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Caren Explains It All

Hi, I'm Caren Kelleher and this is a blog about music, media, business and interesting ideas.

Updated: 2017-02-26T19:06:11.676-05:00


Caren Explains 50 Years of Beatles in America [reblog]


ICYMI, some thoughts on why The Beatles' moment on Ed Sullivan can't be replicated again, due to the ways we consume media, develop artists and write songs....

I didn’t see The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan ShowBy the time I was born, John was dead and Ringo was on a children’s show. In fact, my introduction to The Beatles music came from watching a rerun of The Muppet Show, when Kermit performed a cover of “Octopus’ Garden.”
Yet as a certified Beatlemaniac (albeit a few decades delayed), I’ve regarded the question “Where were you when The Beatles played Ed Sullivan?” to be in the same category of curiosities as “Where were you when JKF was shot?” or “… when we landed on the moon?”
The Beatles arrival in America may not have had the same moral implications as those other historical events, but it certainly had cultural ones. 73 million people tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show on that February night in 1964. It was the first big moment for television, with an estimated 34% of America watching the performance. While young music fans (and their unimpressed parents) had previously met acts like Elvis Presley through the medium, never before had so many people tuned in to share one moment.
Following the Fab Four’s performance, critics denounced the band as “catastrophic” and just a “fad” (“guitars are on the way out!” proclaimed one reviewer) but sales were off the charts. Even if buyers were initially interested in the band’s haircuts, they ultimately bought records.
From where I sit today, on the business side of the music industry, I recognize that what happened that night on Ed Sullivan can’t happen again, but not just because record sales are down…. READ MORE
PS - I've started moving most of my writing over to Medium (which, interestingly enough, was founded by the guy who built Blogger... imagine if he'd stayed at Blogger / Google... maybe this would be Medium instead... alas, I digress...).

Recap: Exploring songwriting with The National and The Recording Academy


Last night the Bay Area chapter of The Recording Academy hosted a special evening with Matt and Aaron from The National, as part of an ongoing 'exploring songwriting' series. At the onset, Matt mentioned that The National has been a band for 14 years, but that it took eight before the band garnered any real attention. Overnight success is rare in this industry, even when you're a master of your craft. (Shout out to my former colleagues at Paste for what I think was The National's first major cover story and 'Album of the Year' nod?). The duo played four songs, including "Pink Rabbits" and "I Need My Girl" from the new album Trouble Will Find Me, and sat down for a Q&A about what it's like to be songwriting in a band with five "smart and stubborn" people.Here are some of the quotes I caught through the evening. "It took a few years before we knew what we were doing -- the alchemy of the band.... We never wrote big hooks... we weren't influenced by that desire.... But eventually we did write infectious songs."Aaron: "You realize you have to have a sense of conviction because if you release a record and you tour, you're going to live with those song for two years, so you better have conviction, and you better love it.... The first two records [The National and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers] were really about figuring it out."Matt: "I will pop [an instrumental] track on Garage Band and mumble along.... It's hard to tell which pieces of music will create the chemistry I can connect to.... For each record, we have 50-60 pieces of music, and only 20 I connect with."Matt: "You get five people who are smart and stubborn... pulling it in different directions.... We were afraid the band would break up. We were desperate to make it good...Boxer, we got thru it... though Aaron's lung collapsed..."Aaron: "We call our songs ugly ducklings... It takes a lot of hard work, and faith that you will get [to a final product]."Matt: "I'm never worried I'm going to write a sad song. I always do... But it is never depressing; it is cathartic... Once lyrics start to get fleshed out we think, 'Maybe the strings are too much now'.... We have to be careful of the melodrama."Thanks to The Recording Academy and the band for the insight.If you're a musician or otherwise involved in music creation, definitely consider membership in The Recording Academy. I've been to a number of events like this and they just keep getting better. Great people in attendance, too.[...]

A letter to Matt Nathanson, regarding the money I surely owe him


Dear Matt Nathanson,A friend RT'd about your upcoming show at Amoeba, and I thought, "Sweet! A free Matt Nathanson gig?! In my neighborhood?! Heck yeah!"Then it occurred to me that every interaction I've had with your music so far has been "free"... and that made me pretty sad and also a bit embarrassed. You see, back in 2004 I went to see The Darkness perform in Atlanta. On the way out of the venue, a slightly aggressive college kid (presumably on a street team) gave me a swag-bag from Tower Records (RIP), which contained your single, "Suspended." Though I'd seen your name on some adverts for The Cotton Club (RIP) I had never heard your music until I got home and put that CD in my computer.Holycow! I wore that single OUT! I listened to it so many times that I could name-that-tune as soon as I heard that first snare note.A year later, I went work at a music magazine and discovered even more of your music, like At the Point, in the CD library and, well, borrowed it for long periods of time. When this thing called Pandora happened shortly thereafter, your music was all over my stations. I wasn't surprised when a Pandora exec told me that "Curve of the Earth" was surfaced more than any other song at the time. I probably contributed to a lot of those Thumbs-Up votes myself.So back to the Amoeba thing, because this isn't meant to be a gushing fan letter...I realized when I read your tweet that I've never paid you a single cent for all the music I've consumed. Not a penny.You know how much money I've given The Darkness? $60.00, give-or-take... and I'm not even a fan!I still work in the industry and know that there's a prevailing argument that, by listening to your music and recommending it to my friends, fans like me have had some kind of pass-along economic impact. Yet in my case, I don't think that's anecdotally true. In fact, I asked my four closest friends, "How did you find out about Matt Nathanson?" hoping they would say, "Because of you! Because you teach me everything I need to know about music!" Instead, two cited Pandora, one thought it was because of the radio, and the fourth said she covered one of your early concerts for a college paper and was probably the one who introduced ME to your music...Maybe the radio royalties have added up, and maybe every fan who feels like she discovered your music has made an impact, but the fact remains that I've never consciously paid you for your work and I know I've consumed my fair share of it. So, I'd like to remedy that -- not by buying merch or sending money through a long chain of middlemen who will take a cut... no, I'd like to write you a personal check. Even for that original copy of "Suspended" I'd owe you, like, $3.40 if we considered interest and inflation. That's almost enough to get a good cup of pour over coffee in the Mission. But, heck, I've listened to a lot more than that single: let's one-up The Darkness with $61.00.Should we arrange a hand-off at Amoeba? Do you prefer PayPal? Square? Venmo? I'm serious about this. It'll be like supporting a retroactive Kickstarter campaign. And maybe that's where this industry is heading.Sincerely,Caren[...]

