I’ve been thinking about what to say in this post for hours. I even went to the gym for a 60 minute trip on the elliptical, where I organized pithy statements and reflective musings into a treatise of sorts that I thought could suffice. However, as I sit here in front of my keyboard, the script I had configured has commingled into what will just be a series of truths that I hope you will all understand.
Soul Pop U was an accident, similar to how parents (or drunken lovers) often describe a child. A beautiful, all-consuming accident that very quickly brought joy, encouragement, empowerment, and love to the world. Because of this miraculous accident, I learned to work, to lead, and to love for the sake of others and not just myself. I learned what it means to fight, to sublimate ego, to think with creative energy, and to work to manifest creative energy into tangible reality. In a very short amount of time, Soul Pop U achieved so many milestones that we must take a moment to cherish:
1) We assembled the best legal team in the world at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP to structure (and now re-structure) the organization in a way that achieves maximum impact for children, schools, and communities.
2) We won a four month petition with the New York State Department of Education to call the organization “Soul Pop U” - you’d be amazed at how hard it can be to convince an entity that our programs exist for enrichment, not grades.
3) Over 2,000 cold calls turned into enrichment programs for over 5,000 students across NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Montgomery, AL (where we were covered in our first television special and featured in five magazines!)
4) Donors came together to raise over $15,000 to support our programming.
5) We were named Semi-Finalist in Echoing Green’s 2011 Fellowship for our contributions to social entrepreneurship, and I was nominated for Small Businessperson of the Year in NYC for my contributions to education in the area.
6) We met AWESOME students like Love, Kevin, Ebony, Shanice, Kayla, and Raj - who are going to be our communities’ and our country’s leaders some day. They gave me humility, and they gave me hope for this country and the young people who occupy it.
7) Hamptons Magazine named me a 2010 “Most Eligible Bachelor” (go figure).
8) I learned the power innate to creative energy, and the devastation that comes when you lose sight of it. This, perhaps, is the moment I cherish most from the last two and a half years.
However, these two and a half years are over. Today, I submitted a deposit securing my place in the JD-MBA Class of 2016 at Northwestern University. Over the next three years, I will earn a Juris Doctor from Northwestern Law School and a Master of Business Administration from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I am thrilled, excited, scared, nervous, grateful, and humbled. Most importantly, though, I am focused.
Deciding to matriculate at Northwestern has renewed my focus and given voice to the evolution of my dreams, my passions, and the contributions I want to make to this world. In my essays, I had to write about how I envision my short- and long-term career paths unfolding. Initially, I struggled, because I felt a sense of duty to the entrepreneurial journey on which I had started with Soul Pop U, but as I gave myself permission to write authentically, I found renewed creative energy for my original path. The path that gave accidental birth to Soul Pop U.
I am excited to re-commit myself to understanding the intersection of music, technology, and entrepreneurship and to leveraging relationships with pop artists and stakeholders in the record business to answer the question “what content delivery systems help artists help themselves?” It is my destiny to MAKE music. It is my destiny to DISTRIBUTE music. It is my destiny to lead by example. It is my destiny to be an advocate for artists to help them MAKE and DISTRIBUTE their respective destinies.
There are important business and legal implications to answering this question that I will get to examine while at Northwestern, but more importantly, I get the space to step back in to myself, back in to my destiny. Wrapped into my dreams of making and distributing music were love affairs with Soul Pop U - and a gorgeous lost soul of a person who seemed the perfect match for who I was then, a frightened, equally lost shell of a man unable to see his beauty. Between the three of them, my heart was broken. My dreams were broken.
I sincerely hope that none of you experience the brokenness I describe. IT WAS DEBILITATING. But from the broken pieces of what was…comes the construction of what will be. Today, I finally am learning to give myself permission to construct what will be. Broken pieces become whole again. They evolve, transform, and find their way back together to create something hopefully more beautiful than what it was originally.
