The creative fields and technology are changing every day. Two years from now, graduates are likely to be working in jobs that simply do not exist today, at least not as we see them. This is why we try to impress on students an entrepreneurial spirit. Whether they go to work for themselves, or become “intrapreneurs” within an established business, those who are prepared to diversify and adapt are the most successful graduates.
A shining example of an alumnus with this spirit is Dallas McLaughlin, a 2006 graduate who showed up on our radar last fall with his inspiring YouTube video “I Guess This Dream’s For Me” and a uniquely creative resume shared on his personal blog at Dallasmclaughlin.com in a post titled “Cutting through the static and landing your dream job” (dallasmclaughlin.com/cutting-through-the-static-and-landing-your-dream-job/).
Since leaving IPR, Dallas has owned his own studio, restaurant and consulting business, launched a successful clothing line, and crafted himself into a respected marketing and social media expert through personal experience. We caught up with Dallas for a brief interview.
What are you doing now?
I work for an Inc. 500 & ICIC 100 company in downtown Phoenix, AZ. I was hired in January to create and implement social media and micro-content marketing strategies. The company is ranked as one of the fastest growing companies in the country, and the #1 fastest growing woman owned businesses. We have our headquarters in Phoenix, as well as new offices in San Diego, CA and Shanghai, China. I was also recently contracted to do the same type of work for James Woods’ campaign to become a Congressman in Arizona. Prior to that I was splitting time as a freelance social media and small business consultant, while also owning a number of businesses of my own.
Are you doing today what you thought you would be doing when you started school?
No way. When I decided to go to school for audio engineering, I had aspirations that I would walk out of school and become rich and famous like our heroes, but that just isn’t the reality of it. Once I gave up on trying to land a (paying) job with an already established recording studio, I decided to put together a small home studio of my own in 2007. Rather than marketing against the major studios, I marketed exclusively to an entry-level audience and really found a strong niche. I did that by marketing and investing heavily in new world marketing strategies (social media and pay-per-click). In addition to spending 8-10 hours a day on social media, I did a lot of outside of the box things to get noticed. I live streamed our recording sessions (with Q&A chat rooms), had an open door policy (at the artists discretion), I constantly engaged with our audience and really broke down the barriers people had up about the time and financial commitments required to record music. I was able to reach and engage an audience that otherwise had never considered recording as a viable option, and in doing so introduced a lot of musicians to the recording environment. The acquisition cost (time, money, resources) of stealing another studios musicians isn’t a viable option to most home studios, but introducing someone to the experience costs next to nothing. Once they were in the door, the goal was to develop a strong culture and following around the brand to keep them engaged and coming back. I approached it like a true retail or customer service oriented business. Very procedural all the way to exactly how someone was greeted when they walked in door, how the phone was answered, how the brand identity was portrayed in all advertising, how every person I contacted went into a database where I could follow up through e-mail lists, social media campaigns, and more. I thought I was just growing my music career, but really 80% of my time was dedicated to the business and marketing side of things, and not to music. This led to other businesses approaching me about developing creative marketing solutions for their businesses, and consulting opportunities training small business owners on the importance of and how to leverage social media in their favor. In time, music got put on the backburner as I pursued other business opportunities, which included owning a restaurant, a consulting business, a business products company, and a clothing brand. All of that (except the clothing brand) eventually gave way to dedicating my time and resources to becoming “the guy” when it comes to building a social media and micro-content strategy for larger businesses. There’s extreme value in being #1 at something, versus doing a little bit of everything.
Is there anything about your education that stands out as a pivotal experience in your education or career?
The thing I learned when I got to college, and held true after I graduated and went out into the real world is that no one is going to teach you anything. Don’t expect the teachers to teach you, and don’t expect your employers to teach you. I learned that both will present you with the right information, they’ll give you the material you need, but it is 100% up to you make something of the information, or waste your time and go home and get a normal job. Every resource you could ever need is at IPR or on the Internet. It’s your job to take advantage of those resources while you have the opportunity. It’s all there for the taking. IPR is the premier place to learn the music business, but no one is going to teach you anything. You have to teach yourself. When you graduate, when you get that little piece of paper, it just isn’t enough. You have to make yourself valuable. Go to the bookstore and read every single book about marketing because at the end of the day you are a brand. You’re a personal brand that’s trying to get prospective employees and artists to invest in your services. Buy your own domain name, blog about the music industry, recording techniques, and local shows – make yourself valuable. Make yourself discoverable. If you’re not putting out content on a daily basis, you pretty much don’t exist. It’s also important to remember that value comes from being either the best at something, or doing something most people don’t. Find your niche and you’ll find your nation.
Where do you imagine your career going in the future?
