The Mind Tricks behind Eli Lieb’s Cover of Miley Cyrus

It happened again. On Friday Eli Lieb posted a video cover of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball. By Monday it had been viewed almost 500,000 times and Eli had gained over 100,000 YouTube subscribers and 30,000+ Twitter followers.

It’s another case of an unknown artist gaining huge online success by covering a popular song. Recently we saw the rise of Karmin thanks to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (it now has well past 3 million views) and numerous other online sensations.

But why do cover videos work so well?

Look at the Video Eli Lieb posted. It’s just him in front of a white background playing a dulcimer. A dulcimer? Granted, he’s a great singer and the video/audio quality is professional, but honestly, is there really anything special here? Why are people drawn to this?

Because cover videos satisfy two of our basic human needs.

Best-selling self-improvement guru Tony Robbins points out that we all have six basic human needs: Significance, Connection/Love, Growth, Contribution, Certainty, and Uncertainty. Cover videos satisfy two of those needs – Certainty and Uncertainty. Say what?

How can we have two seemingly opposing needs?

Think of certainty as stability. Humans like to be able to count on things. It’s in our DNA. We need to count on the spring coming again and crops growing. We need stable relationships. We don’t want a surprise bill from the IRS. We need to feel safe and secure; otherwise we’ll go insane with worry and fear.

So in terms of our cover video, we want a song we know. We want something we’ve heard before and are familiar with. But…

That’s boring. We also desire uncertainty. We want some variety in our life — some of us more than others. Someone who walks a tightrope over the Grand Canyon is looking for more variety in their life than I am. But at the same time, I don’t want to stay locked in my house. I need some adventure and to feel alive.

So in our cover video, the different version of the song keeps us interested. We know the words and melody, but he mixes it up and puts a new spin on it.

Plus there’s the anticipation. Will the song be any good? Will he be able to hit the note? Outwardly we’re rooting for Eli, but inside we’re secretly hoping for a train wreck. But in the end, Eli prevails and we cheer. It’s a roller coaster of emotion and we thrive on it. We crave variety. Otherwise we’d all own one album and listen to it everyday for the rest of our lives!


What do you think of cover videos? Have you made one you’re proud of? Show us.


Review of the 2013 Chicago Music Summit

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the first Chicago Music Summit put on completely free by the City of Chicago. It was a full day downtown on Michigan Avenue at the Chicago Cultural Center, a beautiful building overlooking Millennium Park. Overall it was an amazing event full of learning and networking. Here’s a brief review of my day and the sessions I attended…

Common at Chicago Music SummitKeynote Address by Common

The day started with a keynote address by the Chicago artist and actor, Common. He talked about growing up on the South Side and the importance to him of being from Chicago. Although it may seem Common’s musical career took off while he was still in high school, Common pointed out all the hard work it took for him to get the opportunities and breaks he received along the way.

The most memorable story he told was about lessons he learned while watching Kanye West showcase his new album to the press. Common discovered the importance of believing in himself and his music. He noted that Kanye had no problem in believing in himself! *lol* Common said that a new belief in his ability is what led to his rising success.

Overall it was a great opening presentation and something the artists in the room could really learn from.

First Session – Music Partnerships on the Web: Workshop hosted by YouTube

Let me begin by explaining that Google was the prominent sponsor of this event. I’m sure as part of their sponsorship they deserve a chance to host a session or two. But to call this a workshop was totally misleading.

The session ended up being a series of videos explaining how awesome YouTube is and how Karmin has reached meteoric levels of success all thanks to YouTube. The packed room was shown one example after another of viral videos we’ve all seen before. Yes, we get it. Psy has 1.7 BILLION views on YouTube, but please, show me his video again. GACK!!

Eventually Fred Beteille, product manager for YouTube, took the podium and gave us a taste of what we all wanted to know; how to monetize YouTube. But we only got a taste. No deep dive or anything resembling a workshop. Just another video (I guess what should I have expected from YouTube?) telling us that we can make money with YouTube. But not HOW to make money with YouTube.

I was then astonished to hear what Beteille next announced to the crowd. He gave us a sneak peek at the brand new YouTube audio library. I thought it was a very odd place to make such an announcement. Here’s a room full of artists who want to make money using YouTube and Beteille was essentially saying – artists, we don’t need you anymore – we have our own musicians/producers and royalty free music.

Everyone I spoke with after this session agreed that YouTube missed the mark. We all wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of monetizing YouTube but they gave us a fluff piece. Opportunity wasted.