And it’s with this in mind that I will put my pieces back together in Chicago. Through academia, entrepreneurship and creativity (it’s in my DNA), and self-reflection, I know that what’s to come will be far more beautiful than what has been.
Objectively, I still believe in children. I believe in disrupting the classroom, and place strong faith in technology and pop music to contribute to it. I continue to work with my team at Cleary to restructure Soul Pop U to handle some intellectual property and digital gaming ideas I have that will make a palpable difference in the way that kids engage technology to educate themselves. All donations that go to Soul Pop U are still tax deductible, and are being managed by a third-party fiscal agent, New York Foundation for the Arts. There the donations will sit in cash (or cash equivalent assets) and accrue interest while I solve the MAKE and DISTRIBUTE problems for artists.
To the kids, the schools, and the communities we’ve touched and who have touched us, I promise you. Soul Pop U will be back.
In the mean time, Change is Coming. Be on the Lookout.
I’ve been thinking about this blog post since August 21st, when I had easily the coolest conversation of my career to date. I was speaking with an executive who asked the same question that’s been in the back of my mind since, easily, 2011, but has been stuck there. The question was, “how do you use technology to make a star?” Our conversation went on for almost an hour, because, obviously, no one REALLY knows the answer. Yes, we have seen MySpace (Adele) and YouTube (JBiebs) sensations suggest the beginnings of a new paradigm for talent discovery and star-making, but is a singular online platform enough for the emerging artist to create a viable brand on her own?
In both examples above, record labels came in after the fact as MARKETING/DISTRIBUTION partners - in many ways, I would compare them to the Silicon Valley venture capitalists who rely on a certain critical mass or perfect storm to guide their investment decisions in particular artists. From there, frankly, it’s luck of the draw combined with marketing/promotions economies of scale that may not always be financially prudent for the artist who doesn’t achieve “mega-star” status.
So what does an artist do who can’t find her way to the fat end of the income distribution graph we assign to the music business? Is there a way that she can leverage her own business process - beyond cursory social media marketing - to create a brand that ignites her passions and compensates her? What if the model could earn her $50,000 per year, or $500,000? Then, we’d be answering the question that’s been on my mind since that August 21st call: “what content delivery systems empower artists to help themselves?”
When doing a retrospective on this blog, I must laugh because, in all honesty, I started it to answer some variation of the question above. But I’ve been STUCK. The feeling is reminiscent of one of Christina Aguilera’s song lyrics (yes because I LOVE POP MUSIC): “For too long I’ve been struggling. I couldn’t go on / But now I’ve found I’m feeling strong and moving on.”
The timing is fortuitous because Hurricane Sandy is about to barrel into New York City where I live. Although the City has come to a halt while on high alert, her arrival has reminded me that “Momentum is So Much More Exciting.”
To that end, look for more consistent blog posts from me looking at research, news articles, and interviews answering the question - “what content delivery systems best help artists help themselves?”
To answer it most effectively, I will need your help!! Whether it is on Facebook, via email, UStream, or any other Internet platform, I will need your honest interactions with me and feedback as we learn about each other and help answer this question for all of the artists out there who may be wondering the same thing.
I’m exhausted, and ended up eating 4 turkey burger patties after Bikram today! The carb/sweets cravings are gone, but roared their ugly head in an effort to get the best of me. More later.
Day 1: Baked Chicken (16 oz!) with Brussel Sprouts.
I’ve already cried once today (in yoga class) from sugar withdrawal/sheer terror. I trust that I’ll be OK.
This post has been on my mind for the past week, so I’m glad to finally take the time to write it. And to get back to writing, period. I experienced probably one of the greatest honors of my life over the Memorial Day weekend, when I got asked to sing at one of my best friend’s weddings in Arizona. I sang one of my all-time favorites, “Rock With You,” to my friend, her husband, and 128 of their closest friends and family members. I also sang a cover of Beyonce’s “Dangerously in Love,” and I have to tell you - the joy that came from singing to my friend as she had her first dance as a new wife was truly second to none.
