How To Start: An Interview With John Strohm

By George Howard
(Follow George on Twitter)

Where to start? When to start? How to start? These are the questions that come up so often. The questions raised by anyone who feels his or her music should be heard, but is unsure of the appropriate next steps.

I recently had the opportunity to interview my good friend John Strohm. John is uniquely qualified to speak to the above questions.  Sure, John is now a successful entertainment attorney— representing, among others, Grammy winners Bon Iver, and one of the most successful independent (and by that I mean their own label, distro through TuneCore) artists of all time, The Civil Wars—but long before John became a man of law, he too was an independent artist working his way through the same issues and opportunities that you may be.

While attending Berklee College of Music, John started a band called The Blake Babies with fellow Berklee students Juliana Hatfield and Freda Love.  The Blake Babies, through great songwriting and hard work, propelled themselves from the Berklee practice rooms to the national stage. John then went on to play guitar for The Lemonheads.  In short, he knows of what he speaks.

In this interview John focuses on actionable things artists can and should be doing to propel their careers forward.  What is resounding is the importance of being remarkable.  This is a theme I write about time and time again. If you pull the word “remarkable” apart you note that at its root is “remark;”people must “talk” about your work.

Of course, in order for that to happen, you must get your music out there.  TuneCore, of course, facilitates this, and I’ve written a lot about the importance of using the Lean Startup methodology of creating a “minimum viable product” to get a sense of what the market thinks of your work; again, TuneCore makes this process an incredibly efficient one.

So, balance John’s words of wisdom regarding making sure that your work is remarkable with the incredible ease of getting feedback via creating a minimum viable product, and distributing via TuneCore to constantly improve.

Take heed also regarding John’s advice when it comes to who you work with.  His thoughts here mirror many of the ideas I’ve discussed in articles like “Strengthen Your Core.”  It’s about alignment of values and expectations.  Of course, you can’t align your values with anyone else’s until you clearly know what your own values are.  This comes back to getting started.

There’s magic in motion. Moving your songs and ideas and aesthetic (values) from your brain/bedroom to a more tangible place—distro via TuneCore/playing shows—are necessary steps in understanding your values, becoming remarkable, and, generally, moving forward in your career in a manner that shows you have a plan, a vision, and a direction.

Watch this space for continued conversation with John. He’s got a lot more wisdom to share, and we’ll discuss things like when it’s time to get a lawyer, key legal details that every band should understand, and more.

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George Howard is the Executive Vice President of Wolfgang’s Vault. Wolfgang’s Vault is the parent company of Concert Vault, Paste Magazine, and Daytrotter. Mr. Howard is an Associate Professor of Management at Berklee College of Music