Independent musicians and Google Play Music All Access


If you ask me, I have one of the coolest jobs at Google: to create success stories for independent musicians on Google Play.From my time as a music critic and band manager, I can tell you that no two musicians are the same, whether it's in the art they create or the ways they want to share that art with the world. Some artists will put their music anywhere to gain exposure with new audiences, while others are more particular about how their music is sold.There's no right or wrong answer in this brave new digital world, which is why I'm proud of what we've built within the Google Play artist hub. Through the artist hub, independent musicians make the decisions about how their music is distributed on Google Play. Since there are no limits to how many albums you can distribute, and no per-album or annual fees, we've seen artists doing all kinds of interesting things with their music, like posting recordings from live shows. Still others, like The Civil Wars, Lindsey Stirling and Kopecky Family Band, have climbed our charts with studio recordings, after distributing through the artist hub. Many musicians don't realize that iTunes isn't available on Android devices, but Google Play is. With over 900 million activated Android devices out in the world, that's a lot of potential fans for any musician to reach.With the roll out of the All Access service on Google Play Music, we're giving musicians another option for distributing their music via the artist hub. Just as you can choose how and where your music is sold on Google Play, you choose whether to make your music available on All Access.When you do, any All Access subscriber can easily add your music to their collection. Imagine your tracks popping up in a personalized radio station, or in a playlist handcrafted by the Google Play editorial team. I've been blown away by how spot on the recommendations are. Opening a Third Eye Blind radio station delivered songs more fitting than what I put on my own mix tape in 1998.Independent artists can opt-in entire albums or just specific tracks for All Access.1. Log-in to the artist hub at Click on an album you want to add to All Access3. Select "Edit Album Details"4. Review the "All Access Setting"5. Click "Publish changes"The best part is that music fans in the US, Europe and Australia will still be able to buy your tracks, too (if you've opted-in to international distribution). Now you have two ways to earn money and find more fans.  We know the money stuff can get confusing when it comes to streaming, so we've provided transparency and clarity in our Support Center.At the end of the day, musicians want to create music, and not TPS reports, for a reason. It's our goal to help artists spend less time on the business of their music so they can get back to making it.Cheers to the next chapter of Google Play.[...]

Find your Simon Cowell


Everyone likes to paint Simon Cowell as the mean guy. After all, the thing he says most often is, "I don't mean to be rude, but...."

Even if he's a little mean, Simon knows what he's talking about and he tells it like it is. That honesty can break fragile hearts, but you know what? It's better to hear that kind of feedback and learn from it than it is to keep unrealistic expectations and wonder why your dream hasn't come true.

When I see a musician (or any artist, really) who is blindsided by criticism or else very defensive, I guess that he or she hasn't had a Simon in their life. It's a rare but valuable person who will tell you what you need to hear.

It can be hard to find someone who will be honest with you about your talents. People who are inclined to love you and celebrate you, like your family and friends, are bias. These people make a great support system, but probably not the best critics.

I love what Alex Day wrote about this a few months ago, too.
"... my audience like me so I don’t trust them to be objective about my music. 'This is great! It’s new music from you!'.... If the people that listen to my music have good ideas about writing music, then they should be writing music. But if they don’t, they shouldn’t. It’s like any job – if there is someone who doesn’t have experience of working in that industry, you don’t ask them for advice. I like cars, but I don’t know how to build a good car. It’s the same thing. Just pick out two or three people you really trust and listen to them. If a band plays a new song at a gig and asks if the crowd like it, of course they are going to cheer. It’s not as if they are going to say it’s shit!"
If you believe in your dream, be confident enough to solicit and accept feedback. Too often people turn to "vanity stats" (such as the number of Facebook 'Likes' or Twitter followers they have) for positive reinforcement. But those things don't really tell you why people do or don't like your music.

Find someone who's opinion you trust and ask them to maintain honesty with you, especially before you find your success. As one musician reminded me, "The more popular you get, the more people will tell you what you want to hear so that they can get close to you."

Caren Explains 400 Concerts


Tonight marks my 400th concert (yup, I keep track of them all... I'm even nerdier than you thought).By my even nerdier calculations, that means I've spent approximately 1.39% of my life at gigs. (You're welcome, Live Nation). Malcolm Gladwell believes that if you invest 10,000 hours in something, you're an expert at that thing... so does that make me an expert in concerts? I'm putting it on my resume.Much of my gig-going was inspired by my parents, who are also music fans and would drive me to shows when I was in junior high and high school. At numerous HFStivals, Dad would sit in the upper levels of RFK Stadium and work on budgets and other grown-up things, while my friends and I roamed around from stage to stage. So long as we checked in with him every few hours, we could see as many bands as we wanted to. I always appreciated that my parents trusted me and encouraged my love of music. I'd say it's paid off.Here are some highlights from all the live music I've seen so far...The first concert I ever went to (a great icebreaker question, if you ever need one)The Monkees @ The Patriot Center at George Mason, Fairfax, VA, 1996In 1996, my parents took me and my sister to see The Monkees reunion tour in Virginia. I went home that night and wrote my first concert review in my lock-and-key diary, which I published here for laughs.The furthest I've ever traveled to see a concertRobbie Williams @ FILA Forum, Milan, Italy, 2003My dear friend Maddie and I were both HUGE Robbie Williams fans, which is notable because we were American and no one in America seems to know who Robbie Williams is. Unfortunately for us, that meant the chances of seeing him perform in America were slim. So during our semesters abroad in Europe, we bought travel packages to see Robbie play in Milan. I remember showing up in the city without much of an idea of where the heck we were going, yet somehow finding our way to a bus that took us to the FILA Forum.  It was a special memory (and boy, can Robbie put on a show).The first concert I ever plannedPaste Rock'n'Reel Festival @ East Decatur Station, Decatur, GA, 2005This was an ambitious undertaking and my naiveté was consequently a good thing. While the crowds didn't turn out in droves like we'd hoped, there were some amazing musical moments for the music fans that did show up, including beautiful sets by Low, Brandi Carlile, Anathallo, Cary Brothers, Buddy Miller and Mindy Smith.The most surprising concertZac Brown @ The Rock Boat, the Atlantic Ocean, 2004I was a college senior and had, through a totally random series of events, ended up on The Rock Boat (a concert cruise) over my fall semester break with my friend Kristen. I was interning at Paste during that time and was excited to be around dozens of musicians and thousands of fans. Throughout the week, I tried to see as much music as I could, which brought me to a small stage at a sushi stand, about three levels below deck. There were a few fans dancing around to a catchy song about fried chicken. After the set, I talked to the singer, who also lived in Georgia, and mentioned that I worked for a magazine. He gave me a homemade CD, with his name and cellphone number scribbled on the front. I unfortunately never listened to it. Sorry about that, Zac, but I guess you've done okay for yourself.The "I can't believe I saw this at a dive bar" concertJanelle Monae @ Lenny's Bar, Atlanta, GA, 2008In 2008, Tim and Leila Regan-Porter had been singing the praises of a local artist named Janelle Monae. We all went to see her at the dark and grungy Lenny's Bar in Atlanta (R.I.P.), where you were more likely to see a metal band than a future superstar. Janelle and her band played as if they were performing for an arena, yet still managed to play to the dive bar crowd (this is a hard balancing act and if you've seen it done badly, you'll know what I'm talking about). It was clear her star[...]

