2 Steps Forward & 2 Steps Back

The absolute worst part of being a musician is the overwhelming time it takes to understand and to run the business.  It took me years to even begin the tedious journey to figure it out and I am still annoyed with the weekly upkeep.  Has it helped me financially … yes!  Is it totally necessary … absolutely!  Dealing with it has really helped me understand business expectations as far as knowing the lingo, level of seriousness, and the scope you have for your career.  So let’s dive in.

Get an LLC, a business checking account, and learn how to use some kind of tax software.  You need an LLC so that you can write off business expenses, and there are a lot of them.  How many times have you discussed music over a meal or coffee?  How many packs of guitar strings do you buy each year?  An LLC and learning about being self-employed and the tax benefits that will help you out at the end of the year are huge.  When I was teaching a ton and playing church gigs galore as well as everything else and I received six 1099’s at the end of the year in 2009 and I was told that I owed nearly $4,000 in taxes.  There’s nothing to do in that situation but laugh because, of course I didn’t have the money.  But I was dumb, and sure I kept my receipts and categorized them, but it took me until 2013 to finally get my LLC game together, and it has saved my ass!  Coupled with Quick Books, and getting a business checking account, it makes it waaaaaay easier to keep track of things and gives me the freedom come April, to not panic.  Whatever you do, get some type of system together that will save you money even though it costs you time and energy and it completely lacks the stuff of inspiration. 

Protect and track your intellectual property.  Copyrights are necessary especially when you are collaborating.  It’s $55 to copyright one piece of music.  However, you can copyright an entire album for the same price as long as it’s listed as a collection.  Choose one; ASCAP, BMI, or SEASAC.  They will track your sales and streamed plays.  They are in charge of paying you what you’re due.  If I had to go back and do it again, I would choose BMI over ASCAP.  List every song you’ve played on or written.  If you can, get a representative that you become familiar with.   Also, get yourself an ISRC code.  It helps organizations like ASCAP track your sales and gives you better analytics to digest.  Again, all of these things are terribly boring and terribly necessary things you must do to show that you are serious to industry professionals.  Everyone in the music industry who makes music would describe themselves as creative and passionate surging with original ideas, but are you dependable?  Are you ready to sell your tunes and make it easy to do business with a publishing company or will they have to wait on you and watch you scramble to get your shit together.  Organization; devoid of trendy clothes, hot licks, and a really edgy narrative does one thing really well … makes life easier for you and anyone you do business with. 

 Understand the complex hierarchy of the music business.  As if radio stations, record labels, and music magazines weren’t flooded already with an avalanche of bands and singer songwriters knocking on their door with press kits and CD’s … here comes the internet welcoming every shyster and delusional rock-star and MC on the planet.  There is not enough time in the day to listen to all the material submitted to industry folks whether it is blogs or local radio stations.  They depend on trusted sources to weed out the garbage.  Do not be fooled though!!!  Everyone who has ever been on reverbnation or soundcloud gets a message from somebody that promises exposure.  Do your research and fact check everything that they list on their resume along with their clientele.  Fees are to be expected, and patience is necessary.  Remember that if you’re serious, you’ve got to understand that this is a marathon not a sprint.

 Market your way towards legitimacy.  The legitimacy I’m speaking of has little to do with your musical chops.  There is no doubt that plenty of great artists come and go with nobody knowing who they are.  They never reach a point of financial stability or creative expression because they don’t have the time to work on the chops that they need that take years and years to develop or … they don’t take off time creating to gain the recognition they need that will free up their time to create more later down the road.  Hence the title of this piece, 2 steps forward and 2 steps back.  I loathe having to market.  Taking photos of what I’m doing is difficult for me because I don’t think to do it.  I’m in the moment of doing and I don’t like to switch my mind to “prove” that I make music.  But I’m learning to do it.  I have to.  I have to prove to industry professionals that I understand the game and am willing to play.  So you get all your social media together, make your website, and begin aggregating your content and trying your luck by raising your digital hand and saying to the public, but also to the professionals you work with, “I’m easy to deal with.  I’m in the game.  Let’s make something cool.”  We’re all crossing our fingers that the right people will see that working with us provides a creative and financial advantage, but cross your fingers with business strategy as well as your scales.  And find people who you connect artistically with, and stop wasting time with people who don’t care about what you have to offer.  It doesn’t matter how great your whaling ship is if you’re in a land locked environment.  There are no whales.  Go where there are whales.