Chciago Music Summit Review

Second Session – Website Demolition Derby

Up next was my favorite session of the day – website critiques! On stage was David Dufresne of Bandzoogle, Brian Schopfel of Eyes & Ears, Joe Delci of CIMM Fest and Jamie Ludwig of The first three members all build websites for a living, while Ludwig is a rock writer. Since I help artists design and build websites I didn’t learn anything new about website design, but I found Ludwig’s perspective fascinating. As a reviewer of musical acts she is one of the target audiences we’re attempting to reach with our marketing. It was interesting to hear her thoughts on how she explores a new artist’s site.

The session was an actual live critique of several websites offered up by members of the audience. It was eye-opening to see the different designs. But indie artists still need to work on separating their art from the business side of music. I loved Dufresne’s quote “Your music is about your art; your website is about your business.” So true. It’s important to convey your brand through your website, but it primarily needs to function as a marketing and sales tool.

During the review the panel broke down sites from Jana, Christopher the Conquered, Why so White, Mucca Pazza, The Tiki Cowboys and more. A common theme was busy websites. Sites that had too many buttons, videos, players and graphics all competing for the viewer’s attention. Another no-no the panel jumped on was the dreaded auto-play. Especially the play button that is hidden somewhere on your site.

Again, my favorite session of the day.

Third Session – Album Release Strategies for the 21st Century

Here’s a session that quickly strayed off topic and didn’t return. The panel consisted of Vinny Rich of Creative Entertainment, Sarah Landy of Stache Media, Dana Meyerson of Biz3, Adma Pollack of Creative Entertainment and Ron Kaplan of Monterey International. A very well-respected group of people in the music business.

The topics in this panel ranged from YouTube views to booking a show to sending out a press release. It was all great information, but it was very haphazard and didn’t have a clear point. Unfortunately very little time was spent discussing how to release an album. Everything is marketing, so anything you do will tie into an album release, so I guess it all relates to a launch strategy. I just wish they had spelled it out step-by-step.

The one nugget I did take away was a statement Kaplan made, “Music is no longer the product; it’s the marketing.”

They did have a wonderful handout that outlined their big-picture strategy for releasing an album. It’s not so much a step-by-step guide, but gave some topics to consider such as physical vs. digital product, brand partnerships and cross promotion.

Interesting fact: of the 77,000 albums released in 2011, only 2,000  of them sold more than 200 copies. Wow! You really do need a plan.

Fourth Session – Open Source: Why it Will Save DIY Music Businesses

Panelists Maggie Vail of CASH Music, Justin Sinkovich of Columbia College and Jason Kunesh of Public Good Software discussed the use of open source software in today’s music scene. I’m very interested in this topic as I see open source programs creeping more and more into the mainstream of business.

For example, this website is built on WordPress, an open source platform; probably the most widely used open source platform in the world. Open source software is allowing musicians to create music, edit wave files, edit video and edit photos all on an extremely low budget. I was hoping this panel would address some of the cutting edge platforms in music. Although there was some discussion of software, again (and I know there’s a theme here) the panel took a hard right and ended up discussing marketing music.

Initially they discussed their own experiences developing and using open source programs, mostly in the areas of digital distribution. It was interesting, but didn’t really apply to the artists in the room. The panel attempted to open the floor up for questions but very few in the room had enough context to ask a relevant question.

Networking at Chicago Music SummitNetworking

The day ended with a massive networking event. I met more indie artists and loads of behind-the-scenes people. The City of Chicago put on a nice spread including local beer from Lagunitas Brewing and full array of wonderful food.

The room was packed and throughout the evening I was able to speak with several of the speakers I had seen throughout the day. What a great way to end the event.

So What’s My Overall Review of the 2013 Chicago Music Summit

I was super impressed by the first ever Chicago Music Summit. It’s something I would gladly have paid to attend but I was told by the organizers at the Chicago Cultural Center that the city is not allowed to charge for events without a mandate by the city council. So I guess it will always be free!

I certainly hope they put this event on next year. I’ll be there for sure. If I could change one thing about next year’s event it would be to kill the panel discussion concept. Without a strict moderator they tend to wander and have no real direction or take-away for the attendees. I would rather see a presentation put on by one person. Even though I only get one opinion, I at least get an organized thought process with an introduction, topic and conclusion.

But like any conference, the real value of this event is the people you meet in between the sessions. There were plenty of people there representing all areas of Chicago music business. I met people coming at music from the technology side, I met managers, I met reporters and of course I met plenty of indie artists. It was a great mix of people all looking for something different. And I think they all got what they were looking for. Kudos 🙂


See ya next year.


3 Ways To Deal With The Apathetic Silence Of YouTube

YouTube Video ViewsBack when I was in a band we practiced in my parents’ basement or garage. With Roger thumpin’ the bass and Bob pounding a drum, we got some attention! Other than the occasional police presence (for noise complaints) our fan reach was limited to about two blocks.

Of course, today with a simple video camera and a YouTube account your reach is MUCH further.