New albums to add to your playlist: The Last Bison, Satellite, Hey Marseilles


It's a pretty stacked day for new releases today. Here are three I've been looking forward to that you should give a spin.The Last Bison - Inheritance Wikipedia tells me that, in 1909, chamber music was first explained as "music of friends." It's an apt description for what The Last Bison has made. Fronted by Ben Hardesty, the band includes Ben's father, sister and close friends, all from colonial Virginia. The music maintains the rustic nature of the environment in which it was created, which, in an age of over-production and computer-powered soundscapes, is refreshing for both the soul and the ears. Standout track: "Switzerland"For fans of: Mumford and Sons, The DecemberistsFun fact: Six of the band's seven members were homeschooled (like some of the coolest people I know). Get it on Google PlaySatellite - Calling the Birds I first heard about Satellite from To Right Love on Her Arms and just loved Steven McMorran's voice. It haunted you long after a song ended. On this new album, what could have easily become generic and glossy radio rock instead feels like a series of fragile and honest confessions about love, loss and our mortality.Standout track: "Brooklyn"For fans of: Switchfoot, Mat KearneyFun fact: The band recently moved from Los Angeles to Nashville. Get it on Google PlayHey Marseilles - Lines We TraceA few months ago I got to see Hey Marseilles open for Sea Wolf and wondered how the heck all its members fit on the stage with their instruments and still played so well. It was graceful, not chaotic, as is this poignant album. Standout track: "Heart Beats"For fans of: DeVotchka, Blind PilotFun fact: Most of the band has lived in the Seattle house where the album was written.Get it on Google Play[...]

Caren Explains Her Favorite Songs of 2012


One of my favorite exercises each year is to put together a playlist of my favorite songs. It amazes me just how intertwined music and memories are, and how just putting on an old album can recall past experiences I'd all but forgotten about. BUT! We live in the present, and these are the songs I loved in 2012. If you need some new music, might I recommend these tunes? (Less the obvious choices... you really got my attention, Gotye).CK's Favorite Songs of 2012 (put this on shuffle, I didn't sequence it)Buy the songs on Google PlayGive them a test run with this Rdio playlist1. "Pioneers" - The Lighthouse and the Whaler2. "Brothers" - Tanlines3. "Youth" - Daughter4. "Fireshrine" - Purity Ring5. "The John Wayne" - Little Green Cars6. "It's Time (Penguin Prison remix)" - Imagine Dragons7. "Breezeblocks" - Alt-J8. "Dannyboy" - Youngblood Hawke9. "Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It" - Stars10. "Thinkin Bout You" - Frank Ocean11. "Funtimes in Babylon" - Father John Misty12. "Henrietta" - Yeasayer13. "King and Lionheart" - Of Monsters and Men14. "I Will Wait" - Mumford & Sons15. "Switzerland" - The Last Bison16. "Endors Toi" - Tame Impala17. "You Never Need Nobody" - The Lone Bellow18. "Five Seconds" - Twin Shadow19. "She Lit a Fire" - Lord Huron20. "Anna Sun" - Walk the Moon21. "Venice" - The Lighthouse and the Whaler22. "Don't You Give Up On Me" - Milo Greene23. "Default" - Django Django24. "Thrift Shop (feat Wanz)" - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis25. "Angry Eyes" - Kopecky Family Band26. "Myth" - Beach House27. "Sex" - The 197528. "Hold On" - Alabama Shakes29. "St. Croix" - Family of the Year30. "I'm Getting Ready" - Michael Kiwanuka31. "Before Your Father Hears Us" - The Family Crest32. "Put the Gun Down" - ZZ Ward33. "Genesis" - Grimes34. "Concrete Wall (RAC Remix)" - Zee Avi35. "Heartbreaker" - The Walkmen36. "I'm Not Talking" - A.C. NewmanKeep calm and rock on. Happy new year, folks.Caren[...]

So You Want to Work in the Music Industry? Here's My Advice...


A few times a week, I take calls with college students and young professionals who want to work in the music industry.

My first piece of advice is simple: Don't.

To explain, I call upon the idea of "blue ocean strategy," which supposes that you can make high profits by creating new demand in uncontested markets. Put more simply, if you go fishing where no one else is, you'll find a clear, not bloody, water and walk away with more fish.

In the context of your job search, this means looking for opportunities where other people haven't thought to go yet.

If you want to start working in the music business, the obvious options are obvious to everyone else, too: record labels, music sites, booking agencies, etc. Because of the high demand for these positions (coupled with your lack of experience), you won't have much leverage in the negotiation and might even have to accept an offer (like an internship with possibility of full-time employment) without pay. Later, if you find yourself unhappy or suffering under a bad manager, you'll likely be reminded how many people wanted your job. (This is, of course, unfair to companies that have great entry level opportunities, but I've heard some pretty terrible stories over the years).