Make & honor contracts that plainly state obligations and intentions.  What has been so difficult for me to understand is that trust has multiple levels and that expectations are often not understood which could greatly complicate matters.  I’ve avoided this for far too long in my life, but I know that they work for several reasons and not just to protect your own ass.  The greatest reward is in gaining an understanding on what dreams you both wish to make a reality and how you are going to do it.  I’ve learned so much about others and myself when we go to the proverbial drawing board to pour out ideas.  Once they’re out of your head and on a piece of paper they appear different.  Most often they are less whole than you thought or completely ridiculous concerning timeline, cost, etc.  In any case, everyone benefits from them because it gives both parties something to refer back to if things go off course in any way.  It acts as a great stabilizer.  Most often my own contracts have been indicated within copyrights as far as percentages go.  In any case, it’s how the business works so becoming comfortable with them by initiating them or receiving them in a positive way is going to smooth things out for the most part. 

Again, doing all of this is going to eat up your time.  There’s plenty more out there and better people to explain each one of these facets.  But if I can, in all my blunders, save or inspire any artists to take their careers and sense of self worth to the next level by avoiding my mistakes, then I feel that it’s my duty to do so.  I’ve been going through it.  I’m learning about it, and I don’t necessarily like it.  Would I rather score strings or load songs and fill out forms for ASCAP?  It’s a no brainer.  BUT  … I want to be around people, the elders of the industry, to teach me what I want and need to know.  I want my art to surprise me in its boldness and technical execution.  I want to work with some of the best out there in film along with the behind the scenes giants.  And the only way to do that is to prove myself as a worthy addition to the industry.  Which means yes, I’m going to have to take that break from creating and get my ducks in a row, or those that I need to see me will not know that I have the strength and skill to survive in an extremely competitive industry.  

Honoring our Humility

Trying to be your best is difficult to say the least.  The world is filled to the brim with success stories and anecdotes about how to do better, but I find there is a complete lack of humiliating stories out there that serve a greater purpose.  Like a shadow, lurking in the past ready to undress us in front of whom we’d most like to impress, our shame hangs on.  But unlike our greatest triumphs that we are so eager to share, our humility can act as our greatest source of strength.

I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be here.  Like many things when you’re a gigging musician, you end up playing for money instead of the art, the atmosphere, or the crowd.  None of these elements were aligned.  It was strictly for a measly $250 that was split between 4 people with my former band, It’s Over, in the summer of 2007.  Never have my nerves been so alert and my inner voice so loud to get the hell out of this place.  And I failed hard in unnatural, chaotic ways.  My memory left me hanging and I became detached.  At one point our drummer at the time Michael Judge was screaming at me, “Relative minor!,” so that I could find the right chord.  But it was no use because I couldn’t think.  After the 2 sets were over, I could barely look people in the eye because the embarrassment was so overwhelming.  I felt like I had let everybody down. 

I took awhile to look at all of this: My reasons for performing, anxiety, where I wanted my career to go, and how to adjust my practice for better memory retention.  Every professional musician has either  played with other musicians who just phone it in and most have been guilty of it themselves.  A Sunday morning church service, background music at a restaurant, or a gig full of songs that you don’t enjoy.  Even our practice can become monotonous or lost just noodling around.  We get in the grind of teaching, playing weddings and hustling and before we know it years have passed and we are nowhere closer to where we truly want to be in our profession because we are too busy casting a net for the next $50 we can hustle. 

Everyone’s career path is slightly different because our skill sets and interests are different so I’m not going to go into that.  What I will say though is trying to tame the lying beast of self-doubt along with being intentional about what you want to say musically and being able to pull it off live or in the studio is extremely important.  With all eyes on you … people you want to impress … you’ve got to be able to perform.  And there are a million different sources with longer, more in-depth explanations of pedagogy that works, but I will say this:

1) Use a metronome.  Go slow & then speed it up. 

2) Practice intensely for 45 min. and then take your break. 

3) Be intentional in what you practice.  Sing everything. 

4) Focus on the actual sonorous quality you’re producing. 

5) Change the location/view of where you practice. 

6) Get to a point where you can take critique without flinching.

7) And don’t forget to breathe.