My goal for the foreseeable future is to continue to push every single day to be the absolute #1 name when it comes to developing social media strategy and micro-content for Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companies. Well rounded doesn’t cut anymore. It’s 2014 and the bell curve has been turned upside down. The middle is gone. You can race to the bottom and choose to be faster, cheaper, and safer than everyone else (Wal-Mart, Honda, Costco), or race to the top and be more valuable, irreplaceable and charge a premium for your services (Ferrari, Sak’s 5th, Coach). But what happens when you win the race to the bottom? When someone turns to Google to look for a restaurant, do they choose an average restaurant with average reviews? The culture has shifted, and my goal is to be at the top of my industry by adopting and leveraging new technologies as they happen. Betting on myself, and betting on the future.
What advice would you give to others looking to enter into this field?
Put in the time. Don’t be distracted. The next couple years are your training sequence. Unfortunately, you’re in downtown Minneapolis surrounded by distractions. Cool clubs, cool sights, and cool people, casually telling you to relax. But, the casual ones usually end up with casual talents and casual lives. The only IPR classmates (10 years later) that have become successful are the ones that were fiercely determined, un-distractible and had a laser focus. You’ll think you’re missing some existential college experience, but you’re not. When you graduate it – it will all still be there.
Ignore the speed limit. Classes are set at a pace so the average student can succeed. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to be average, if you want to be casual – follow the syllabus. But don’t expect extreme results without extreme actions. Show up early. Stay late. Read the entire course book. Read it again. Buy books for classes you aren’t enrolled in. Read those. Stay up all night. Work outside of your comfort zone. Collaborate. Speak up. Ask questions.
Was there anything that you had to wait until you were out in the industry to learn—that couldn’t be taught?
I think on a more philosophical level, I’ve learned that people give up too soon on their passions and dreams. I don’t understand why when you’re 18 or even 30 years old, you wouldn’t try to make what you’re passionate about work for you. If you go get a job at IBM or the Mayo Clinic, or someplace your parents tell you that you need to work, and don’t try to pursue something you truly love, the question isn’t what’s going to happen to you in 2, 5, or 10 years. You really have to think about when you’re 60 years old and you look back and ask yourself, “Why didn’t I try?” I fear a lot of people are going to have major regrets that a parent, teacher, or guidance counselor doesn’t really think about. It’s their job as people that love us and care about us to think about what’s best for us right now, or 10 years from now. They’re worried about the next ten years when all I’d urge anyone to worry about is the last ten. In those last ten years, are you going to think back and realize, “Why didn’t I move to Nashville? (or New York, Miami, whatever…) Why didn’t I take my shot?” I think you’ll regret that. In my opinion not taking the chance will leave a lot worse taste in your mouth, because when you’re really going for it, that’s when you’re most alive. The very core of man’s spirit comes from new adventures. If you want to get more out of life, lose your inclination for security and adopt a lifestyle that may appear to yourself and others as “crazy.” But once you become accustomed to an endlessly changing horizon, you’ll see life’s full meaning and its incredible beauty.
Do you have mentors today, if so, how have they influenced your career?
Strangely, I’ve been very independent in this regard. I think the very nature of my working habits has always been to lock myself in a room with my head buried in whatever I’m focused on. It’s also been tough to have mentors that specifically focus on what I do now in regards to social media marketing. I’ve met a lot of business owners who have a thorough understanding of business, and proven track record of success, but my style of work has always kind of clashed with the traditional business minded professionals. I like to take a little more risk. I trust EQ (the emotional equivalent of intelligence) over IQ. I like to be first to adopt, first to market. I move faster and want results even faster. If you think about it, we’ve advertised in print for 100 years, radio for 70, and TV for 40. Social media has only really been around in a marketing sense for probably seven. There is no one out there with a long history of success in the industry to really look at and model your career after. It’s kind of the Wild-Wild West right now in that sense. If I broaden things up a little bit, there are a lot of marketers and business professionals that I follow very closely. At the end of the day, business is business and it doesn’t matter if their success lies in restaurants, sports, or music. I’ve always kept very close tabs on Gary Vaynerchuk. There’s also Seth Godin, Hugh MacLeod, Tim Ferris, and Chris Brogan. They all have a very philosophical and psychological approach to business, versus the boring, “X amount of money goes out, Y amount comes in, and we each make Z.”
If you could change anything regarding your career path, what would it be?
I don’t know that I would necessarily change anything. Part of everyone’s individual journey is learning along the way. I’ve made mistakes in my career. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, both professionally and personally. But they were very valuable mistakes that were necessary for me to make to get me to where I am right now professionally, and where I plan to go in the future. There are business decisions I’ve made that I’ve regretted for a long time, and some I still regret right now. I believe that if you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not challenging yourself. If you don’t have any tough decisions that carry significant weight, you’re living a very safe life. To me, living a safe life is the biggest risk of them all. Every single day you face dozens of decisions that ultimately have two solutions. You can choose safety, which typically results in nothing lost, but nothing gained. But you also have the alternative, which is risk. Risk offers significant reward, new adventures, new stories, and new memories. My advice is to choose risk as often as possible.