Instead, you can get some fantastic experience (and a better salary) by looking in non-obvious places.

I saw how valuable this could be when I was in college and interning for the ad agency BBDO. I was assigned to the account management team for Cingular Wireless and got to see all aspects of the agency and how it worked with its brand clients.

I also expressed interest in working on Cingular's music initiatives. Though it was a small part of my job, I got to help the senior account managers and a  major record label put together a plan for bringing Cingular's ringtone platform to market. Since BBDO didn't have an in-house music team, all I had to do was raise my hand and say, "Can I help with this?"

When I started applying to other music-related jobs, that was a great talking point and something I could highlight on my resume. Yet I also walked away with functional experience that was relevant to any advertising or marketing job. It gave me more options rather than tying my skills to a very niche industry, and that is especially important in a tough economy.

If you want to get started in the music business, take a look around for opportunities other people don't see... maybe that's working for an agency, like BBDO, or for a consumer packaged goods company, like Coca-Cola, which has so many ties to music and entertainment. Non-profits and universities (which book talent for fundraisers and events) are other good places to look, so long as you have an idea of where you can help.

However, if you find yourself stuck in a cubicle with no way to work music into your daily tasks, make an opportunity for yourself in your spare time. There are thousands of bands looking for help with marketing, management, PR and the like, but they often can't afford the help. Read Donald Passman's book and find a project you can work on pro-bono work in exchange for the experience. It will show potential employers -- whether in the traditional music industry or not -- that you are serious about your dream, even if you're currently an accountant.

Caren Explains the Cannes Lions 2012


If you keep up with me on Twitter, you were probably overwhelmed by my tweets from Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last month in the south of France. Now in its 59th year, the festival brings together the most creative minds in business -- mostly from advertising and marketing but increasingly from other fields.Thanks to the ever-generous Google, I was invited to the Cannes Creative Academy for Young Marketers for "Young Lions" under the age of 30. During the week, I heard from some of the industry's top creative minds in a small classroom setting, as well as the festival speakers in larger sessions.Some staggering stats from Cannes:11,000 delegates attended Cannes Lions 2012, with 90+ countries representedThere were 34,304 entries for Cannes Lions awards, while 47% of all ad campaigns that ran last year were deemed failures by the marketResearch shows best brands in the world outperform S&P by 400%, confirming that the brand is an incredibly important intangible assetMore #canneslions tweets were sent in a day this year than in all of the 2011 festivalIf you're an ad geek like me and Don Draper, it was a week full of "pinch me!" moments (as well as business buzzwords like "earned impressions" and "creating value"). Here are some of the best things I heard and saw over the week...The WorkEach day, the festival displayed the short list of finalists for Cannes Lions awards in each category. Other work, including videos from the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase, was shown in sessions. Here is a pinboard of the best stuff I saw.Favorite Case StudiesOf the thousands of celebrated campaigns, here are three that stood out for their impact and effectiveness.Nike Fuelband by Nike + R/GA (Titanium Grand Prix winner)Help, I Want to Save a Life by Droga5 (Grand Prix for Good winner)Hilltop Reimagined for Coca-Cola by Google and Grow Interactive (Mobile Grand Prix winner)Soundbytes: Quotes from the Experts“Search the right place, not the bright place.” - Morihoro Harano, founder and chief of creative at PARTY Tokyo"The revolution is coming from all sides... and I hope what we witness is the rise of the independents." - Dan Wieden, co-founder and global executive creative director of Wieden+Kennedy, on the changing agency landscape“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a heckuva lot less.” - Joe Tripodi, EVP and Global Marketing Officer of The Coca-Cola Company"Leadership is the responsibility you have to articulate your ideas in the face of 'no.'" - Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice President of Global Advertising Strategy at The Coca-Cola Company“Fax machines don’t have APIs” - Michael Scissons, CEO of Syncapse, on bringing companies into the present of techology“We’re always inclined to chase the new, new thing... but it’s about pace.” - Michael Wall, President of Lowe & Partners, on bringing your customers with you when you're selling tech"When you're a young client, you make the mistake of thinking that creatives want a big white page, but really they want more concise things." - Laurie Coots, CMO of TBWA\Worldwide"I didn't write 'Just Do It'... I just did it." - JR, street artist and TED Prize winner, on art versus advertising"If you ask creatives what their job is, all of them will say the same thing: to do good work." - Tor Myhren, President of Grey New York"Our desire to measure ourselves is unique and universal." - Stefan Olander, Vice President of Digital Sport at Nike, on the insight that lent to Nike Fuelband"The problem with advertising is you buy the drink, but don't have the friends... you buy the 4x4, but don't have the freedom... you buy the promise, but end up buying the wrong product." - philosopher Alain de Botton"Great advertising deeply imp[...]

Life, Liberty, Happiness and the Absence of the Pursuit


Last year on the Fourth of July, I saw a woman wearing a bedazzled shirt that spelled out three words: Life, Liberty, HappinessBorrowed from the Declaration of Independence, the words were (of course) colored in red, white and blue.

The shirt was cute -- patriotic, playful -- but upon reading those three words I considered two that were noticeably missing: "pursuit of." Though the omission was obviously for the art of the shirt, I read it to be a sign of the times. 

The founding fathers knew then, as we should now, that happiness is not a God-given right. If anything, it is a lucky find.

Yet ours is a time of instantaneous gratification. If you don't believe me, just watch someone's face light up when they receive a new "Like" or RT or +1. We can also order our entertainment on-demand, pick-up dates from websites and have gourmet meals delivered in 30 minutes or less. In short, we've grown accustomed to ordering and controlling our happiness. 

The pursuit is also lost in the stories we tell ourselves. You can achieve anything you dream of! You're special! You can have it all! But none of that comes without a lot of work, a bit of misery and some sacrifices -- things that make us decidedly unhappy and uncomfortable.  

I see the consequences of this playing out in my generation, as my peers and I stumble around expecting happiness. Scores of college students who majored in cool subjects that don't immediately lend to career paths are now drowning in debt and moving home. Others, like me and 45% of my business school classmates, changed jobs within the first year of graduation, citing a need to be more fulfilled.