Years later, I was called for an opportunity to play guitar in a live recording for the musical “Eating Raoul,” and was very excited.  I met Daniel Doss, the music director, in a church parking lot to receive the 100-page book of charts and a CD.  He informed me that I had 4 days to go through the book before recording.  I nearly choked, but I stayed calm and began to hit it that night for 6 hours.  Two days later there was a rehearsal with a drummer and the bandleader.  These guys were old pros!  This drummer was blowing my mind reading his charts.  Most people don’t understand the level of expertise needed to do the theatre gig, but it is inspiring to see the level of technique they had dedicated their lives to attain.  I knew they would find me out. 

I’m going to clue everyone in on the guitarists dirty little secret, and I apologize if people take offense or I’m giving too much away.  Notoriously, guitar players are some of the worst sight-readers of all instruments … next to drummers.  So here before me was 100 pages of some crazy jazz chords I had never seen at the time, and I’m supposed to learn a ton of lead lines.  Surprisingly, I didn’t blow the rehearsal, but a day later, I was informed that instead of live-tracking this thing we were going to multi-track it.  Which, to the layman … multi-tracking is like looking at your performance through a microscope.  The day came to start tracking and I was nervous to say the least. 

Right off the bat was a difficult intro that they wanted me to transpose into a different key.  On top of that, my right arm was covered in poison ivy and gauze, so I looked like a leper.  No offense to any lepers out there.  It wasn’t long before I told Daniel that he should find somebody else before I wasted any more of the studio time.  Of course it made my feel completely destroyed, but that experience also pushed me to return to school in an effort to read charts better and to achieve proficiency on my instrument.  It wasn’t long before I had landed a regular gig that put new charts in front of me every week that demanded quick access to memory and sight-reading with very little rehearsal time.   

A couple years down the line, I was playing a gospel church gig at Faith City.  It was a great opportunity to play with some of the most amazing Kansas City musicians that dominate the genre.  Some absolutely incredible drummers and organists I’ve been able to play with through that residency.  And there was certainly a learning curve that is much different than any ensemble playing I had ever been a part of before then.  But I kept hacking my way through and shedding a ton to keep up with Andrew Pickens the music director and organist. 

For whatever reason, I wish I could recall why, I was just having a bad day and had made some dumb mistakes.  Recently Justus West, who was 13 at the time, was playing bass and is just a beast!  He also plays the hell out of a guitar, his primary instrument.  So, there I am, feeling dejected.  Looking at this young kid, who was raised on this style of playing.  I confronted Andrew, “Why don’t you get Justus to play the guitar?”  He was speechless that I had said something that could possibly jeopardize my position, but I couldn’t ignore this fact and giving credit where it is due is vital to my conscience.  But nothing happened.  I went on to play several more months there until I decided that I needed to move on. 

We’ve all fallen hard on our face.  There’s just no getting around it.  I’ve seen in myself the tendency to feel burned so deep by shame that I’ve retreated from understanding the origins of it.  Was I not prepared?  Was I not being genuine?  Did I value the opinion of the audience over the opinion of myself?  Running doesn’t help.  And when I look back, some of my most shameful moments, my greatest fails, unlocked some brilliant gems of wisdom that gave me what the old folks call “backbone.”  The greatest shame is that we often lack the faith in ourselves to understand our errors and are forced to repeat them or worse, give up and lose our path to a greater understanding of our craft and sense of self.


The Dirty Shame of Guilty Pleasures

I grew up listening to Janet Jackson and Chicago.  I loved Disney films and dancing.  Somewhere along the line, I grew to believe that loving the things that I did just wasn’t enough.  Or maybe it was that I felt that I could no longer love the things I once did now that I was involved in grooming a sense of an “adult” identity.  I knew that others definitely felt the same sense of shame.  People would come to school looking and sounding completely different as if a new wardrobe was the magic eraser of our childhood.  I gave away old tapes; my Madonna, Boys II Men, and even Shaquille O’Neal’s album Diesel.  I hated that I loved Bette Midler and that I knew all the words to “Miss Otis Regrets.” 

My library was replaced by William S. Burroughs, Nirvana, and just about anything dark and angry.  That was the “real” art!  Tormented people, drug abuse, and destruction.  Real art wasn’t The Little Mermaid or break dancing to MC Hammer, because without suffering, where is the art?  It took a long time for me to devolve back into the state of mind I was in as a child.  Open to interpretations and expressions of what art could be.  An eye and love for seeing quality work rather than work that reflected only what I wanted to see in myself. 

