S.O.N.G.S. (Stories Of New Graduate Success) is a spotlight on the paths IPR students pursue after graduation and the success they find along the way…
Kyle Bylin is Associate Editor of the highly influential music industry blog Hypebot.com, which is read daily by more than 10,000 music industry professionals. He writes primarily about the impact of technology on the Recording Industry and developing trends in music consumerism.
In addition to blogging, Kyle has partnered with Jade Presents, a Midwest concert promoter, to create a free music event series called AMPED. By making the event free for local college students, the goal is to lower the barrier of entry into the live music scene, collect key information on students who attend, and gain permission to market. This is their way of connecting with college students and giving them reasons to buy tickets to future concerts.
Since Kyle is well versed in expressing himself in text, I will part ways with the traditional question and answer format here and allow the story of Kyle’s journey to be told in his own words…
Connecting the Dots
To pay tribute to a Commencement address given by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005, in front of would-be graduates of Stanford University, I would like to start off by saying that this story is “about connecting the dots.” It’s about how a farm kid from rural North Dakota with a population of roughly 200 would come to be inspired by the live music scene in Fargo, 155 miles away, and decide that he would like to pursue a career in the music industry. Most of all, it’s about an extraordinary opportunity I was given that allowed me to do meaningful work.
1. The “Dream Job”
Much time could be consumed going into the details about what led me to decide that attending the Institute of Production and Recording was the next step in my adult life. Between the trials and tribulations that grew out of that decision, there was constant negotiation between family and friends alike about what fate I would succumb to, but, in the end, I moved to downtown Minneapolis in July of 2007 and started school shortly after. Needless to say, the events that followed would cause a dramatic shift in my perspective and take me down a path that I could have never predicted or even dreamed of.
“Reading for yourself and expanding on your curiosities is the most important thing that you can do if you want to learn this business”
Starting the Music and Entertainment Business program at IPR is a blur to me now, but, to be sure, it was filled with many moments where I would come to terms with the fact that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Later on, Scott LeGere would prove to be an excellent aficionado of showing not only I, but everyone who interacted with him, where the gaps in their knowledge presided, wherein, he would take it upon himself to fill those gaps with whatever it was that he was extremely excited about that particular day of the week. Classes came and went, grades were given, and life happened, but there are a few moments I’ve pinpointed that changed everything for me.
Through an extra credit assignment set up by Eric Trelsted, I would interview Anna-Marie Ganje, who, at the time, was the General Manager of 50 Entertainment and 50 Records, and Drew Pearson, their Director of A&R. It went well, I learned allot, but, most importantly, near the conclusion of our talk, I would ask them if they took on interns. They did. Followed by discussion about what they looked for in applicants and how one might go about doing such a thing. Such news reignited my long-time dream of working for a record label and set me on a path towards applying to become one of their unpaid interns.
With that thought lodged in the back of my mind, quarters would pass, albeit, slowly, and finally I would be “ready” to contact 50 Records and tell them of how badly I wanted to work for them, for free. After a few emails, I had landed myself my first interview. I was ecstatic. They then told me that this would be a group interview with several other potential candidates, a scenario I had never encountered, and that each of us would answer the same round of questions, one after the other, until the question went around the whole circle and we’d start anew. At the time, I thought I had delivered perfectly in all of my answers.
A call from one their staff, delivered a few days later, would tell a different story. Katie kindly greeted me. In the background my heart started racing faster. Then, she proceeded to inform me that I didn’t actually get the position I sought out. Understanding that I was probably devastated by the news, which, by all means, I was, she went onto hint that could reapply at a later time. That left my entire summer open, with nothing on my mind, but the thought of either finding another internship or trying again. Luck would have it, come August, I would reapply, and they would decide, this time, that they should just hire me.
Lo and behold, the “dream job” I obtained was far from any kind of dream at all. To say the least, the repetitive tasks and daily objectives required of an intern soon turned into utter boredom. However, one of the things that we were encouraged to do was contribute to the recently started company blog. Nobody read it, not even us interns. Out of my boredom, grew the desire to do something else. Soon enough, I found inspiration in the marketing strategy of a band called The Spill Canvas and decided to embark on writing my first post, which was called, “Spilled on Canvas, Music Marketing For 21st Century Bands.”
2. Bigger Than Myself
Anna-Marie, the General Manager, would establish herself as the purveyor of all that was new and interesting on the web by sending out all staff emails containing links to stuff that she found. One such email contained a video presentation by Professor Mike Wesch titled “An anthropological introduction to YouTube.” At 56 minutes long, this was quite an undertaking, but something about it caught my interest. Partway through, Wesch declares that, “There is this cultural inversion going on where we are becoming increasingly individual, but many of us still have this really strong value and desire for community.”