Of course we should have our eye on happiness. Our technological and sociological achievements should be celebrated. Yet I worry we are trying to rush ahead to the end goal at the expense of the pursuit and, with it, are losing the value of patience.

Some of my darkest times are responsible for my greatest happiness. For how much greater is happiness when it has alluded you? How much more do you grow when you are tested? Being unhappy has made me fight for it and pushed me to take more risks.  Our Founding Fathers assured us that pursuit. 

Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance, and we are free to chase it. We are free to find it. 

#Whenindc (at least in spirit)


Got a bit homesick reading all the posts on (The Hot 99.5 one is hilarious). Here's one of my own, which happens to me more now that I live in California...

When people tell me they're "from DC"...

... but really they mean MoCo or NoVa.

See more on Twitter under the hashtag #whenindc

Reflections from my desk at Paste magazine, 8 years ago


Last week one of the folks at Paste magazine posted some photos from its old office in Decatur, Georgia.The photos were taken in September 2005, a few months after I'd started my job there. In one of the shots, you can see me hunched over my desk -- a happy workaholic -- surrounded by what a fire marshall would deem a disaster waiting to happen. With the news Facebook's bajillion-dollar acquisition of Instagram, it was especially nice to see this digital time capsule opened up last week. Photos and their memories are incredibly powerful. This particular album reminded me of my own days at a start-up (albeit of a different sort) and what really goes into that work: a lot of love, frustration and faith.I shared the following reflection on Facebook but wanted to expand on it and give it a bit more breathing room... I vividly remember the first time I visited the Paste office for my internship interview, at the recommendation of my wonderful sorority advisor and friend, Christy. Situated next to the train tracks and above a frame store, the office looked like a frat house occupied by music geeks. Overdressed in my pencil skirt and heels, I plopped down on a hand-me-down couch to talk to Paste's publisher, Nick Purdy, who gave me the first case interview of my career. I was sure I bombed it, but on the way out he suggested a start date of August. Surrounded by posters, CDs and shipments of magazines, it was all a bit overwhelming and I wondered what the heck I was getting myself into.A year later, they couldn't drag me out of that place and they had no choice but to hire me on full-time. My coworker, Jeremy, donated his old college desk so that I had a place to sit. We built it in what little space was left in the place, while other folks were sitting two to a table (while our interns got resourceful and turned huge rolls of bubble wrap into makeshift workstations). The Brick Store Pub acted as our conference room and we shared team lunches on the roof. We took turns taking out the trash and answering customer service inquiries. If the train was rolling by, we put our phone calls on hold.In the years that followed, Paste grew-up and got a bigger office and I learned how hard it is to build something from scratch. I also learned how rewarding it is when you succeed. Many of my coworkers had second jobs -- valeting cars, writing press releases, coding for other companies -- but you wouldn't have known it from how hard everyone worked when they arrived at the office each day. Every contract, every subscription and every award was a tiny victory that each of us had a hand in.More importantly, I learned that it's true what they say: to love what you do, you must do what you love (and it doesn't hurt to surround yourself with good, smart and creative people). See all of the old pictures from the Paste magazine offices -- September 2005[...]

My first concert review - August 1996, The Monkees



I was saddened to learn that Davy Jones of The Monkees died yesterday. The Monkees reunion tour in 1996 brought me to my very first concert. I've now been to over 300 gigs, so hearing about Jones' passing made me think of all the good things that have happened since then.

To commemorate his life, I'd like to share the very first concert review I ever wrote, taken exactly as it was scribed in my junior high diary.

(I'll warn you now: most middle school journalists were pret-ty intimidated by my writing...)

Sunday 8/25/96

Last night we went to the Monkees concert at the Patriot Center (George Mason University). It started at 8pm. We saw the Oldies 100 WBIG van. It was parked outside the "arena."

When we got inside we saw the tee-shirt stand. Meghan and I each got tee-shirts. We were going to get a program but they cost $18.00 each! It only had pictures, too. When we got our tee shirts, Meg & I changed into them. We bought ice cream and went to our seats. Section 101 Row C, Seats 11, 12, 13 and 14.

[DJs] Jim London, Kathy Whiteside, Dave Adler, etc, from WBIG came on stage and opened. 5 min. break then all of a sudden. You heard, "Here we come, walking down the street..." and the three touring Monkees came out. Davey Jones, Mickey ____ and Peter Tork. Opened with I think, "Take the last train to Clarksville."

Very funny. Mickey pulled kids up on stage. Their names were Charolette, Emily and Georgia. It was Georgia's birthday. Sang happy birthday.

Overall, each had two solos. Heard songs I knew and didn't. "I'm not your stepping stone," "Another pleasant Valley Sunday," "Daydream believer."

Davey came in the audience. Said people thought he and Marcia Brady got married. Asked if we remembered the theme. Sang it, and he came in audience. Then song "Girl." Came two rows away from us. Closed with "Day...Believer." Left.

We had alot of fun. Also, they did Jimi Hendirx impression. - Bum, Bum, Bum, Bum, Bum^Bum, Bum, Bum, Bump, Bum Bum Bum We Want the Monkees We Want Davey, We Want Mickey, We Want Peter, We Want Mike.

Funny. Loved It.

Thanks for the music and the memories, Davy, even the very silly ones.

Caren Explains... How Ticketmaster Plans to Seat You Next to Friends



Yesterday Ticketmaster announced a thoughtful new feature that allows you to see where your friends are sitting at an event... even if you didn't make plans to go to said event with said friends. Ticketmaster relies on Facebook Connect to do this and will reveal that layer of information on top of the venue map before you complete a ticket purchase.

Concerts are an inherently social experience, so this is a no-brainer. I've been to nearly 300 concerts and can't tell you how many times I have run around trying to find friends who I wanted to meet up with at the show. This new feature could end dizzying rounds of text messages suggesting "Meet me at the merch table!"