I had never learned Stairway to Heaven.  Wayne’s World explicitly told me that it was uncool to learn that song.  So when I was asked to teach it by a young guitar student … I said yes.  It struck me as ridiculous then that I had never learned it, and even more so that I enjoyed it.  Within a month I had 4 students ask me to learn that song.  I ended up putting together an arrangement for a recital so they could play the whole thing verbatim.  It was a lot of fun.  I taught anything and everything from that point on; Keisha, Miley Cyrus, Nickleback, Daughtry, Brad Paisley, etc. etc.  I didn’t care as long as they felt inspired to learn.  Who was I to determine “good taste” or “artistic legitimacy?” 

Teaching gave me a very clear perspective into the love and quality that was put into music that wasn’t “my thing.”  I learned some cool things that were taken for granted because it was teenybopper pop along with production tricks that are definitely thrilling.  It gave me new eyes, a deeper appreciation of art I had never seen before because I was too caught up in aesthetics that only spoke to a narrow margin of ideals.  What had I been missing for so long?

When the Conquistadors came to the Americas they saw godless savages.  Mere primitives.  The only worthy, only true god was a white Jesus.  The only values with worth were their own.  How many skilled artisans, scientists, and healers were killed off?  The knowledge we have all lost that took centuries to understand have been wiped away because some civilizations were convinced that their values, their art and language, their gods and people were worth committing genocide over to maintain a sense of empire … a sense that they were the best. 

Dramatic, but related.  Within the arts, as in life, there is a tendency to denigrate each other so much as to not be able to see the quality and the concepts in the craftsmanship involved in making the art.  We roll our eyes at Britney Spears disqualifying her as just a pretty face or Mumford & Sons as overly earnest hipster banjo drivel.  Classical is seen as snobby and dictatorial and Jazz as pretentious technical masturbation.  Rock ‘n’ roll is for stoners who can’t seem to master their instrument & Country is for the red-necks getting drunk in back of a pick up truck strumming 3 chords and wailing about a dead dog.  I’ve heard it all from all types of tribes touting their own proclivities above others.  Once in awhile an admittance of a “guilty pleasure” is uttered.  What is there to feel guilty about? 

Since I’ve stepped back and allowed my biological response to pleasing things, whether it is audio or visual, rule my value of worth the more I enjoy life.  I learn faster.  My relationships are better.  I can see more love and passion in the world.  I am less likely to dismiss aesthetic choices and ideas due to bias’ that come from my world view.  There is a lot of greatness out there and some of them have been created by not the greatest of people during some horrific times.  How many times have we become Caesar and burned down the library of Alexandria in our own world?  Once we reject something because we don’t see it worth our consideration, we strip from it unforeseen knowledge that could be invaluable.  There just might be more to love and to learn in the world than you may allow yourself to see.

Hunting the Digital Gazelle

At one point early humans spent a ton of time trying not to die.  I imagine it must have been extremely routine and frightening trying to maintain enough calories on the African plains, raise a family without being devoured by a host of fanged beasts, and if that didn’t kill you, the weather was ready to prepare you for the buzzards.  And here we are, by luck and by great effort settled into the neurotic adolescence of the 21st Century where our hunt has drastically changed. 

Our Serengeti, has become our Facebook news feed and Linked In profiles, and after a century of being collectively taught how to become our own marketing agency, our traps and our spears have become the content we use to entice the attention of a nebulous “other.”  I’ve battled my thoughts for years concerning this new world because my knee jerk reaction is that there is a tendency, due to the possibility of reward, to become masterful at psychological manipulation and it makes me ill at ease for several reasons.  But I gotta eat!

Much different than our ancestors who hid in the tall grass to make their moves, our presence must be known.  I’ve sat on the sidelines observing the fields, once in awhile casting a net hoping to gain some type of recognition for my musical wares.  In my resentment of this new landscape, because it sucks up so much time from what my craft actually is, I have kicked like a toddler against it until I decided to do it in my own way with my own voice and create something, hopefully a little less savage than what I often see.  A savagery that I believe originates in that insane subconscious that invisibly guides so many of our rash decisions.

So let’s talk about these tools we’re using and how we use them.  Tools like relevancy, analytics, social platforms, & click bait.  We shouldn’t lie to ourselves that it’s just about “connecting.”  It’s more.  It’s about putting food on our tables, electric bills, sending our kids to a decent school … creating the life we need and want.  And if we don’t analyze these tools that we must use, regardless of profession, there is a great probability that we won’t become great hunters and in the worst case scenario, that we lose a sense of humanity because we begin seeing everything, everyone in every moment … as prey.

