Student Julian Weisser blogs about Berklee, entrepreneurship, and his experience at the MIDEM conference in France. Julian currently does business development for Bottol and co-founded Bundio, a direct to fan subscription platform for creators. He blogs at Ideas Then Lemonade and is most easily reachable at @iamweisser.
There is no one out in the streets of Cannes at 5am on a Tuesday morning. 5am is the fascinating hour that it intersects the latest of nights and earliest of days. It’s that rare time in this city when you are able to hear the waves breaking and spilling onto the sand as the water stretches and yawns. As I progressed down the Promenade de la Croisette, I began thinking of what led me to Cannes, what is alleged to be the largest music industry conference in the world, and co-founding a direct to fan subscription startup called Bundio.
Prior to moving to Boston in 2009 I was restless. I was full of ambition but had no idea where to direct it. I enrolled at Berklee with no plan other than the goal of gaining more industry knowledge. Boston struck me as a place where the greatest opportunities lay outside the walls of whatever university you attended, but to reach them you needed to start inside and work your way out. College is a place for discovering what you really want to do. I had always loved music; especially the feeling when someone gave you the music or you gave it back to them. I knew that feeling was not exclusive to music, but applied to all art. This knowledge pushed me to bring music together with other art-forms.
Some students attend college and focus solely on what is happening at their school. There is plenty going on at every university in Boston. But those that do this are drastically narrowing their range of possibilities. The place that opportunities thrive and expand into remarkable art is at the cross-section of many ideas and bases of knowledge. Only by moving out into the public can you experience what any city has to offer.
I was not looking to find a way out of Berklee, but instead, find a way in to other places of knowledge and art with which to collaborate. Early on through ProArtsConnect I discovered the unique talents of those at MassArt. Animator Rebecca Linthwaite became my first collaborator outside of the music world and I worked with her on an animation project. It wasn’t much, just a cheeky composition, but working with Rebecca brought me into a different region. MassArt connected me to a golden valley of visionaries. It was through Rebecca and her classmates that I made many of my nonmusical friends and got the first summer job I could actually be proud of (thanks, Brooke Scibelli!). I was broadening my horizons but it wasn’t consciously; I simply felt the urge to move past standalone music. I wasn’t the only one; the music industry had become focused on putting music on YouTube and in TV, film, and video games. They saw interaction between the art-forms as a way to reach their target audience and boost revenue that had declined in an age of nearly unlimited access.
Time went by and I worked on many projects while at Berklee. Every one was an attempt at adding another layer on top of music-making. When disaster struck Japan I saw many of my Japanese classmates in pain. I knew I could never alleviate the suffering but I could show that our community cared about them and what they were going through. Working with student Shannon Selig and Ginny Fordham, Berklee’s Major Gifts Officer, I quickly began taking submissions over Dropbox to be part of a digital release to raise money for Save the Children. I talked Bandcamp down to charging only for payment processing and we launched the album less than two weeks after the tsunami landed on Japan, eventually raising over $1k in digital and t-shirt sales. It was my first experience building and launching something rapidly-a feat that is commonplace in the startup world.
Last year I worked with Jazz Revelation Records, Berklee’s jazz label, to make an album that we could look at a decade later and be incredibly proud of. Associate Professor Kevin McCluskey gives 200% of his time and energy to the making of JRR’s album release every year. Students Olivia Fortuna, Dante Vallee, and Trevor Wilson and Berklee’s Michael Borgida held down the fort. With them, and a host of remarkably creative musicians, we assembled an inspiring collection. With this release, titled Ripple Effect, I wanted to source the album’s artwork from Boston’s incredibly vibrant artistic community. After reaching out to Miguel de Braganca, a great friend and one of the bright minds behind the Yes.Oui.Si. (a multi-sensory gallery turned creative agency), I was introduced to Adrian Molina, a brilliant Cuban painter. Adrian began painting while listening to the unmastered tracks and ended up delighting our eyes with seven pieces that made Ripple Effect the beautiful release it is. JRR taught me to embrace chaos. Things went “wrong” all of the time but we always made something wonderful come of it.
An astute reader may have noticed that I have mentioned many different people in this piece thus far. It is not for the sake of “name-dropping” but rather an attempt at recognizing some of the people that made me who I am today. Though I am far from a success, I do have direction and purpose. Every person that comes into your life is a gift. The people that throw stones make you stronger. Those that support you make you stronger still. My greatest learning has been the early realization that networking is terrible if there is no heart behind the connection. So many people rush out to add the latest person they met on LinkedIn and see what sort of value they can extract from them. I was lucky to realize early on that the value of output is directly proportional to what you put in. When meeting someone for the first time, I think about what kind of value I can bring to them. I do not think about selling, I think about making a human connection and helping the person with their work. The best kind of sale is when you sell to someone whom you truly care about and solve a problem for.
