Getting your word out to people and creating a staggering fan base may seem easy especially with social media. However, leaving an impression that is stamped in people’s brain takes skills and high level creativity. Today, host Jesse Cole and guest Stephen Kellogg talk about reaching more people through music and other creative tools. Stephen is a singer and songwriter who also has a book coming out in 2020 called Objects In The Mirror. He is living proof of the power of having fun, doing things differently, and creating fans in unique ways. He shares his secrets to getting people to join your mailing list and building that relationship with these fans. Join Stephen as he imparts his creative formula so that you, too, can get the fans you deserve.
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Creating Fans Uniquely: Standing Out And Reaching More People With Stephen Kellogg
Our guest is the one and only singer and songwriter, Stephen Kellogg. Stephen has seventeen albums, performed over 2,000 shows, and receive a Grammy nomination. He’s given a TEDx Talk on finding joy and satisfaction at work and has a book coming out in 2020, titled Objects In The Mirror. Stephen is living proof of the power of having fun, doing things differently, and creating fans in unique ways. I’ve been a fan since the first performance I saw back in college. Stephen, I am pumped to have you on the show.
I’m glad to be here, Jesse.
It’s cool that we’ve been able to connect because I give a context to readers and we developed a great base here as we’ve been reading the blog for the last few years but like, “Stephen Kellogg, how’d you connect with this?” Back in college, my buddy said, “You’ve got to check out Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers. They put on a fun show.” I never heard your music, but he convinced me to go to Club Passim in Boston, a little small club. We’re sitting next to one of the performers from Dispatch. He’s like, “That’s the guy from Dispatch.” I was like, “Who’s Dispatch?” I’m not a big music person. All of a sudden, Stephen, you put on a heck of a show. I heard one song prior to that, you played Take Me Into Town, which was an old song and you play way back in the day.
I went up to you and you greeted all the fans when they were leaving. You and the band were thanking everyone. I said, “Do you ever play Take Me Into Town?” You turned and said, “Wait until everyone leaves and I’ll play it for you.” Every single person left, I waited for about twenty minutes, you grabbed the four guys in the band. You said, “We are going to play Take Me Into Town.” They were like, “We haven’t played that in forever.” You were like, “Let’s do it.” My buddy and I sat down and you played it and I was like, “How unbelievable is this?” You created a fan for life that day. I started sharing your songs and everything and we connected back when you came down this area and we talked. I’m sharing that because that’s creating fans in such a unique way. You went from the grind of how you started to all the way here and you’re still doing it. I appreciate you and I would love to hear how this all happened.
It’s great to hear that because when I ran into you and you brought it up, I didn’t specifically remember doing that, but it’s lovely to think that you plant a seed like that and here it comes back to blossom.
It taught me and what I do here is try to create those fans in special ways. How do you show them that you care and you’ll go the extra mile? Let’s get some context because you’ve been playing over 2,000 shows. I want to know how it started because you had to grind. What did you do differently as you start and you’re like, “I’m going to start playing music?” Tell me about that route a little bit.
I sometimes don’t know. It’s tricky because all of a sudden, you’re here and this is your life. It’s been your life for decades. I started out after college. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to play music, so I’ll go to work in the music business. I don’t know exactly why I thought that way. I played music in college and everything, but I thought, “This is going to be too hard to make it.” I believed a lot of, “What are you going to do?” mentality. I went and worked in the business and no regrets about that. I learned a good amount of working for a promoter for a couple of years. I realized and I say this in my TED Talk, “It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than the top of one that you don’t.” I got that from the office. I didn’t make that up, but it’s true. I realized I was happier playing at a steakhouse for three hours and getting paid $150 than I was promoting big concerts and making better money than that.
Probably early 2000, I started on that road of, “I’ll go out and give this a swing,” but then you do opening shows and you were just saying yes. That was probably the biggest thing is, “Yes, I’ll do this. I’ll do that.” I remember, my parents would sometimes ask, “Is it worth it to drive all the way down to Virginia for $50 to do this half an hour?” I was like, “I don’t know, but yes it was.” In the immediate, it wasn’t always worth it but in the big picture, you do enough of that and eventually, stuff starts to break. We got signed to a record label and then got to start playing some bigger shows. We suddenly had some fans and then you ride it in its peaks and valleys, but suddenly we’re here.
