Saturday, November 1, 2014

Now what and what was the point?

Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
   And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
   And He shall direct your paths.

I know upon first glance the title of this post might seem a bit cynical, but that is not my heart behind those two questions at all. In all actuality those are the two questions that my hear is sincerely pondering for the moment. As a little kid growing up my mom made sure that my sister and I knew those two verses, and the older I've become the more they mean to me. I'm the type of guy that has a lot of goals and dreams, but they mean nothing if they're not directed by God. And that brings us to the two questions, now what and what was the point?

Just about a week ago now I completed the Masters of Entertainment Business program at +Full Sail University. Truth be told I truly enjoyed the year that this program took, and it really did fly by. Throughout the course of this program I was constantly thinking about what am I going to be using all of this for, and that's what led to the now what question. Now I know most people consider getting a masters quite the achievement, and, don't get me wrong, it definitely is, but for me, and where the now what comes in, I find myself asking, "ok now that this is done what are we going to use it for?" And that's where I'm currently at with this. What am I going to use this for? Perhaps the better question should be is, how is God going to use this? That leads me to the, what was the point question?

When I say what was the point, I guess what I'm truly asking is ok now that I've finished this what was the point in me doing this program? Did I do it just to stay where I am, and to continue doing what I'm doing? Is now the time to make that leap, and go for what can seem scary at times? In other words, God what's the next step? That's where those two verses come in. Trust the Lord. Acknowledge Him. Don't rely on your own understanding. And He will direct your paths.

Throughout this last week I was listening to the YXist messages from +Andre Butler. They're all amazing messages, and I encourage you to check them out. It was this one in particular that spoke to me in where I'm currently at, YXist Part 1. One of the key things that he said in this message is that most of the time we only get a piece of the plan at a time. That God likes to take us step-by-step. We might be able to see a glimpse of the overall vision, but He may not necessarily tell us each individual step to take all at once. So it's with that I begin the next step. Now what you may ask? Well we get to work on the next project, and I'm so excited for this one. What was the point you say? Well for one to have me better prepared for where I'm going! I can see the overall vision, but as for how to get there, I guess I'll start with taking step one!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gone Girl and The Power of Media

Finally the month of September is over, and some good movies have started showing up in the theatres again. One of the best ones that managed to spike the box office is Gone Girl. If you haven’t seen this movie, I definitely recommend checking it out. This movie is full of twists and turns, and attempts to keep you guessing throughout the entire flick. Don’t worry I won’t spoil anything for you here. Gone Girl stars Ben Afleck as Nick Dunne who finds himself as the prime suspect in the murder of his wife, Ammy Dunne, played by Rosamund Pike. The part of Gone Girl that I want to talk about is how it shows how much power the media has. The media can pretty much frame the public’s mindset towards their desired direction with no problem. Depending on how the media feels about you on that day you can either be instantly vilified, loved, or tore down just to be brought back to rise again. There’s a particular scene in the movie, and I won’t get into too much detail here, where without much evidence to go off of, the cable news pundit in this movie immediately painted Nick Dunne as an evil, sociopath who was already guilty. Thanks to her power and platform she was able to get others to buy into and believe her mindset. Sadly this is what we see all too often in today’s media/cable news landscape.

With that being said, I loved how in this movie, Nick and his lawyer Tanner Bolt, played by Tyler Perry, were able to use this to their benefit, and manipulate the media. Through some coaching and training with his lawyer, Nick was able to present the image and story that they wanted portrayed regardless of what questions his interviewer asked him. As I was watching this the thought went through my head that this is marketing, or it’s at least what marketing hopes to do. Marketing and marketers want to take advantage of the media that’s available to them, to portray whatever it is that we’re selling in a way that is desired, and pursway the public’s opinion in favor of them and/or their product. How does this make you feel? Do you care that your emotions and thoughts are being manipulated by the media and marketers, or is it just necessary in this day and age? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Value of a Business Plan

There have been several thoughts and arguments made for the development of business plans, both for and against. You here countless stories that the Steve Jobs of the world didn't sit down and write out a business plan before they created Apple. He just had an idea and a belief, and went for it. I can relate to that notion. Sometimes you just have to go for it. You can plan forever, but nothing happens until you start doing. But I will say that it is a good thing to have a plan while you're on your way to doing. For many entrepreneurs a business isn't just a business, but a dream and goal that they've seen visualized in their heads, and it's also part of the life that they dreamed up for themselves. That's why it's a good idea to have some semblance of an idea of where you're going, and that's where the business plan comes in. One of favorite entrepreneurs and investors, Darren Hardy, put's it like this, "make your business plan fit your life. Not the other way around." All that to say the business and its plan should fit into the ultimate life that you would like to have. Another one of my favorites, Guy Kawasaki, believes that business plans are valuable, but that they should be enchanting and clean.