While the aim is discovery (see which of your friends are at the event) it could also lessen the stress of social coordination. Here is an example of how I normally take charge of group ticket buying when I'm the one in-the-know:

1. Email a group of friends who may be interested in the event.
2. Wait on responses; maybe chase it with one last email before tickets go on sale.
3. Gauge sensitivity to ticket prices (should we sit on the lawn or in actual seats?)
4. Buy tickets for everyone so that we can all sit together.
5. Collect payment from friends, either by PayPal or at the show.
6. Distribute tickets, either by:
- Emailing the ticket PDF (should that option be available)
- Waiting at the gate for friends to come pick up tickets
- Going to the event all together (more coordination required)

In the future, Ticketmaster could lessen that burden. I would love to see some functionality that allows you to hold a block of seats and send your selected Facebook friends a message so they can grab them up if they act immediately. As it is, Ticketmaster will hold a block of seats for you for X-minutes before releasing them. If I could grab six seats, hold them, assign each seat to a friend, message my friends with a link so they could input their credit card information, I'd be a hero amongst friends.

Just as with any check-in or location-based service, there will be some strange social consequences of this "sick" new feature. One positive consequence is that it might help you discover new things about your friends and your shared interests ("Oh, wow, I didn't know Jane likes Wrestlemania, too!").

Yet it may also reveal things your friends didn't intend for you to know ("Jane likes Wrestlemania?"). It could also be disheartening if you realize your friends didn't invite you to an event you were interested in ("Jane KNOWS I like Wrestlemania!").

This is a tradeoff we make as we allow our personal data to be used in more places, and perhaps a reminder that we should be more careful to maintain privacy and anonymity. As our Facebook friendships become looser and the social graph grows, there are inevitable tradeoffs between privacy and problem solving.

I consider how angry my father would be if he bought the family tickets to a Redskins game and found out a brown-noser from the office bought the seats next to ours, proudly proclaiming "I saw you were sitting here on Ticketmaster." Then again, that is why my father isn't on Facebook.


Caren Explains... Four Mistakes that Sabotage a Cold Call


Whether you're looking for a deal, a job or a date, it can be very daunting to make your pitch, especially if you have to make a cold call to do so. I receive 5-10 cold calls each day at Songkick and I find that the problem with most of them is not in what the person is asking for, but rather that the pitches are carelessly constructed. Sure, you may have an amazing resume, product or proposal, but if you don't pay attention to the little things you may be sabotaging yourself before you ask for anything. Here are four things to avoid when making a cold call inquiry. 1) Don't be lazy. If you really want to do business with a company, take the time to figure out which person you should be speaking to. It immediately undermines your pitch if you write "To Whom It May Concern, I'd like to speak to your head of marketing about a great opportunity..." There are plenty of places to find this kind of personnel information, including: Company website (check for links on the company, often titled "About" or "Team") LinkedIn (do a company search and see what employees are listed) CrunchBase (which lists founders, executives and investors of tech companies) News articles on the company (which often quote executives)Press releases (which also quote executives or else provide other contact information) 2) Look for a warm introduction. Your pitch will go much further if you are able to get an introduction to the team or person you want to speak to. The person on the receiving end of the inquiry will feel an obligation to reply -- not because of you, but because someone they know has put themselves behind the introduction. If you know someone who used to work at the company or else someone who has done business with them, that's a great place to start. Otherwise, take a peak on LinkedIn and see what common connections you have to the company. 3) Get the company name right. I can't tell you the number of times I've received an email from someone who wants to work with Songkick where the company name is misspelled (Song Kick) or improperly capitalized (SongKick). This immediately shows sloppiness or indicates that you have not engaged with the product. Worse yet is when both mistakes are made within the same email. I know I've personally made this mistake when I'm in a rush or typing from my phone, and let me tell you: it is incredibly embarrassing if you care about the person you are contacting. Before you send a pitch, take an extra minute to make sure you've dotted the 'i's and crossed all the 't's. 4) Personalize the inquiry. Too often I receive emails that say "We think we can do big things for your company." What kinds of things? How do I know you didn't just copy-and-paste that? Show that you have real intent by referencing a recent accomplishment of the company or else citing ways you can really help them. Did the company just win an award? Congratulate them. Did the CEO tell stockholders what he or she wants to accomplish this year? Mention what you can do to help.Don't let this part get buried in your email or run on too long. Instead, keep it short and position it in the opening sentences of your pitch to immediately standout from the crowd.[...]

Get Smart at SXSW: Five tips for surviving the week


Last year I gave you three pieces of advice on SXSX Music before embarking on my first Platinum SXSW experience (Music, Film and Interactive conferences all). With that behind me and nine days of SXSW ahead of me, I give you five more pieces of advice on how to survive SXSW 2011.

1) Bring a phone charger or spare battery with you wherever you go. All of those tweets, check-ins, emails and texts are going to drain your phone so fast you will be running around looking for an electrical outlet before lunchtime. The Convention Center usually has cellphone charging lockers you can use on the upper levels, but also consider bringing a spare battery pack (sorry, iPhone users, that doesn't apply to you) or else carry an extra AC adapter in your bag.

2) Be diligent about your health. Not to sound too much like a mom, but take care of yourself, okay? Go for a run on the awesome Town Lake trails and take some vitamins. With all the beer-swiggin' and hand-shakin' that happens during the week, you are gonna pick up as many unwanted germs as unwanted tchotchkes. So instead of reaching for that mimosa, put some Emergen-C in your water and toast to your health.

3) Get to peddling. Austin is really not a very big town, so this year my friend Monica and I (who are staying a mile outside of downtown) are getting bikes. Cheap, quick and no need to fight for cabs. Plus there are added health benefits (see above) Uber, the private car service I love in SF, is also going to be down in Austin with pedicabs, so put them to work for charity.

4) Create your own parties on the fly. About 20% of your time at SXSW is spent waiting in line for something -- to catch a band, to get some food, to use the bathroom... but when the only reason you're queued up is to get in to a party hosted by a tech company, why not just grab some folks and spill in to the bar next door? Let's be honest, guys: will you really get to meet the founder if you don't know them already? Probably not. It seemed ridiculous last year that people were waiting to get in to a bar for a party when the bar next door was completely empty. Try using Hurricane Party's app to make your own on-the-fly party, or else to tell friends where you're relocating to. And if the Foursquare or Gowalla check-in matters that much to you, guess what? You'll be in close enough proximity to fool the app in to thinking you're there.