The fun part about singing at the wedding was that it happened during the dinner’s Intermezzo. “Intermezzo” is what it sounds like: the intermission between the first and second courses when you ‘reset’ your palette in anticipation of the entree to come. In many ways, this is how I see my life right now - like and Intermezzo.
During this time “in between courses” in my own life, I’ve had to do a lot of hard thinking that’s led me, more confidently than before, to the belief that we really are here for a purpose. There is a reason we are all equipped with different gifts, passions, ideas, wisdom, and adventures to share. I am learning to make peace with one of mine - singing. I love to sing. I love music. However, one of my greatest loves has been associated with some of my most painful moments, both as a child and now as an adult working like so many of us to find our way back home, to the identities we know belong to us. I’ll be honest here. This is the first Demon I am working to conquer.
I have a second Demon, almost as large as the first. I was a creative child, but NOT athletic by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I was FAT. Kids at school and unfortunately a parent at home made a good point to remind of this almost daily, to the point where even as a child, my weight was a constant obsession, a true Demon that I had resigned myself to be forever unable to conquer.
It finally hit me today that I’m bored. I’m bored with silence. I’m bored with feeling stuck. I’m bored with giving so much power to my Demons. So I’ve decided to tackle them one at a time, in reverse order. I’m starting with the Second: Body. Over the next 30 days I’m writing about my progress conquering my Body and letting go of the fat kid who took comfort in a cookie but found shame intermixed. I’m ready to let go of the fat kid who looks at someone in shape and says “that will never be you”. I’m just ready to finally step into the person that fat kid wants to be.
So - here’s what I’m going to do. For the next 30 days I’m going to keep a very strict log on my phone of what I’m eating and the exercise I undertake. I don’t want to overwhelm you with information or data, but I will write a post each night for the next 30 days and attach a picture of my dinner. This is also for me in that it will keep me honest, and help me on the road back to home. Today is Day 1.
Today is a really cool day for me, for a number of reasons. First, and most importantly, today represents the first step of many that I’m successfully taking “for my demons”. So, what happened exactly, and why for your demons? Here goes:
Today, for my demons, I experienced B*ING. The most obvious substitute for my crafty * is the letter L, for BLING. Yes, I did it. I bought myself a life present! A “big boy” gift of BLING. The Cartier Pasha tank that now sits on my wrist is something that I’ve wanted since I first became In TransIT way back in October 2009. I put a picture of this watch on my bedroom wall because I love it, and knew that I had to have it someday. To me, it’s a life present that very much symbolizes a goal achieved, an old era gone by, and a new one beginning and taking beautiful shape.
The second part of B*ING is the letter E, for BEING. My BLING very much represents an important and hard lesson I’ve had to learn over the last two years in BEING. Back in 2010, someone said to me that I needed to learn how to just “BE”. He said that BLING like my Cartier watch on the wall kept me from BEING, which in effect rendered me a bad and unworthy person in his eyes. Sadly, I’ve really struggled with that statement and concept for the last two years. I internalized what was seen by one set of eyes and assumed that I had no value in all sets of eyes. Even as my self-esteem took a prolonged nosedive, I continued to try and understand - when we are BEING, what are we actually doing?
Sadly, the answer to this question did not fully resonate with me until March 29th, when my paternal grandmother died. Her death, while logically not shocking, really struck me because I believed she was invincible. My grandma Missy was essentially my primary caretaker until I was three years old, as my mother and father were finishing their medical residencies. She in effect was like my mother in my earliest days, and her death broke the bottom of my heart.
As I grieved and prepared the eulogy I delivered at her funeral last week, I also began to celebrate. I ceased grieving a seemingly invincible woman pulled into death by age and circumstance (she was 82). Instead, I celebrated a woman who raised 14 children BY HERSELF, who was the foundation of East Baltimore’s religious community though she never had a license or a car, who received a Master’s degree in Theology at 80 YEARS OLD. I celebrated a woman who had mastered the art of B*ING.