Darren Hardy is the publisher of Success Magazine and Guy Kawasaki is a former Apple evangelist and current chief evangelist of Canva.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Art of the Cover

In my last post I mentioned that there where a few topics/thoughts that had been weighing on my mind recently. One of those thoughts was is it possible to make a cover song/album that not only lives up to the source material, but also, just maybe, perhaps, surpasses it? Cover songs and even cover/tribute albums have been a part of the music industry for many years, and according to this Business Insider article, not only is it possible for a cover to be better than the original, there have been many that have surpassed their original source of inspiration. This gives me hope as I pursue my next project, which is going to be a covers album. Who am I going to cover you may ask? Well you’ll “just” have to wait. All will be revealed “in” due time. But I’m sure you probably already know who it is. He’s only the most popular and talented pop star of our current generation!


The first one that immediately comes to mind is Whitney Houston’s cover of the song, I Will Always Love You. The original version of this song was sung and recorded by Dolly Parton, but to many Whitney’s is the definitive version of the song. To that matter, and to the chagrin of Ms. Parton I’m sure, many people weren’t even aware that there was a version of this song before Whitney sang it. That’s where the beauty of the cover lies. It can take a song and/or album, and introduce it to a entirely new generation of music fans. Shoot hip-hop became the most popular form of music at one point in time by covering/sampling songs that came before them. Like Puff Daddy so famously put it, “take hits from the 80s!”

Some of my favorite instrumentalists have made entire albums of cover songs. Some of them featured a variety of songs from various artists and some of them were in tribute to a particular album or person. One thing that is the same between them is that most of these projects were well received by the general public. Apparently people like songs that they already like. Who knew?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Road Blocks and Pondering's

            As I sit here writing this blog today there have been three main thoughts dominating my mind, well at least as it pertains to the world of music. How do you get people to care about and excited to see a band/artist that they’ve never heard before? Is it possible to make a cover song/album that not only lives up to the source material, but also just maybe, perhaps, surpasses it? What would it take for me to completely go after this music thing? These are the questions that have been weighing on my mind. For today I’m going to focus on the first question. Don’t worry though. There’ll be more to come on the other questions.
How do you get people to care about and excited to see a band/artist that they’ve never heard before?
            Anything that I do, I always do it with a huge vision and appetite for success behind it, as we all should for any endeavor we take part in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen like that from the get go, and you have to build your way up to it, step by step. Lately, I’ve been working together with a friend on a project called Nine51. Our goal with this is to both build it up as venue for artists/bands and to promote the artists/bands that perform at the venue. It wasn’t long into the process that the quandary above began to make itself known. Currently, we’re three events in at this venue. The first event went great, we felt like we had some good momentum behind us, and then the second event happened. The second event didn’t go nearly as well as the first, but thankfully we were able to bounce back with the third event. Through it all, that question continued to linger throughout my mind, and then it hit me. There’s a company out there right now that has attacked this question head on, on a much larger scale, and they have handled it “marvelously” (pun very much intended).

            If you didn’t catch where I was going with this the company I’m talking about is Marvel. Marketing wise Marvel is killing it with their entire, Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU),, but there’s no better example of that currently than their upcoming flick, Guardians of the Galaxy. This was/is a little known property by most, and, with the characters involved, seemed like a huge risk/gamble for Marvel. Marvel has shown, with this property, that with consistent quality, working with talented people, displaying a consistent message, and developing the brand as a whole that you can get people exited and achieve great success.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