I’m fascinated by how you build the following because it’s something that I share with you. Our big vision is to take the Savannah Bananas on the road and take them all over and put the show on for everyone. A lot of people, not just us, knows how do you build a following. I’d love to know some of the things that you were doing to get people to either join your mailing list or become a part and build that relationship with these fans.
A couple of things that have been important to me always is that be real. Be authentic. Tell people the truth. When I go to a show and I asked someone to sign the mailing list, I’m not like, “If you maybe.” I say to them, “If you enjoyed this, I want to stay in touch with you. I will make these newsletters entertaining, informative, and they won’t come too often. They’ll come to the right amount. If it’s of interest, please take the time to sign it because it matters.” That’s true. It’s hard as an independent artist to stay in touch with people if I can’t reach them. Part of making fans was letting people know where it’s at and being honest about what your motives were for staying in touch and why do you want them to get a record. It is not just so you can get $10. You want to be in people’s lives. It means a lot.
Letting them know, “You mean a lot to me that you’re here at this concert tonight. I’d love for you to take a piece of it home with you.” Sometimes, there’s a tendency not to want to be too salesy or feel like you’re beating people over the head with a message. I’ve always believed if you believe in your products. This is how you are too, Jesse. You believe so much in what you’re doing that, you say, “I’m not trying to sell you anything you don’t want. I want you to be able to see the Savannah Bananas because you’re going to love it.” Sometimes I wonder if I’m being too forthcoming about things, but I try to shoot straight with people at all times, so they always know that if I’m saying something, it gives more weight to the words.
When you were coming up, when you were starting, are there any stories that stand out for you about the way you were able to connect with fans? I want to get into the performances in a little bit because those are a lot, but any stories that were like, “This is something that we as a band did to build this connection.”
We definitely suspected that quality was going to be as important or more important than quantity. Even early on, when we were getting signed to Universal, Atlantic and the big labels and you have this dream in the back of your mind like, “I’m going to be a huge artist or something that everybody’s going to know.” Even when we were in that place, it was more important for us to connect deeply with the people who were there than it was to have a surface connection with a ton of people. That’s a choice. You have to decide if world domination is your goal, then you’ve got to figure out how to connect on a deep level with a lot of people.
One of the things that helped make it less overwhelming was, “Let me work with who’s in front of me.” If I showed up in Lawrence, Kansas and there are 50 people there, I never treated it like, “There are only 50 people here. This is a waste of time.” I have worked with people over the years who view it that way, who say, “Cut all that crap out of the situation. Don’t deal if the yield isn’t big enough, don’t bother.” For me, in this particular thing that I’m doing, it’s not so much about the number of people that I’m hitting, it’s about how much can I mean to the people who are in front of me. I walk into that 50 person show and I’m less concerned with how to turn it into 500 than how to make these 50 fans for life.Part of making fans is letting people know where it's at and being honest about what your motives were for staying in touch. Click To Tweet
My wife, Emily, who you met, she said, “Our teaching, our staff, every game is someone’s first game.” Every night we look at whoever it is, if it’s our first time, that interaction matters. I love thinking about you and I’ve seen you at shows with 50 people. I’ve seen your shows with 500 people and I’ve seen the way you connect but are there certain things that are applicable to how to connect. The post-show you spend time and you connect with the fans, that’s big but what are some of the things during the pre-show? It’s fascinating to me. How you’ve been able to grow such a loyal fan base, Stephen?
Thank you for saying all that, Jesse. We talked a little bit about this because one of the things I had to do for my own mental preservation was I don’t spend quite as much time with fans as I used to. I realized it was burning me down to a nub. I had to figure out, how I can maintain a deep, meaningful connection with the people coming to the shows and not have them feel like I’m abandoning them? Also, do what I need to do for my own soul to be okay and be able to keep doing it. That’s important. That’s an important question, at least in this scenario that applied. What I usually think is, “What would I want? What am I looking for?” I’m not necessarily always looking. I don’t always need personal time with my favorite artists, but what were the things that were important to me? I wanted to feel like I knew what I was getting into.