When I finally began to take the plunge into the social media pool, I decided that the best way was to make sure that I would help as many people, specifically artists in all mediums, by sharing their upcoming events, releases, and success.  This made my scroll game much more efficient, and at the same time I was fighting another fight which was to expose the greatness of my city that very few people know about due to mainstream media being what it is.  In short, mainstream media has a certain authority over our thoughts about what success, power, and expertise looks, acts, and sounds like.  I have a very different view concerning those variables from what I was taught through television and radio and have suffered, like so many do, the pitfalls of personal and tribal identity.  And so I realized that, by actively involving myself in the social media world, I could broadcast my own channel full of great artists involved in every style of music and medium of art thereby exposing many people to worlds that until then had been off of their radar. 

I felt relieved after I had made this decision.  Jealousy along with the feeling of competition seemed to melt away.  As if there isn’t enough success out there for everyone?  There is.  No one has to be on bottom just so someone else can be better off.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Beyond that, it feels great to be of service helping out artists in even the smallest way.  And here’s the deal with that; my subjectivity does not get to be the judge of who I share.  It may not be my “thing”, but the world is full of great masters, who have worked very hard to develop techniques that are incredibly difficult to attain … but they were not always that great.  The support is what really matters when it comes to the guidance everyone needs on the road to becoming the best that they can be.  So make sure to share.

When the twin towers fell I had a terrible, but very true thought, “A lot of people are gonna make a ton of money off of this.”  Within the week, t-shirts with flags on them and some slogan concerning 9-11 were filling every kiosk I passed.  Koozies, pencils, bumper stickers … you name it and it was for sale.  Now I think there are 2 things going on simultaneously in this equation: 1) Commemoration and empathy combined with national pride 2) the hunt.  It is extremely important that I illustrate clearly how different the last 200 years have been for mankind.  It was pretty simple for most of human evolution; food = plants & animals and if you could maintain your calories, you had a decent chance of survival.  And survival = success.  The drastically different and complex modern equation is something like this, though incredibly simplified for brevity; money = food and if we get our money from other people, the way in which we hunt is ever more by psychological means.  Now, I’ll admit that I’m not a sociologist or historian, but what I will say is that I was right about those 9-11 t-shirts, and I continue to see a certain amount of “relevancy” traps set everywhere I look.  Using, tragedy and death in a self-serving manner because it makes us look “in-touch” with the world is perverse.  So when those weasely little thoughts enter our minds and we go on that journey to justify our earning potential, the saying “the road to hell is paved in good intentions” rings too loud with truth. 

No one wants to feel left out so we tend to offer our 2 cents, but in the end will it pay off to constantly try to chase some fame carrot with another Adele “Hello” rendition.  I sincerely doubt it.  I see this everywhere and it saddens me that every publication wants to stir up the same dramatic current event, not to speak about it in any new way but just as a source of click-bait drivel.  Poorly written, preying upon our fears, dumbing down the multitude of dimensions driving any topic from public breast-feeding to American race relations.  They go right to our emotions, make us feel all pumped up with righteous indignation and end it as if they’ve wrapped it all up in a nicely tied bow. 

What I have sacrificed in my own life thus far from trying to be relevant to a group or to my time is this; I’ve wasted a lot of time and money thinking about the way that I appear to the rest of the world.  I have insulted my self and my family and friends by betraying what my inner voice whispers, and has to often scream.  Entire hierarchies have been formed in my head about my worth compared to others and their worth compared to mine … and it just isn’t worth it.  Don’t be relevant be you, because the search for truth doesn’t have an expiration date. 

Analytics are a good thing for the hunter.  We’ve always used them to measure success and I sincerely hope everyone becomes more effective using social media especially if they are conscientious about it.  There’s an algorithm everywhere that makes it either possible or impossible for you to get through to a public that belongs to a larger group.  I can always count on my mom and grandma to “like” my posts, but that’s really not going to sell records I assure you.  What we’re all looking for is breakthroughs; some virality miracle as if a million views means anything long term at all.  It’s more important, long term to be honest and create miracles for other people because truth be told … people want to work with their talented friends.  That’s right.  It all takes a team to make “it” work, and given the opportunity to lead or serve a team, I’d rather work with my super-talented friends.  Or at least I might be in a position to recommend them for a gig.  By the way, the share button is very powerful because it breaks the algorithm.  It would be like The Simpsons being broadcast on NBC and CBS.  Right now you’re just on one little channel, but you definitely have power.