For those who knew my grandmother - and I know there are many, since there were 300 people at her funeral (!!!) - she loved fashion. While never monetarily rich, she was always rich in spirit, love, honesty, and STYLE. She adorned herself with what B(L)ING she could - and looked GOOD! More valuable and lasting, though, was her commitment to B(E)ING. My grandmother Missy was always and undeniably HERSELF. Her spirit will last forever for its unconditional commitment to BEING. She was a woman who was always true to herself and to others - even when they didn’t want her to be!
So, what does a Cartier watch have to do with my grandmother? Actually, a LOT. In her lifetime, her commitment to BEING brought her family up from the aftermath of slavery and abject poverty to a place where her 26 year old grandson can buy Cartier. That is TRULY a miracle, a blessing, and such a testament to what her unwavering spirit has done for me - and my entire family.
They also matter and are related because her death was my first real and heavy reminder that we are only temporary visitors on this Earth. It finally hit me, by reflecting on my grandmother’s life, what BEING actually means, and what we do when we are BEING.
While we are here, we have no choice but to master just that - BEING. If a part of BEING is having BLING, then DO IT. Work hard. Pursue dreams. Explore. Travel. Live. Love. But most important of them all - BE. Be true to your gifts that are unique to you. Share them. Cultivate them. Be true to your spirit that is occupying your body for this earthly journey, because, if you’re not - then what really is the purpose of B*ING?
I’m sure I’m incredibly behind the ball, but last weekend I finally had the chance to stream “Never Say Never” on Netflix. The documentary that goes inside the life and success of Justin Bieber, and how Scooter Braun leveraged the young popster’s YouTube clout to build a global megabrand. The story is obviously impressive, but what struck me most was an exchange Justin had with his vocal coach. Paraphrased, it went something like this:
Justin: “Sometimes I just wish I had a normal life!”
Coach: “This IS your new normal. Get used to it.”
What a powerful statement! I love it, because normal is ENTIRELY relative. It is up to us to decide what our “normal” will be - and to then live it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve embarked on a New Normal of my own. My new normal includes waking up at the crack of dawn to exercise, balancing an exciting but very new workload in addition to new music I’m currently recording, and learning to better respect my mind, my body, and the resources given to me.
I’ll tell you now. It’s exhausting. And, like the exhaustion Justin expressed, I feel it, and want to express it! When I look at the work I still have to do to continue to grow and develop to who I want to be, who I know and decided I am, I can often grow frustrated, impatient - and terribly sad.
I’ve been learning how to sit with my sadness, though. To feel it, to understand it, and then to remind it of my commitment to my New Normal. My New Normal works through sadness. It acts in accordance with feels right to its Inner Voice. My New Normal has discipline, courage, and if need be - is comfortable standing alone and fighting for the light I know has been bestowed on me to share.
So this weekend as you enjoy the Super Bowl, take a minute to think about what a New Normal may look like to you, and then commit to fight for it.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about the pivotal moment in time in which we live. We live in the crux of what many call a New Economy, a changing of the guard from established traditions to a nascent frontier of possibility, challenge, and opportunity. Whether it be the controversy surrounding SOPA and PIPA, the heated anticipation with which we go into an election year, or digesting the massive amount of information hitting the waves on personal branding and the future of employment trends, the world is fundamentally changing.
In many ways, I feel similar changes in my own life. Right now, everything is very new. I am beginning new opportunities in my work life, enjoying new personal beginnings, and am learning to celebrate my new voice which has emerged from much of the old confusion and introspection that had become my norm for the last 18 months. And I have to tell you - as excited and THANKFUL I am for all of the new, wonderful beginnings in my life, I am also nervous, maybe even a bit scared.
Questions flood my mind like “Am I ready for these new beginnings? Can I handle the challenges that come with opportunity?” These questions seem to be the common thread that tie the New to the Old, and often hold it down. It is my firm belief, though, that until we learn to cut those ties, we will continue to be tested. I recently experienced such a test and finally confirmed that the cord has been cut. There is no returning to the Old. It is time to step into the New.
