share” things only with a small group of Facebook friends.

-Related, many of us don’t think very carefully about our content. Do I really want to watch another grainy, low-fi iPhone video of a thirteen minute tune? No, and I’m a jazz musician. If I can’t sit through it, it’s doubtful anyone else will. It’s true, the music should speak for itself, but at a live gig our attention can drift, and we’re still in the room. If you lose somebody’s attention in a video they’re already looking for the next thing to click on.

So what does this mean with respect to the web show? Gladwell wrote about it in 2005 – you need to reach early adopters, mavens and connectors, and your content needs to be “sticky”. (Not sticky in the chain-store, watered down sense, but addictively entertaining for your narrow niche – your “1000 True Fans”.)

My plan is to put a lot of effort into two things – getting a couple of early guests who fit the Venn diagram of interesting/inspiring people and people with a broader platform than mine (and people for whom appearing on the show is beneficial, so it’s a “win win”), and having an architecture like I described above in place by the time it’s time to drop the next few episodes.

All of this is just incidental to creating a great show, by the way – the web show is purely a labor of love. It’s my DVD for which I’ll need to apply all the lessons I’m learning about network-building and SEO. For that I plan to use a loophole in google’s keyword retail model – I’ve written previously about the ballooning cost of Adwords campaigns, where you can expect to pay at least a dollar-a-click for most quality search terms. But there’s one place where keywords are completely free: YouTube. By following the Free Content model of other sites like, I hope to generate traffic and direct users to my site who will eventually pay for retail content.

A drum DVD in a market flooded with high-production-value content? Am I crazy? Hopefully not, for two reasons –
1) Within the broad category of “drum instructional material” I was able to find a pretty potent niche – Audition Preparation. True, there’s a drum DVD for every day of the week, but the vast majority is either celebrity-centered videos (Thomas Lang, Carmine Apice, etc), or instruction for “vanity skills” like faster double bass drum chops (yes, that gets thousands of searches a week). Nowhere was I able to find a product showing a user how to use his or her time in the practice room to improve quickly! So – Kaplan for the drums it is. The 80/20 drummer tested well on Adwords, to boot.
2) I can produce it for basically zero investment, save domain names, since I already bought cameras and editing software for my web show and taught myself to use them. True, I’m looking at long days editing, but I don’t need to pay anyone else to do it for me. Once up, the DVD can sell as little or as much as the market dictates, and it’s impossible for me to lose money on it. (Not that I won’t use analytics to optimize the heck out of it…)

I’m going to hold off on speculating and devote future posts to real-life lessons learned, but wanted to give you an insight to my SEO plans.