“We become increasingly independent while longing for stronger relationships,” he says. “We see increasing commercialization all around us and we long for authenticity.” These insights struck me as profound, because I believed that the happenings he spoke of in society greatly mirrored what was going on in the Recording Industry. Wesch’s words, coupled with marketing maven Seth Godin’s big idea about “The Death of the TV-Industrial Complex,” merged into a short essay about how the standard way of marketing music and creating pop stars had changed, and the effect of commercialization on our culture.
My second blog post, “The Fall of Communization and the Rise of the Music Fan,” appeared on August 28th, 2008. Nothing happened, no one noticed it, but then, something spectacular happened about a week and a half later. Bruce Houghton, President of Skyline Music and founder of Hypebot.com, reached out through our publicity contact information and said that he would love to re-post my blog on his highly influential music industry publication. I was stunned, because I knew who he was and read Hypebot. On September 12th, the post went up on his blog, and what happened next, sent me on a whole new path.
Later that morning, my first official blog comment came in, a surreal feeling took over, and I became overwhelmed with a sense of pride that I had not yet experienced in my career. Seth Godin, one of the world’s most influential and famous marketers, author of books that I had read, was the very first person to comment on my blog post. Short and to the point, he said, “This is a great analysis. Well done.” Those words rocked my world. Quite amazed himself, Bruce would then send me an email saying that I should feel free to send any new post ideas his way and that he would continue to feature me as a guest blogger.
From that point on, I started writing for Hypebot, while I was still an intern at 50 Records, but, they cheered me on. In all honesty, much of my early work just wasn’t that good. It took me a long time to learn how to write and think about the things that I wanted to talk about. That’s the key though, Bruce wanted me to learn. Right off the bat, he gave me complete autonomy over my writing topics, letting me direct my own path. He gave me a shot a mastery, allowing me to get better at something that mattered to me. And, he gave me purpose. Writing for Hypebot let me be a part of something bigger than myself.
Roughly 7 months later, Bruce promoted me to Associate Editor of Hypebot and gave me my own log in. (Previously, I would send in my essays through email, and he would post them.) After that, I never looked back. I was working incredibly hard at something that I didn’t quite understand, putting in long hours, and reading everything I could get my hands on. Nobody tells you in school, to do what I did. Overtime, I kept getting better at it. My posts got more complex and people started noticing. Things got even more interesting when I started to make a habit of interviewing the authors of the books that I was reading.
3. Connecting the Dots
“Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college,” Steve Job says. “But it was very, very clear looking backwards…” And, I feel the same way about the path I took. He continues, “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” This process of keeping faith takes a lot out of you. Blogging, when you start out, can be a very frustrating ordeal. But, I stuck through the up’s and down’s.
Some of my most influential essays didn’t get published until a few months ago, but, that’s okay. When I started out, I knew that somehow those dots would connect in the future, and that I just needed to focus on getting there one post at a time. Sometimes the space between a good post and the follow-up to it was a month. If you want to blog about the music industry, I believe that it’s important to push your way through the steepest of learning curves and quit the ones that were never meant to be. You have to write about your passions, otherwise, you’ll lose sight of the real world that you’re creating for your future self.
Jade Presents is the concert promoter responsible for putting on the live music scene in Fargo, North Dakota that inspired me to undertake my journey into the music industry. Upon graduation, Jade probably wouldn’t have considered giving me the time of day. Due to certain circumstances, mainly the economy, shortly after graduation I had moved back to North Dakota. Originally, I thought that I would try some other options, before trying to apply to work for him. Radio didn’t work out. As it happens though, upon telling Bruce of Hypebot about applying to Jade Presents, he said that he knew Jade.
Suddenly, everything came full circle, because after applying to Jade, Bruce sent a personal recommendation saying, “At the risk of sounding like I’m gushing, Kyle one of the brightest and hardest working you people I’ve ever worked with.” With that said, Jade almost immediately replied to my internship request and agreed to sit down to talk with me. After some back and forth emails, I was brought on to “spearhead” an idea that we talked about from the start, which was putting on a music event series that was free for college students and helped bring these new kids out to the live music scene.
What the future holds is anybody’s guess, but, what I do know is that in January I will be getting trained in Topspin Media, which is a technology platform for direct-to-fan marketing, management, and distribution. Once completed, Bruce of Hypebot said that he would like to bring me onto Skyline Music, his booking agency, to handle fan-relationship management and online marketing duties for his clients. From there on out, I believe things will only get more interesting as I’ll have more time to devote to the blog and being that I’ll be employed through the net, working from home, there will be no driving to work.
“Outliers are those who have been given opportunities,” Malcolm Gladwell writes, “and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” He explains, “They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain luckily—but all critical to making them who they are.” In the end, I’m no outlier at all. My story, instead, is about being able to connect the dots looking backwards and having the faith they’d somehow connect in the future.