When do we strike our digital gazelle and when do we remain in the shadows.  I will say this, depending on who you talk to and how often you post you might show up on their feed depending on the algorithm, you may altogether be invisible or much too prominent.  Whatever it is that you post, I encourage everyone to be a lighthouse of positive ideas and if critique is necessary, be thoughtful and courteous in your attempts to gain recognition & be aware that not everyone uses the net for the same purposes that you do.  In any case, your audience will not know that you exist if you don’t show your presence, and in whatever way that you do will certainly affect someone’s response or level of interest.  There are far too many artists in this world that just won’t show their brilliant work.  They are gifted, they are thoughtful, but lack the confidence to move forward as a hunter because on some level I believe there are those, like myself, who see what’s going on in terms of our modern sense of hunting and they refuse to take part … or they just lack the confidence that they have worth. 

A great hunter needs rest.  You can’t chase wildebeests all day and not take time to go for a swim, play with your kids, and eat your kill, but we’ve got this problem of when to turn off the screen.  Is it good for me to use all my subconscious seconds asking my self “should I be recording this?”  Can we truly indulge in eating our meal if we have to make ourselves a public sight that eats?  This goes way beyond if I care to see your sandwich, again these patterns are subconscious.  This is deep seeded stuff here that I don’t think we truly understand yet.  It has to do with tribal acceptance, with survival, stability, self-worth, and initiation rituals.  A behavioral evolution is taking place before our eyes and it is absolutely necessary to ask our selves, and each other, ‘what is this and why are we doing it and for what’? 

I was told once to Always Be Capturing (ABC’s of marketing).  For proof to the world that I do something interesting?  That I’m alive and have worth?  To gain a sense of meaning for myself from some “other,” hopefully coupled with a sale.  Now this can come off seeming rather curmudgeon like and possibly counter to the whole “be a good hunter” thing that I’m trying to illustrate, but how many horrible concert videos have I seen with terrible audio and video that would drive any epileptic into fits.  So many!  And could that time have been better spent, enjoyed more, by letting that moment just wash over you.  Not only are we feeling compelled to take terribly boring and grainy photos and video but then we feel like it would behoove us financially and socially to publish these collections for people to digest. 

So by all means, you’re an artist or small business owner and you need to make sure that people know that you exist, but do your best to make artistic choices in the content you try to capture and publish, but most of all … use your time where you need it most.  Frontline’s “Generation Like” clearly uncovers that we have a severe neurosis in America concerning screen addiction coupled with isolation.  Feelings of self-worth entangled in how many digital pats on the back we get.  Selling every scrap of personal struggle you’ve encountered that could possibly gain merit on some demographic checklist.  There are mountains of skill and technique required for longevity.  How much focus and momentum are we sacrificing to tap into our devices to get a sense of connection to a wall of others that may have a positive opinion about your recent update. 

There are definitely grey areas here in this electronic wilderness.  If I seem harsh, it’s a harshness directed at a specific aspect of marketing and social media.  A bias exists no doubt rooted in my upbringing and my generation.  There are positive attributes that I cannot see that I’m sure my daughter or perhaps you the reader will expose me ideas that will evolve my thoughts concerning social media.  But our brains can only evolve on universe time, and I feel we are still operating on some primal levels here.  Maybe we can tap into ourselves enough to say, “hey what the hell are you doing?” but we are much too far from Vulcan to relax the firm grip that we must have on the responsibility and reasons for our thoughts and actions.  

The Story of the Shoemaker


There was once a boy who grew up devoting his every free second to his love of fine footwear.  He longed for his own shop where all of his shoes would be made with the finest level of craftsmanship uniquely made for the feet of each and every customer.  With persistence and dedication, his dreams came true. He opened up a shop in the town square. All the townspeople spread the word of his talent.  They would say to each other, “These shoes are so durable they could last a lifetime … and oh how unique!”  The shoemaker’s proudest moments came when he saw the elated faces of his customers who would leave his shop with a brand new pair of shoes, boots, or sandals.  All was well.

As the years went by, the styles changed, and this kept the shoemaker busy learning different techniques but he was never as busy as the first few years his shop was open.  In fact, his sales were dropping at a steady pace year after year.  Puzzled by this, he stopped an old customer off the street who hadn’t been in since the shop had opened. 

            “It’s great to see you,” said the shoemaker. “Tell me, you are wearing the shoes I made for you on this very day after all these years … why haven’t you come back to see me for a new pair?” 