With such commitment comes a new strength, a new sense of peace and resolve, that I have rarely felt before. It is one that is born from within instead of being validated externally. It is one that can confidently learn from the Old, accept it, and use those lessons to better adapt to and benefit from the New. So, I say - the time is now. In with the New!
At the dawn of every new year, we talk new resolutions, goals, and commitments - many of which are (appropriately) counter to our previous habits. My only concern with them is that they create an inherent tension in our minds that can be frustrating to reconcile. I say this because a resolution to, for example, “Go to the Gym 5 Times per Week” is telling your “Old Self” that something is wrong with it. No Self wants to hear that! Hence the struggle. “Old Self” is set in its ways, and will put up quite the fuss to maintain its status quo - ESPECIALLY in light of the judgment pointed its way.
What if, instead, we concentrated on the new year as a time of Rebirth? A new beginning for our ENTIRE selves, with “Old Self” active in the dialogue. Taking the time to examine one’s “Old Self,” to see what at the core makes its soul pop - and working to honor that in the coming year - seems to me a beautiful new beginning, a Rebirth of one’s Inner Voice that gives way to a “New Self”.
I have recently experienced such a Rebirth, and I can say that I am SO THANKFUL. As you all have read and understood on my blog, the last 18 months have been dark, tumultuous, and wrought with confusion and hesitancy over who I am at my core. I was in a meeting about three months ago - the time of my last post - that finally woke me up. My spirit had been roused, and I knew then that I was not living in a way that was conducive to my physical world. But more importantly, it was violating my spiritual world.
So, I did what I’ve been struggling to do for 18 months. I FOUGHT. And I don’t mean with other people; I mean with myself and my Universe in “status quo” mode. I worked night and day. I took personal and reputation risks, and I WORKED to achieve my own Rebirth. If my job wasn’t working for me? I found a new one. If a personal relationship wasn’t working for what I know my Heart and my Love need, I found a new one. I think it is so important to remember: if something in your life isn’t working, FIND A NEW ONE.
This applies most of all to our Inner Voice, that little dialogue that stays with us for at least all of this physical life. Listen to what it needs. Listen to how it wants to live and prepare for eternity. Then, fashion a new life that gets you - and it - one step closer. Only then can we fully experience a Rebirth that gets us back on track to what we were sent to this great Earth to do, see - and be.
It’s been a pretty busy - even tumultuous - week in my life, and after drinking a grande black coffee from Starbucks at 10pm, I cannot sleep (no surprise, here). I’m also late to the game learning about the truly heartbreaking tragedy of Jamey Rodemeyer. To me, it conjures up so much heartache, so much anger, I found it hard to breathe. Why do we tolerate such hate? Why do we allow fear to fester and ripen into such darkness? It is my true belief that fear is at the root of so much evil, so much destruction and waste. All I can ask myself as I reflect on the suffering of this poor child is - WHY?
Tonight, though, I was reminded of WHY it is so important to be brave and stand up for your passion, what you believe in, and for the uplifting of others. Jamey was such a strong boy. In the face of fear, insecurity, and hatred - he persisted. It breaks my heart, though, that this evil broke his. It broke his spirit. And now he is gone.
I am 26 years old and struggle with finding my bravery almost every hour of every day. I could only begin to imagine the fight inside of this 14 year old boy. The only thing that comes to my mind is SHUT OUT THE NOISE. SHUT OUT THE NOISE. It is crucial that we all learn to create our OWN.
My critics (of which there are many) say that this is selfish. That it’s greedy. That it’s self-absorbed and egocentric. Even narcissistic. After 17 months of believing such ignorance I adamantly disagree. The creation of one’s own noise is self-love at its healthiest, and there is NOTHING narcissistic, self-absorbed, or selfish about that. It is the acceptance of our intrinsic light, and only through sharing it can we create more light. Shame on the people who use their fear as a platform to tear others down. SHAME ON THEM.
To everyone else: Be Brave. Shut Out the Noise, and Create Your Own.