5) Create a mobile group to keep in touch. Before you get to Austin, decide which few people you really want to keep up with -- perhaps coworkers so you don't miss networking opportunities, or friends so you can use all the +1s you asked for in your RSVPs. Try Kik (great app which just rolled out group messaging) or GroupMe (uses SMS messages) and hit lots of people at once when issuing only one message.

Wanna meet up in Austin? Find me on Twitter at

2010 Indie Music Trends: Cats, Beaches, a Venn Diagram and a Playlist


Every year there seems to be one or two prevailing trends in the world of indie music naming and branding. It was my (assumed) job at Paste to document this all for an audience of hipsters who cared to argue about such things at the end of the year. Back then I discovered that...2007 was the Year of the Deer/Dear bands (Deerhunter, Deer Tick, Loney Dear)2008 brought the Year of the Bear bands (Care Bears on Fire, Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear)As we look back on 2010, I'm ready to declare that it was "The Year of the Cat and the Beach (a Little Bit of Each)." Too bad Dr Seuss isn't around to write about this one for me.Take a look at all the album art that featured furry felines, including releases by Best Coast, The Klaxons, MGMT and Two Door Cinema Club. But there were just as many surf-and-sand-loving bands to be had, so let's venn diagram this and figure out who the real winner was in 2010.Four magic bands in the center of the venn diagram?! Amazing!That's because MGMT gave us...Cat-shaped-wave on the album artThe Klaxons offered...Cat album artAn album called "Surfing the Void"Best Coast provided... Cat (sitting on an ocean) album artA nearly beachy nameBut the real winner is Wavves, with its...Cat (wearing a gold chain!) album artSurf-and-sand band name (with superfluous 'v'!)A song called "King of the Beach"Well done, Wavves. The trinity of 2010 indie music branding.Here's a playlist of all the bands. They are talented folks. Buy their music, please (... but maybe not the whole MGMT album... that was disappointing). [...]

Caren Explains the Droid 2


I count myself among the 5% of women ages 25-39 who would choose an Android device over other smart phones. In fact, as of today I am on my second Android device. (You don't scare me, evil Android eye!)

I've only had it for a few hours, but I can see already that Droid 2 addresses some of the concerns I had with the first Motorola DROID after I bought last December.

Most notably it offers worldwide CDMA/GSM support which means I can now use it in London. Gone are the days of toggling between a GSM-supported Verizon phone (so I could receive calls to my US number), my DROID (so I could retrieve contacts) and a British-issued mobile phone (so I could make calls in London). Rejoice, rejoice!

Also, this Droid 2 has an immediate route to file management. I found it impossible to locate files once I had downloaded them to the DROID. Now you can easily see both local files and shared files from the application menu.

One cool innovation on Droid 2 is the ability to switch between multiple profiles. The default suggestions for profiles are "Home," "Work" and "Weekend." As someone who has a bad habit of reading work-related emails and messages while off-the-clock, I can really make good use of this feature. Being able to hide work-related accounts, applications and widgets in one swish of the finger is a welcomed feature.

It is also interesting to see which apps were pre-installed on the Droid 2. Blockbuster and "Need for Speed" apps are new to the menu, though they earlier appeared as "junkware" on the Motorola X, while non-standard/non-Google applications like Skype and Amazon mp3 return on this iteration.

There are also a lot more pre-populated desktop screens on Droid 2. While some -- like a desktop screen for quick-dial contacts -- are helpful, others (namely the news widgets) remind me of Windows Vista features I disliked.

So far so good, but there is one significant UX improvement I hope this Droid 2 will offer: a less-sensitive interface and/or smarter screen- locks during phone calls so I don't hang-up on as many people accidentally....because that's just rude.

Texts, Teens and a Tale of Two Twitters: a Second-Go at Group Messaging


In March 2008 the Paste team made its annual pilgrimage to SXSW. I was producing three days of concerts that year and was dreading the amount of coordination required. So when Paste's tech-savvy co-founder Tim Regan-Porter suggested we all sign-up for a service that would let us text each other in a group, I was intrigued.The service was called Twitter.I signed-up for Twitter that day and activated it so that I could send and receive "tweets" as texts. Everyone else on the Paste staff did the same. This would allow one of us to send out a tweet via text (ex: "I need help backstage! Anyone around the venue?") and quickly reach all 10 people on staff. This is what I expected Twitter to become: a group texting service. Why else would anyone constrain a message to 140 characters, right? We all know the rest of the story (and had understood how important brevity would be in the Twittersphere, I would not have picked a 15-character username).But what about that group SMS function that got me to sign-up for Twitter in the first place? Why didn't that stick?Well, a host of new start-ups are trying to resurrect that service... only they seem a few years late to a party that no one showed up to in the first place. In 2006 Yahoo! tried its hand at group texting with Mixd, while Twitter, Dodgeball and Zemble were also identified as promising multi-purpose SMS services by Techcrunch. Those services were either shutdown or evolved past the group SMS piece of the business model. So what makes this the time for companies like GroupMe and Rabbly to emerge? There's the exclusivity piece of it. All friends and followers are not created equal, so as our social networks expand, something like selective group messaging could be a valuable way to post status-like updates to only a handful of people.Then there are the teens. I'm no longer a teenage girl, but I could see how this would be helpful in keeping up with a clique. Nielsen reports that the average American teen sends nearly 3,400 text messages a month. This group of consumers also rely less on email than their 18 and over counterparts. Not a bad customer group to go after.There's also international markets, where SMS usage is generally higher than it is in the US.Still, with smartphone adoption growing, and phone plans becoming all encompassing (text, voice and data for one flat fee) it could be that the new Facebook Groups or good ol' email will serve the need for the group messaging just fine (at least amongst smartphone users).Will group SMS be the next It Thing, or is it, like, so 2006? Discuss below, my Blogosphere friends... [...]

The London startup scene: Party like a rock star?


