I love a metaphor, and a few years ago I was told a great metaphorical story that opened my eyes to how developing my career was entirely within my control. As background, I spent the first six years after leaving school working in a record store. Some years later, an older friend who also started in a record store told me how he looked back upon his career; his name was Jon.
Jon saw himself as a compact disc.
At first, he was a new release. Not a huge Justin Bieber / One Direction type release. No, Jon was something a bit more specialist, a bit more obscure, Jon was an acquired taste. Maybe a Jazz release or an unknown and eclectic Indie band just starting out. As such, Jon’s CD was filed in the range, what we call the A-Z. And there Jon stayed for awhile, maybe selling a few copies now and then.
But one day Jon’s CD started to get noticed, it started to develop a small fanbase, and it started to sell. So with increased popularity Jon’s CD was taken from the A-Z and put on a display rack closer to the front of the store, a “Recommended Rack”. More people came across Jon’s CD, he got more fans, and more sales. And soon Jon’s CD found itself on the Top 40 Chart.
Jon started to realise that like any CD, there were a few things he could do to influence where it went in the store. A bit of good A&R got more attention for the CD, playing it in store, advertising it, getting it played on the radio; all these things helped Jon’s CD attract more notice, more sales, and move up the chart towards the Top Ten.
Equally, not doing anything to promote Jon’s CD would see it start to decline in sales and move down the chart, fans would buy other albums and so those other CDs would overtake it.
So Jon told me how he could see the arc of his CD sales, and his career. While he spent time working on his A&R and growing his popularity, he also knew in time that his CD would become old-fashioned one day, sell a little less, and become obscure once more. So his CD would fall in chart positions, and move back to the range one day, occasionally being found by someone with the persistence to look. Jon also knew that one day sales would be so bad, his CD might be de-stocked and removed from the range entirely… and, god-forbid, eventually it was destined for deletion. This is the story of most CDs, we can’t all be the Beatles White Album.
Even though I was told that story more than ten years ago, I still think of it often, and I’ve retold it to more people than I can count. I truly believe I am my CD’s greatest fan, and I work tirelessly as its A&R, Marketing, and P.R. executive to promote it. Oh, and I forgot president of the fanclub too. And my promotion is in the store, above the line, via social media, through public performance, and in traditional media. I’ve worked hard to get it on the Chart wall, and so I thank Jon for the story and the impact telling it to me had on my life.
Postscript: When Jon told me the story of the CD as metaphor for the career, I saw the metaphor went even further than I think Jon had intended. A record store is only successful by having a lot of CDs to choose from. Nobody goes to a record store that sells just one CD, or stocks only the one album in 100s of places. Even the number one album can’t save the record store on its own, people like variety and a good record store has lots of it. Only by all the CDs working together and being in stock does the record store become successful, and all the individual CDs sell even better as a result. That’s why I share the story.