The old customer responded cheerfully, “My friend!  You an artist!  My seams are still tight; the leather retains its shine.  My wife even enjoys their smell!  Ha!  With such a great pair of shoes, why would I need anymore?”

 The shoemaker, gladdened by such enthusiastic appreciation, thanked the man for his generous compliments and walked away feeling both a deep sense of pride and a fear for his family’s future.

There was only one thing he could do to maintain his current lifestyle so that he and his wife’s final years would be filled with the laughter and health of his learned children and not be a burden upon their own wealth; in haste he began making new shoes in the newest fashion and hit the road to sell to a nearby town.  He kissed his wife and children goodbye and off he went.

As he set up shop in the town closest to his own village, he quickly came to realize that this town had no lack of quality footwear.  Everyone he approached was uninterested because their own shoes were of comparable quality to those the shoemaker made.  Desperate and feeling like a failure he began lowering his prices. He knew that he couldn’t go too low, because he had to be able to pay for the materials in order to make the shoes in the first place, not to mention he had to pay himself for the time it took to create them. 

Hours turned into days until he became so frustrated he lashed out at a passerby “I wouldn’t be caught dead in your shoes!” he said.  Look at them … they’re hideous!”

The passerby was startled. “What do you know about the style and quality of my shoes?” 

The shoemaker brushed him off. “If you don’t know craftsmanship and style when it comes to your feet, then who are you to question me, a master shoemaker?!”

The passerby hurt and feeling silly for buying the pair on his feet asked if the shoemaker knew of a better pair.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Unfortunately your entire town is plagued with shoddily made shoes whose fashions are way out of style.  You’re lucky that I am such an authority on the shoes you people deserve and are in desperate need of.  My friend, you tell all of your family and friends to come back to this very spot next week because I will return with the finest of all styles and sizes and for a bargain price!” 

Feeling somewhat relieved that the shoemaker had set him straight on the matter of taste and quality that until today, had never once crossed his mind.  Now, not only did he worry about his shoes, but also whether anything else he owned was of poor quality.  Surely, doesn’t he, a hardworking man with his own family … don’t they deserve to have the best, he thought to himself.  And in thinking this he vowed to the shoemaker that come next week he, his family, and his friends would be in this exact spot in the square as the shoemaker had promised.

After returning to his wife and children to discuss his travels and intentions, the shoemaker's wife came to him with sound advice. 

“You must not do this!  Where will you even find the time to make all of these shoes you have promised … and with no profit to feed us … we’ll starve!  You’ll just have to spend less time on the shoes or stop using such fine materials. People will not buy these second-rate shoes.  They need them to last!”

“My dear,” said the shoemaker, comfortingly, “I know you are right, but you’ve seen how we steadily lose money over the years.  And think of the children.” 

His wife agreed. “It would be nice to send them off right once they come of age wouldn’t it,” she said.

They both agreed that the circumstances were not ideal but that they had to do what was best for their family.  Cuts would have to be made somewhere.  They worked night and day making many new shoes for the surrounding towns and cities beyond the towns. 

Off he went and city after city he would convince the public that his shoes were better looking, longer lasting, and cheaper than any others.  Soon, the shoemaker and his wife saw their profits expand beyond their expectations.  However, they were working more than ever before.  Their bodies would ache from performing the same movements day after day, and there were always shoes to be made.  They needed help.

Two villagers were employed, as were their children.  Each was assigned smaller tasks to speed up production.  The shoemaker himself stopped making the shoes altogether and concentrated on sales and design while his wife figured out ways to cut out expensive leathers, dyes, and thread.  Everyone involved grew weary, and made worse shoes than before.  The shoemaker, rather than throwing them away, realized that these inferior shoes could be sold at the same price as his original shoes. To compensate, he would considerably mark up the shoes of slightly better quality. 

And so people had a choice of what class of shoe they wanted or could afford.  And fortunately because of their quality being low, they wore out faster, and because all of the towns’ shoemakers were seeing much less business, they were also forced to use cheaper materials and similar methods to make them.  If they did not, they would surely go out of business now that everyone across the land was trying to get this foreign Shoemakers shoes.  And after awhile, no one questioned why their shoes were falling apart so soon after their purchase.