Too much funding and boozing? Not enough collaboration and execution? Sounds like criticism reserved for troubled rock stars on the brink of a break-up, but Ben Colclough sees the same problems in the startup scene (specifically in London).TechCrunch: The London startup scene: Too much funding, boozing and not enough collaboration and executionReminds me of a nice analogy drawn out by Shane Snow and referenced by Fred Wilson, which compares a Rock Band to a Tech Start-Up. I agree that the analogy is pretty spot on, except that it does not address what happens "if all goes wrong"... and chances are, it will. Consider that in 2008, 106,000 new albums were released, but only 64 albums went Gold in 2009; meanwhile, 11,716 venture deals were struck between 2007 and 2009, but there were only 104 IPOs over that same time period (according to Thompson Reuters). Signing with a record label or a VC does not guarantee success, but sales sure will. I agree with Colclough that more time and attention needs to be paid to this piece of entrepreneurship.Not that it should be all work and no play, though. Take Music Hackday London, which encourages collaboration and networking, but is centered around executing something quickly.Work hard and have fun, but save the real celebration for later.Read the full post at TechCrunch[...]

9 Years After 9/11


On September 11, 2001, I was sitting through a calculus class that was too easy for me... and I knew it. The class was taught in the early morning in a building at the very edge of Emory University's campus; yet I knew I would get an 'A' by the end of the semester and that seemed to matter more than the inconvenience. I was bleary-eyed and bored, measuring my life in its achievements, not in its moments.That was my first full week of college in Atlanta, when I still felt very far from my home and from my dearest friends. Still, I was beginning to feel settled at Emory. Making new friends had not been as difficult as I thought it would be, and I could quickly overcome the homesickness by calling my family in Maryland.I don't remember what was taught in class on that September day, yet I remember so many other strange things from the hours that followed: the cartoon drawn on the whiteboard in the entryway to my dorm; the busy signal I heard when I called my father's office near the Pentagon; the cheap candle wax that dripped on to my hand during the evening vigil on the quad; the call I made to my high school crush. In the years that followed, I have been interested to learn what we -- as Americans -- choose to remember from 9/11. What once provided unity seems to have instead deepened our divisions. I've observed some people manipulate the facts for advantageous reasons, while others have simply dismissed those facts entirely... and I never know how to reconcile the two.As one of my favorite Emory professors observed, this generation created a "divided America," one engaged in a ferocious struggle for power. Yet for a moment -- nine years ago -- we all shared in a common experience, one marked by confusion, sadness and disbelief. The cheap candles we clung to gave us reason to come together and allowed us to feel less alone on a day of immense tragedy. On that day we did not characterize ourselves by our economic, political or religious beliefs, but shared in our human condition. 9/11 reminded us how fragile our world is.As I reflect on this September day, there are so many things I want to tell my younger self: take the harder calculus class; call your family every day; tell your crush how you feel; pray for the people you love.Yet even now I forget those things and still feel like a freshman in the first week of classes. I hardly understand why there is so much hatred in the world and why we make love seem like such a difficult task.But on this day I also remember that life is a blessing; every day, a blessing. That this is the lesson I take away from so much tragedy seems entirely unfair.[...]

Caren Explains Facebook Places and the New Power Play


If you don't compulsively check your tweets or tech news, you might have missed today's announcement about Facebook Places, which will allow you to "check in" to venues (like restaurants, airports and stores) and find friends who "happen to be at the same place at the same time." Though similar services (like Foursquare and Gowalla) already exist for mobile phones, Facebook's reach and installed base of mobile users makes this a game changer. So does its large and established advertising platform, which should allow businesses to quickly send coupons, deals and messaging to customers.It also means that over-sharing is only going to get worse (and more socially acceptable).There are a handful of glaring concerns about Facebook Places: locational privacy, for one. Protection is another -- of data, identity and property (Please Rob Me anyone?). And the poor Hollywood screenwriters! Plots reliant on romantic, serendipitous run-ins will soon seem even less realistic! Yet my biggest concern? Being constantly connected. Yes, it's at geolocating times like this that I am reminded of a brilliant piece that Tom Chiarella wrote for Esquire in 2007. He's on to something, kids, now more than ever..."The New Power Play."By Tom ChiarellaInaccessibilityThere's this guy. Let's call him Bill. He's a star. He's bankable. And you can't get to him. Bill has no agent. He has no publicist. No office. You call a number, leave a message, and, if he's interested, he'll call you back. Otherwise, the answer is no.This is the way of the future....Read More[...]

TLATW Take a Bad Song and Make it Better


Unless you were living under a rock in 2005, you've probably heard the song "Brighter than Sunshine" by Aqualung. It broke the Top 40, got lots of radio play and and was used in a number of movies, tv shows and commercials. I like Aqualung, aka Matt Hales, and had a lovely time at his concert... but I don't like his hit single for one simple reason: it does not sound brighter than sunshine... it is slow, heavy and mournful instead of celebratory. If you are in love, you should want to shout, shout, shout it out!Alternative Apparel is providing the chance for the song to be reincarnated, though, with its new Unsigned Artist competition. Musicians upload their versions of the song and compete for your attention.One of those entries is from The Lighthouse and the Whaler and it actually sounds bright and sunny (xylophone FTW). This five-piece is pretty dang creative... just listen for yourself... and if you like it, click "Vote" on the bottom of the player [no registration necessary], or share it on your own social network.Unsigned Artist CompetitionSponsored by Alternative Apparel [...]

Caren Explains Janelle Monae


Psst! Hey you! ... Yes, you! Come closer. I want to tell you a secret, but you don't have to keep it. In fact, tell everyone you know. See there's this gal you should know about: Janelle Monae--have you heard of her? ... well, she's about to blow up, so pay attention now and you can tell your kids you knew her back when...


This ArchAndroid is equal parts Andre 3000, Prince and Anita Baker. She is funky, focused and enchanting in an Audrey Hepburn sort of way. When I met Janelle in 2008 I remember how sincere she was when she said, "It's very nice to meet you." If she had instead said "How are you?" I'm sure she would have been genuinely interested in the reply, rather than treating it as a passing line as so many of us do.

Her debut full-length album -- with the second and third suites of her Metropolis project -- was released today by Bad Boy and it will be a hit of 2010. She already has some solid fans, like Big Boi, Of Montreal and Saul Williams, who are featured collaborators on the album.

In an era when mainstream artists rely on auto-tune and pump out singles, here's an album that should be consumed in its entirety. It moves from orchestral to brass-and-beat laden tracks, with a standout three-track sequence of "Locked Inside," "Sir Greenwood" and "Cold War" midway through the album.

So now you know. Go tell your friends... and it might be time for you to learn how to do the "Tightrope"...