I wanted to feel like I knew when I go to a show, what’s this show going to be and stuff? I started writing a lot more to my fans. I started posting a lot more. It wasn’t to promote, it was to be, “Here’s a window into everything that you might not hear from my mouth, but you’re going to see it on my Instagram. You’re going to see it on my Facebook.” There will be opportunities along the way for whom it’s important to spend FaceTime. I’ll do some events where I’ll say, “We’re doing a meet and greet tonight. If you’d like to come to this, come early and we can chat. You can ask questions. We can get that picture if that’s important to you.” I realized that at some point, it gets to be with a lot of people. I’ve told you I’m an introvert. I realized I couldn’t manage all these people without being able to start to put a bad foot forward. It’s too hard for me.
You find your median. You’re sharing in a personal way and that’s a big point. It’s not just the Stephen Kellogg persona. It’s you, it’s in your songs, but also in your Instagram, which has grown and your Twitter. You’re saying, “These are the things that are going on in my mind.” You are personal. I want to go to a little deets about the tweets you tweeted, “Some folks want you to stay who you were way back then. They’ll hold you to a standard of who you were. Don’t play for those people. Play for advancements. Play for the possibility of who you can be. I am, although it’s hard to say goodbye to some folks, it’s glorious to evolve.” When you wrote that, what were you thinking?
I have increasingly a number of people who are looking for a nostalgia trip. They were like, “I saw you years ago and you dance. Everybody was dancing in their underwear and that’s great.” I have no regrets about these memories. I like that. I know some of that stuff spoke to you and that’s what brought you in. What I do know is that I’m not going to do any of that anymore because it wouldn’t be true. It was true then. That’s who I was then. I have a lot of other things that I’m sharing and they are as good or much better as entertaining and everything. Not everybody is going to be able to come on that trip, but I do occasionally run into people who are hungry, like, “I haven’t seen you in years, but what about this and that stuff?” I can’t do that for them and they can’t because it wouldn’t be authentic.
I don’t mind that they’re asking for it, but not a lot of people are asking for it. You’re being a little circuitous about this, but I don’t want to throw shade. What had happened was someone I used to work with had made a few comments and that hurt my feelings. When I checked in and they were locked into something I had done, I went and I had handled the situation years ago. I thought, “That’s several years ago, you’re bringing it up for the first time. I’m glad to hear it.” All you can do is say, “I handled that poorly, but I’m much different.”
I love the play for advancement and that line in their play for advancement, “You’re moving forward and reinventing.” We lost baseball fans, Stephen. People that loved baseball, we lost them because people wanted to attend it and we’ve evolved. We’re going to continue to reinvent and you have to. I respect that so much. Even more so, yes, I do want to go there back onto the old days briefly and some of the things that we did because it created a lot of attention and you get people into you, like, “I like what’s behind all this.” I bet you, a lot of the people were like, “This was fun. This is big. He means something. There’s something deeper here. It’s not a circus show.” I think that’s key. You’ve got a band base and people were like, “They’re going along the journey. You’re developing new fans.” If you don’t create attention at all, then you’re in trouble because they don’t even want you.
You have to. What happened for me, that band, The Sixers, there were a bunch of us. We were able to do more of a circus. The entertainment was what created the attention of that band. When the band went away, not of my choosing necessarily, I had to adjust. What I eventually arrived at was, “I’m going to create attention with compelling stories. I’m going to tell you about things and funny things.” It’s not all that heavy, heartfelt, but that’s part of it. A lot of them are funny things. It started to be like, “I’m going to use my words to create attention. I’m going to get up.” The show became much more of a storytellers show and I realized this I can do by myself. I don’t need a whole band of guys because I didn’t have a band. It wasn’t even an option for me. It was still the same ideas, but it was what we were using as bait.