The shoemaker, in a quarter of the time it took him to become a skilled artisan and start his business, had now become a wealthy man.  His wife and children had a future that was filled with promise and even more, they lived a life of luxury.  No longer did anyone in the family have anything to do with the actual creation of shoes.  Factories were built and soon employees were replaced with machines.  To keep his legacy alive and to ensure a growing fortune, Mr. Shoemaker established schools that would train future shoemakers the Shoemaker way of design and craft.  The Shoemaker family built Shoemaker stores in every village, town and city all across the country.  Mr. Shoemaker was invited by government and royalty to discuss his dynamic approach to business to ensure wealth and soon, his ideas swept through native and foreign financial minds everywhere. 

Life to the Shoemaker family became a success story.  Of course there was always more work to do.  More demands to be met.  Always more … but for them it was well worth it. 

One day, as he was off to his office for another meeting to discuss profits and upcoming budgets, a young man with a deep sense of sadness approached Mr. Shoemaker. 

“Mr. Shoemaker.” the young man shyly began. “My family once had a thriving business. We came from a long line of master shoemakers and we know that your shoes are no good for people.  They fall apart too quickly and lack any sense of artistry.  Your shoe store and your factories have caused my family to become fractured.  My father suffers from depression because he is too old to master the techniques of a new art … an art that he passed on to me and now I have no skill that is employable.  It’s not just me, but also all of my friends whose families were all known as skilled artisans and now are left doing jobs that require no skill or craft.  We have all become depressed.  Our communities are crumbling. We lack pride, purpose, and knowledge.  The trust we used to have in the quality of the goods we purchased has been lost, from the shoes on our feet to the bread that we eat. “

“You should work harder!” yelled Mr. Shoemaker.  “And smarter while you’re at it!  People don’t want fine things, and those that do, don’t want to pay the price.” 

Startled at Mr. Shoemaker’s complete dismissal, his blood began to boil. “Not after you’ve convinced everyone that your shoes are the standard at which to be measured!” the boy countered.  “We all know you’re a cheat Shoemaker!  All of us craftsman, but no one will believe us.  You’ve cornered the minds of millions and have them thinking that they are getting the best deals and the latest fashions Mr. Shoemaker.  But it’s a lie!  You’ve been circulating the same old trends using the same old cheap materials for decades!  And now, many businesses have adopted your techniques.  You’ve confused people with your lies Mr. Shoemaker.  It’s not right!” 

“Don’t you care about your family?” asked Mr. Shoemaker.  “Don’t you want to succeed?  I was once like you, a fine artist, barely getting by.  I wanted something better for my children, dear boy.  Don’t you see the choices I made were not easy, but to move forward, to secure a future that stood on solid ground …”

“You had to cheat your customers and communities far and wide?” The boy interrupted.

“They cheat themselves!” Mr. Shoemaker replied. “If they wanted to understand the trials of the craftsman then they would have asked.  They would have purchased more to keep me in business.”

“They were craftsman,” replied the dumbfounded boy.  “When you needed pots and pans, who did you go to but to the blacksmith?  Your need for pots and pans occurred only 3 times in your life Mr. Shoemaker, but he repaired them didn’t he?  Well the same goes for your shoes!  And when you needed clothes for your children, wine to drink, music for dancing … your lies and your greed have turned us from craftsman to laborers who have forgotten how to recognize quality and care.” 

Mr. Shoemaker turned and began to step angrily away.  As he crossed the street, the boys’ last words echoed off of the abandoned shops, “You know I speak the truth!”  He cursed the boy under his breath. Then, as he reached for the handle to his buggy, it broke off and Mr. Shoemaker fell back into a ditch filled with sewage. 

For months it went like this.  His food was too salty, a lamp fell apart, and a broom handle would break so on and so forth.  His children hardly came to visit him and rarely kept their word.  His employees showed up for work late or drunk and sometimes both.  He avoided the town square as it began to fill up with bums and violence became a risk you could bet on, or at least, that’s what the newspapers told him. 

And so he convinced himself that he had been naïve before.  That people, for the most part, were just stupid or lazy and he just hadn’t noticed until now.  Mr. Shoemaker became paranoid and hired guards and consulted with local authorities to do what ever needs to be done to remove troublemakers and vagabonds.  He wanted hard working families to be safe in his community.  Soon the hospitals began to fill up with suffering people that had, until this time, been only used for emergencies.  Sadness and anger had gripped villages near and far.  People shuffled through their day without hope for their future or proficient knowledge in any field, they could not solve problems on their own. Fractured families awaited the next meager pay check to pay for food that could make them sick and tired, wine to distance themselves from their troubles, and clothes … and yes shoes that would soon fall apart.  They could not get ahead and they could not figure out why. 

But that was a long time ago.

Edited By: Dylan McGonigle