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Getting Lucky

Weaving down from New York to Austin, Tex., in a minivan will cost the Prettiots about $1,000 in gas, plus $3,000 to rent the van with insurance. Hiring someone to manage the tour will be $1,500. Cheap hotels along the way: $500. And once the band members arrive at the music marathon on Tuesday, they will stay at an Airbnb accommodation, which will run them another $2,500 for four nights — the going rate, as the city is overrun by thousands of visitors. – Joe Coscarelli

Paying a Price to Play at South by Southwest is the account of a pair of bands enduring the gauntlet that is the yearly music/tech/film festival. With the ultimate goal of being embraced and discovered by festivalgoers, tastemakers and label heads, it’s unsurprising that thousands of bands line up in Austin to sacrifice to the festival gods an extortionary amount of money for the opportunity. But what choice do they have?

To rebut the idea of inevitable band abuse by corporate overlords, Ed Rodriguez of DeerhoofTalks Teaching the NYT how bands do SXSW, DIY style. He counters by providing the example of his own experience: each band member takes on additional administrative roles (booking flights, scheduling gigs, mastering their own music) so they don’t have to split the small paychecks more than necessary. The result is their own SXSW story: 21 shows over 20 days in an extended tour throughout Texas. By comparison, the Prettiots had four shows in three days in an Austin-only effort to take part in what Rodriguez calls the ‘lottery of success.’ In some senses, we are all Prettiots, looking for ways to increase the number of ping pong balls in our own lotteries.

For a band, it stands to reason that the more shows you play, the more likely you are to spread your music. But what about for those of us who have to spread a more ephemeral thing, like our “brand” or a “company”? Marc Andreesen, famed entrepreneur and co-founder of Netscape, writes in Age and the Entrepreneur about “taking more swings at the bat” because “maximizing quantity… [has a] much higher payoff than trying to improve one’s batting average.” For a musician, that means getting out there and playing. For a baker, that means baking more pies. Doing more is more important than perfecting less.

At a certain point, though, we must push ourselves beyond pure motion. Andreesen’s Luck and the Entrepreneur (which is essentially a SparkNotes version of James Austin’s more worthwhile book Chase, Chance, Creativity) implores us forward with Austin’s anecdote:

“Years ago, when I was rushing around in the laboratory [conducting medical research], someone admonished me by asking, “Why all the busyness? One must distinguish between motion and progress”. Yes, at some point this distinction must be made. But it cannot always be made first. And it is not always made consciously. True, waste motion should be avoided. But, if the researcher did not move until he was certain of progress he would accomplish very little…”

So motion is necessary, and motion can lead us to good things. That motion is what Austin calls Chance II, which “[favors] those with a persistent curiosity.” We can push our luck even further by fostering “sound knowledge and special abilities in observing, remembering, recalling, and quickly forming significant new associations” – call it Chance III – and, finally, by being those “with distinctive, if not eccentric hobbies, personal lifestyles, and motor behaviors”, we can expose ourselves to Chance IV, which results in the (some would say) luckiest returns.

This type of thinking about the various kinds of Chance is lofty, so it’s helpful to have actionable steps to take. Stef Lewandowski puts forward the following methods in Accelerating Serendipity: “Just turn up. Put yourself in the right place. Avoid zemblanity (translation: “try not to lock yourself away for periods that are too long”). Keep your eyes open for opportunity. Don’t be too precious about your ideas. Get good at introductions.”

The last one is difficult if you are quiet, shy, or prone to locking yourself in your room for long periods of time. Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone prescribes ways to break free of this way of thinking to become a super connector, and the powerful results that happen from generous networking. By thinking of ways to help other people, you invite help from others. By staying in contact, you strengthen relationships, allowing yourself to leverage them at times when it’s important. For me, though, staying in contact should not just be pinging someone on a semi-regular basis to find out what costumes their kids wore to the most recent Holiday Party. It should be providing something of value, from relevant articles to innovative ideas.

To come up with ideas, we must, as James Altucher repeats in Choose Yourself, become idea machines. His own prescription: ten ideas a day. On anything. Repeat for six months. Don’t worry about bad ideas, because most of them will be, and for a long time, too. But once you get to the point that you are coming up with strong, thoughtful ideas, then share them with other people. Build connections. Add value to your relationships. Be generous to others. What you know determines who you know.

By having access to these ideas, you allow yourself to escape the inevitable, the dull, the routine. Skirt the well-worn, expensive path by forging ahead on your own. Don’t lock yourself away. Remember, observe, recall (and connect thoughts). Embrace persistent curiosity, eccentric hobbies, and get good at introductions. Take a great deal more at-bats, and open yourself to opportunity.


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