There are two things that you had to think differently on a show. In a typical show, someone plays music. I’ve seen you both ways where you had a hat and you had and you picked little things. It was a song choice. It was a song about love. You involve the fans in that. If you don’t remember, I was the first one to yell out a song. I was right on that. That was involved in the fancy and that’s not normal. I was sitting and was like, “They literally involve the group in deciding what songs are going to be played. That’s cool. That’s fans first.”
I ended up doing it for the rest of the year too.
How did you come up with this? I want to talk about that. Even back in the day, you were delivering performance in a different way.
I didn’t want the shows to be the same. I feel like you have to keep because eventually, you get a little sick. I saw that, especially because my fans tend to be in the middle age and they’ve lived a lot of life. They’ve seen a lot of shows. They’ve had a lot of meals. They’ve done a lot of things at this point. If you’re going to do the same thing that all that is the occasional nostalgia, someone might not need that, but once every five years. I feel like if I can create a new canvas every time I go out, every time the tour happens, “This is what we’re doing and what’s going to happen on this tour,” then you never want to miss what’s next. It’s not the same stuff. You can’t miss it and hopefully, people will come multiple times each year and I’ll be able to reach more people.
The idea to pull songs out of a hat came because necessity is the mother of invention. I was like, “What are we going to do? How am I going to do this tour with Tyrone?” We wanted to go out together, but Tyrone Wells and I know we have our own thing. It wouldn’t necessarily blend well and I didn’t want there to be any ego in it. This idea came to me that if we did this, we’d both be up there. It would be entertaining and it ended up surpassing my expectations because the fans loved it and I loved it. It was an excuse to play songs I would never play. It changed everything I’m planning to do moving forward because it’s worked well.
It’s a creator’s dream. You never know what’s going to happen. I did understand it well. How does anybody create, “You don’t want to miss this? You don’t know what’s going to happen. You have no idea what’s next.” That’s what we call, “You wouldn’t believe the moments.” We want people to come to the ballpark and say, “You wouldn’t believe what I saw at the stadium tonight. The break dancing, first-base coach, the male cheerleading team, whatever it is.”
I love it. The weddings you do. I read your book and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been following along since then and stuff.
That is such a key point. You start thinking, “I want people to come again and see something different.” Many performers, artists and musicians, it’s the same show and often it sounds the same as the radio, which I don’t necessarily think is a good thing. You want something new. You want jams. I love to go back on how you started coming up with that because back with The Sixers, there were things I never saw on stage. From the movie quotes in the middle of songs to the water chug offs to the dancing in the underpants. It was wild. I am trying to figure out and what we teach people is, how do you come up with ideas? You came up with different mindsets to put on a show. How did that collaboration happen?
These were my ideas. This is who I am. I have a goofy personality and I have a sense. I think we all have the aces that we bring to the table. One of my aces is the connection thing. I can feel when the room is with me and when it’s not with me. I’ve got a strong radar for that. A lot of those ideas, back in the day, would come about because the music itself wasn’t that strong to be honest, in my opinion. I know it meant something to people and that’s great. I’m not throwing shade at myself, but I would go in and I could sometimes feel that we didn’t have the songs yet.
We had some of the songs. They have a following and all. We couldn’t get it done that way always so the place would get chatty. You would be like, “Something’s going to happen.” It wasn’t premeditated. When it’s doing something and then when it would work, we’d be chugging bottles of water and the crowd would quiet down and turn back towards us. You make a mental note, “That worked.” You start using these things and they all came from a place of genuine inspiration. We were jamming on that song Thirteen and I started, “You can’t dance in your underpants. You don’t stand a chance.”
I probably said, “Does Goose want to dance?” He went into a spontaneous moment. The crowd went wild and then you go, “This is something.” You end up repeating it because it worked. What happened was as the years went on and the music got stronger and stuff, we would feel that we were interrupting. It started to feel like we were becoming actors and we were never actors. It was always authentic until it was, and then when it wasn’t, these things become reliable crutches at that point. It feels like it takes people that you might get more out of the music if you didn’t take it in this weird left turn place because that’s stopped being what I wanted to do. We moved away from it and it wasn’t like overnight like, “We’re too good for that or something.” Anytime something stops being real, including the story, I try to have the courage to move it out of the space and then if I’m not connecting, it’s like, “What’s the new thing that we’re going to do here?