The true artists know no boundaries. I met up with Rebecca at Bukowski’s Tavern a few years into my experience at Berklee to learn about a new project she had taken on. It turned out she was working on a video with some people from MIT who had recently started a company. The company was called Bottol and enabled creators of online content to see how it was shared from person to person in between all social networks and email. The technology was transformative. For the first time ever, the sources of sharing were no longer viewed in aggregate (à la Google Analytics) and the creators of digital content could see exactly how it spread. I jumped at the opportunity to begin producing the voiceover for the video because I wanted to see where Bottol was heading and how else I could help. A month later I had joined the team and was doing biz dev and communications. It was my first startup. I had not intended on joining one during college but Bottol beckoned to me. It lit up my passions for distribution and insights. Joining Bottol taught me a lesson: the best made plans must be amended when opportunity to create and facilitate new art appears.
I look at entrepreneurship and art as two interchangeable words. Not only do they both seek reaction, they need it in order to exist. Seth Godin’s recent book, The Icarus Deception, is all about art and taking risks. According to Seth, “If it doesn’t ship, it’s not art.” This means that a song isn’t art until someone other than the band hears it and a startup is not art until someone other than the founder uses it. Art is about opening yourself up to the world and yelling, “this is what I made” for all to hear. George Howard, entrepreneur and Berklee professor, greatly inspired me to stop waiting and just ship. I realized my blog, while a good place to put down my thoughts, was not art because I was without an audience. I decided to take the risk of going where the audience was and became a guest writer for Hypebot. I write about connecting, inspiring and engaging in the digital age. It feels good when someone agrees with me and what I’ve written but it feels even better when someone disagrees and takes the time to articulate their differing opinion. How can we improve if we always have everyone saying what we do is perfect?
For the entrepreneur or musician, life should be a constant hustle. Hustle doesn’t reflect a lack of ethics, it reflects the ability to put yourself into a position to win within what you feel is morally proper. I believe that hustle has more to do with audacity than anything else. By audacity I mean a willingness to be bold, but neither arrogant or ignorant. People that hustle make things happen. I attribute my hustle to getting into SF MusicTech summit, SXSW, and (most recently) Midem for free. The hustler looks at a challenge or a sliver of an opportunity with a big reward and goes after it regardless of the fact that many would say the chances of success are too low for it to be worth making an attempt. The hustler will fail more than those that are less risk averse but they will also be more likely to achieve the biggest wins. Those that aim high may not always make it through the hoop, but those that aim low never will.
About 3 months ago I was at a music hackathon hosted by MIT. There I met up with Danny Kirschner, a friend I had made at SF MusicTech a month earlier. We had a shared interest in how digital content was distributed and monetized. We saw a problem with the traditional distribution model and how it created uneven revenues and engagement throughout the year. Bundio, a platform enabling creators of digital content (bands, DJs, authors, etc) to set up their own direct to fan monthly subscription service, was born. We see micro-subscriptions as a way to generate a recurring revenue for creators and recurring engagement with their audience. By the time this piece reaches the web Bundio will be live and ready to use.
I passed the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès on my left as I reached my halfway point. This was where Midem had taken place earlier in the day. Hours ago there had been artists, managers, tech companies and record labels from all corners of the map swarming the conference center and trying to make deals. I flew to Cannes with the intention of learning more about the international music industry and was not disappointed. Digital Music News recently published a snarky article criticizing Midem for under-attendance and a way for executives to expense a trip to Cannes. The position of the article was that real-world meetups were becoming less and less relevant with the prevalence and ease of online communications. I respectfully disagree with DMN. There will never be a perfect substitute for sitting directly across from someone and locking eyes. The internet certainly facilitates connections, but being mere inches from another person allows energy and passion to transfer like nothing else. Perhaps big industry executives can just pick up a phone and the person on the other line will run to grab it. With startups, the in-person will always hold value because we need a deeper connection to those with which we make remarkable things happen.
At Midem I was able to connect with people whose values were aligned with my own. I was able to meet with some of the hottest startups, the most cutting edge independent labels and most promising artists and get some exciting deals in motion. Upon arriving for the first day I met up with a current Bottol client and we discussed the atmosphere of the conference as we sat watching startups pitching their merits to a panel of judges. We both agreed Midem was more about what happened off-stage than on and discussed our plans and goals for the next few days. Following up with him it seems we both accomplished what we made the long journey for.
I was nearing my hotel. It was 5:20am and I could see that the farmers market was getting set up. I had just come from the beach where I had bumped into some Berklee Valencia students and a Yale grad who had created an exciting new startup giving a band greater insight into their fanbase. As I walked alone through the darkness I felt more like an entrepreneur than ever before. We are all alone, attempting the new and untested. Bundio was live and I was alive.