But do you sometimes still feel like you’re playing in the basement for no one? You’ve gone through all the trouble to set up a YouTube account and learn some basic video editing tricks to share your latest song. You primped your hair and put on your best shirt. Maybe you even practiced in front of the mirror before you hit record. Hey, there’s no shame in it!

But two weeks after hitting ‘upload’ you still only have 13 views. And 11 of them were you checking to make sure your video still plays! Where are all your fans? Why haven’t you gone viral?

Well the harsh truth is…

YouTube (and other social media for that matter) is filled with apathetic silence.

Most people wouldn’t  consider silence to be a critique. But as an artist you crave feedback. It’s hard to produce your art in a vacuum. But a big part of being an artist is learning to live with criticism in whatever form it takes.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to deal with trolls and people spilling hate than chilling silence. It’s discouraging. I’m not creating music anymore, but I’ve written enough blog posts and produced enough podcasts to sympathize.

I’ve produced THE podcast episode. You know, the one I thought would forever alter my destiny. The content that would finally catapult me from the depths of darkness to meteoric heights! In fact, I’ve had that feeling multiple times. Over and over again. Only to be disappointed over and over again. Here’s how I deal with apathetic silence.

Have a support system

Let’s face it, banging your head against the wall hurts! Sometimes you need someone to hand you an aspirin.

There are many ways for someone to lift you up after a defeating YouTube post. Your Mom can tell you you’re special, your spouse can give you a reassuring hug or a friend can tell you to keep your chin up. While these are all great and make me feel better, I know they aren’t real. I desire outside perspective.

That’s why I’m a big believer in having a coach. Over the years I’ve had many coaches for many different purposes. I’ve had a trainer to help me get in better shape. I’ve had a sales coach to help me learn cold calling. I’ve had a marketing coach to help me better spread my message. But at the core of all of them I really desired two things – Motivation & Accountability.

The hardest person to motivate is yourself. It’s much easier to lift up a friend or to see what’s wrong with your spouse’s situation than to look in the mirror and fix that! I really need help here. And when things don’t seem to be going my way it gets harder and harder to keep moving forward. My coach is there to dust me off and send me back in the game. He’s also there to make sure I produce my next piece of content even though I’d rather do anything else. Left to my own devices I might just blow it off. But I don’t like telling someone I didn’t do what I promised.

If you don’t want to spend money on your own personal coach, start a peer group. Some people call them masterminds or roundtables. Whatever you call it, it’s good to find fellow artists with the same struggles. I’ve been in an informal marketing group for four years. We get together about once a month to help each other overcome our struggles and to share what we’ve learned about marketing. It’s a great way to keep the demons from your door!

Remember Your ‘Why’

When things get low I return to why I want to do this in the first place. For myself when I release a new post to the sound of one hand clapping I remember I have a larger goal than one post. In order to create a shift in music marketing and change the fundamental attitudes about music and its value in today’s world, it’s going to take more than one well-crafted blog post.

For most musicians I know riches and fame are not on the top of their list. Usually I hear things like ‘I need to create’ or ‘I do it for me.’ Whatever ‘why’ means to you, go back to the beginning and keep a realistic perspective about your not-so-well-received YouTube video. Your ‘why’ should move you forward and keep you from obsessing about the apathetic silence.

After all, your ‘why’ is the reason you get out of bed in the morning. It transcends money and fame. It’s your purpose for being. If you’re in touch with your ‘why’ then a few bumps in the road shouldn’t get you down.

Do Some Soul Searching

This last one might be a little hard to hear. But here it goes…

Sometimes you need to ask yourself if there’s a reason no one’s responding and sharing your YouTube video. Maybe it sucks… ow.

Recently I got to experience this with a four minute video I made to explain the purpose of Only Sky Artist. I released it to worse than silence. I heard groans. I produced the video and then sent it out to some of my trusted mastermind friends. The responses I got back were not encouraging. Almost everyone said it sucked.

Well, they were much more polite, but they all meant the same thing. I took in all the criticism and then asked myself if they were right. And I had to agree. My video didn’t live up to my standards. It was a sub-par effort that wasn’t doing my brand any favors. Ouch, ouch, ouch!

Even though it’s pretty bad (think Plan 9 From Outer Space bad) I’ve decided to take one for the team and leave it up for you to see as an example of what happens when you get too close to a creative project. I’m sure you will agree it doesn’t exude professionalism.

Here’s a link if you’re feeling brave. 🙂  Sorry. I took it down since I wrote this.

While the feedback I received was certainly a blow to my ego, I learned that my friends hold me to a higher standard than I sometimes hold myself. (See point number one again) And that’s a good thing! By objectively reexamining my creative output I had to admit it wasn’t my finest work. Now I know what to do next time to improve my YouTube views and avoid the apathetic silence.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below….

What have you learned from criticism? What keeps driving you to create music?