There are two cool pieces there because I know that you notice when someone in the crowd is not fully in tune. When I’m here, I’m constantly thinking, “With 4,000 fans, is someone bored for a second?” even at 5:30 before the game. You notice that and it can make you go to a negative spot, but it can also push you to get even better at what you do. I’m constantly focused. There’s a boring moment. There’s dead air. There should never be dead air in a stadium and you see that. It’s like, “How can you put yourself in your customer’s shoes or your fan’s shoes?” It’s like, “Are they leaning in? Are they back?” Experiment constantly. Is this how you built this experimentation?
That was totally it. I had been a Grateful Dead fan as a kid and I loved that they would have a different setlist every night. At some point, I realized musically, I wasn’t going to be on the level of the Grateful Dead. I wasn’t even that interested in the plane of the music. I wanted the canvas to look different every night. To do that, it became this ongoing adventure to like, “We know we have to dance. We have stuffed animals. We have movie quotes.” You gathered them and then you pick each night, the ones that feel the most right for that night and you go on that. Every night is a new canvas. Sometimes you retire moves and you gather new ones. Suddenly, at many years in you go, “We’ve got a lot of moves. We’ve got a lot of great places we can take a show on any given night.”
I want to point out your thing of what do fans hate and let’s not do that. I have applied that a lot moving forward because I realized people don’t want the shows to start at 9:30 or 10:00 at night anymore. These are people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s coming in. They want an early show. They don’t want to have to sit around buying a whole bunch of drinks that they came on a Tuesday night. That doesn’t work for these. We’ve taken a bunch of measures where we got rid of ticketing fees coming up that we’re going to be doing. I’m not sure if we’re going to pull it off fully, but the goal is for every show to start at 7:30 on the upcoming tour, which I think that consistency and being able to say to people, “We understand where you’re at in your life and we feel you. We want to meet that.” I got that from you. People seem excited about what’s coming up from the investors.
I appreciate it because it’s listening. If I’m that customer, that fan, what would I want? I want it earlier. The fees and stuff, no one gets excited about that. How can you eliminate that and then you’ll develop bigger fans? That’s good to hear. What are some of these experiments? I heard about the lyric boards and some of the things that you’ve done that you didn’t think would work. Tell me if some of these experiments of things that you’re selling or don’t sell, that worked or didn’t work, that you were struggling with?
What’s important is the crazy ones. I don’t know if you have these in your house, but we have these brush board things that have little sayings on them like, “Home is wherever you are.” We hang them in our foyer and they make us feel cozy. A couple of fans, as I was traveling around had made these using my lyrics and would show them to me like, “I created this.” These people had a real artisan, who had made these beautiful boards. I was like, “That would be cool.” It has a higher-end item to be able to offer our people. My wife and I spent a whole weekend, we bought all this stuff. We’re trying to make these nice looking boards and after 2.5 days of banging my head against the wall, I was like, “I’m not handy in this way and she can’t either.”
These things look terrible, but we had invested $1,000 or something in all these boards and all this stuff. I said, “I don’t want to lose the money completely. I’ll take out a paint pen and I’ll write quotes of mine from my lyrics that have meant something and I’ll doodle.” My doodles aren’t cute. I don’t think they look good. I have bad penmanship. I had no expectations. I put fifteen up to start and we sold them all in less than ten minutes. I threw out a picture. I didn’t make a big deal of it and said, “We spent the weekend doing these.” Everybody bought them and then people are emailing, “How do I get one?” I did some more and those went like that too. I wanted to say to everybody like, “You don’t mind my crappy handwriting. This is okay with you?” It’s not my decision to make. People were digging these things.