This has been the legal scandal that has gripped the nation for the last month or so. It has spawned two CNN specials, and has been the hot topic on sports radio non-stop. This is the story of Donald Sterling. Sterling is the, soon to be former, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, an NBA franchise. Donald Sterling found himself embroiled in controversy when someone leaked tapes of conversations, he had with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, to TMZ where he made racist comments about African Americans in general, and Magic Johnson specifically. That he made these comments were bad enough. The fact that this leaked during one of the greatest first rounds in NBA playoff history was just horrific timing. The backlash from these comments has been coming non-stop, with the biggest being a potential strike not only by members of the Clippers, but from players league wide. They refuse to play for a man they consider a bigot, and they refuse to play in a league that would allow such bigotry. To quell this potential player uprising and continued media backlash, Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, banned Donald Sterling for life from the NBA, fined him the league maximum of $2.5 million, and promised to get Sterling to relinquish his ownership and sell the Clippers.

This is a story about Netflix vs Verizon, but it’s also about much more than that. Net neutrality stands to perhaps change the way we consume the Internet altogether. In this case Netflix has consistently blamed Verizon for deliberately slowing down streaming towards their customers. Verizon claims that it’s Netflix’s responsibility to ensure quality streaming and customer service. But as I mentioned earlier this argument all centers around the FCC’s ruling on net neutrality. Netflix is a big proponent and supporter of net neutrality. Verizon is very much against that concept. Net neutrality is the idea/concept that all content and usage of the Internet should be treated alike. Those that oppose this concept, like Verizon, say that they should be able to charge by usage.
In what’s seemingly becoming a trend, this is a story about a bigger company attempting to bully another company into succumbing to their demands, to get them that much closer to becoming a monopoly. Pretty much what this equates to is that Amazon is attempting to bully publisher Hachette to accept their terms for e-book pricing (retail and wholesale). To force Hachette’s hand Amazon has put artificial delays on their books. They’ve made some of their titles unavailable fro pre-order, increased the shipping time on books they already have available, and have even blocked certain titles from showing up in search the way that they should. Stephen Colbert, one of Hachette’s authors that this affects, gives his take on this situation far better than I ever could…

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Year That Changed My Life

            Ten years ago I embarked on a year and opportunity that changed my life forever. Back in 2004 I earned the opportunity to become a member of Tops in Blue, (TIB). As a member of Tops in Blue we traveled all around the world putting on a show and performing for our troops overseas and nationwide. But Tops in Blue is so much more than that. One of the lessons that priors, former members of Tops in Blue, try to engrain in new members is to not go into TIB looking for what you can get out of it. They tell you to go into the program prepared to give it your all, and you’ll come out of it with so much more. I knew this would prove to be true because I had already gained so much just making it to TIB.

            There are some people that try for years and years to make it to TIB. Some make it and some never do. I was fortunate to have made it my first time out. The first step I had to take to make it to TIB was to compete in the base talent show. This was one of the first times that I had performed in front of a crowd all by myself. Needless to say, I was nervous, and you could hear it when I played. But that was step one of the performer in me emerging from out of my shell. Next up after that was sending in my application and a video of me playing a couple songs in hopes of being selected to compete in the Worldwide Talent Competition that determines the members of that years tour. Worldwide is a whole different beast of a talent competition. Before you got there you had to select what song you were going to perform in front of a theatre full of people. At worldwide, in addition to preparing for your performance, you had to audition in all the other categories there. So while I was there to audition for the band, playing my sax, I also had to do a vocal, dance, and variety audition. Basically auditioning for TIB you had to leave all of your caring what other people think at the door, or you just weren’t going to make it. I made it through all the auditions and my performance, each one bringing something out of me I didn’t realize I had, and a few weeks later I learned that I made it to the team!

            As a member of the 2004 TIB team, in addition to getting to travel around the world playing music, I received so many valuable lessons, skills, relationships, and more thanks to this tour. I always say that TIB was at the same time one of the hardest and most rewarding things that I’ve ever done in my life. Even if I personally didn’t get anything from TIB, which I did, the effect that I saw it have on our troops, especially the ones in the dessert, made everything that we did and went through more than worth it. But like I said I took so much away from my year with Tops in Blue. I have friendships from this tour that will last a lifetime. I learned how to be a performer, how to produce a show, how to lead a group, how to take charge of the stage, how to work hard and to continue to push through until the task at hand is complete, and much more. So there it is. 2004 is the year that changed my life, and Tops in Blue is the program that was used to do it! 

Won't you be my friend:
YouTube: Justin Smith-Williams