I made as many as I could make before I went on tour. I took them out and we sold them all out. Granted that this is a small boutiquey thing, I don’t know what it was. I sold them for a few weeks and we sold 100 or 125 of them. This is the thing I would’ve never known that this was enough, that people like having my handwriting. I didn’t see it clearly. It was an experiment. It sells in a pure business way. It’s good for them because they get something special and we’re not charging exorbitant rates, but we charge a premium for it. It ends up helping us because if you think about the profit margin on a CD or shirt are low. This helps us stay in business. It’s a win-win all across the board.
The marketplace will tell you and it’s with these experiments. We’re constantly thinking about that. One thing I noticed, I don’t know if this was a part of the experiment but it is cool and it’s still going, the Family BBQ. Tell me about this because you never hear an artist saying, “We are having a Family BBQ.” Tell me the concept of this because I’m thinking, “How can I have a Family BBQ and invite our fans? It’s fascinating.
I was reading a Willie Nelson biography when I came up with this. It was a summer where we didn’t end up having as much work as we should have had. We knew we had to come up with some ideas. Many ideas have come this way because you’re like, “What are we going to do?” then you get an idea. Willie Nelson would do this 4th of July concert and he would invite all the bands that he has had a kinship with. They called it the 4th of July Picnic or something similar. I thought, “What could we do on our scale that we had that exists that would be awesome?” What I came up with was, “Why don’t we do this weekend where we all stay in the same hotel? We play a whole bunch of sets of music. We play lawn games. We have a tug of war, water balloon toss, a Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby.The goal with creativity is to have enough space to let there be fallow periods where you don't have to create every second of every day. Click To Tweet
We’ll have prizes. We’ll play a little acoustic set during the day for people who have kids. We’ll have a burger and we can chat especially because I don’t go out.” I haven’t for 7 or 8 years to the merchandise every night. Not everybody has seen me or been able to catch up with me. I thought this is great because it’s a weekend when I will mentally prepare to be with everybody all weekend. We can chat and hang and we can do this because it’s not a huge event in terms of numbers. Last time we had 500, which felt a lot, but you’re in it for 2.5 days. I’m always out there. You can walk up.
I thought that’s the thing I would want to do with the artists I dig. We built it and that’ll be our tenth year of doing it. We’re doing it in Washington DC in 2020. It’s been a profitable and mixed way. Sometimes it’s not that profitable. I’m having a conversation with my manager about we should continue this. One of my daughters overheard it and goes, “Dad, this is a lot of people’s favorite weekend of the year. You have to do it.” That’s the metric that matters. She said that and I’m like, “You’re right, we’ve got to do this. Whether we make money on this or not, we’ve got to do this because this is the thing that makes fans for life.” We show up.
Is your whole family part of it? All the girls?
They’ve come. They’ve missed 1 or 2, but we try to have them down there and Kirsten comes and the girls will sit in with me on stage. They’ve gotten to know the fans and people come from all over the world. We’ve got a fan from London who always comes. People come from all throughout the US. They see these people once a year and it builds a community and lasting friendships come out of this.
It is powerful because we believe that love is better than like and you have hundreds of people that absolutely love you versus thousands that like you, it’s much stronger to have that tribe. I don’t know many artists who are building it like that. Are there any more cool things that happened? It sounds like everyone is having fun, food, drinks, and hanging out. What does it look like?
It’s those things and we let everybody vote on pick an album and I’ll play that album beginning to end. That’s a fan-voted thing. One of the sets is that. People are voting together. They’re talking to each other on the socials because they’re saying, “I want to hear this one. That would be fun.” It begins way before the actual weekend itself. It begins in the dialogue that’s happening. A fan community sprung out of it and they all started sending each other holiday cards. I don’t know how many people do this, but it might be a couple of hundred. In some cases, you have people who made 200 new friends by going into this one weekend. That’s powerful stuff.
I love the vote. How you can let them make decisions and feel like they’re part in taking ownership. We let them pick our jerseys. We’re even thinking about how can we let our fans coach a game? We will take our coaches out of the dugout and let the fans make the decisions on what happens during the game.
That would be amazing. I don’t quite know how you do that, but you could break it up by inning and whatever else. That’s the fun of it. Tom Petty said something when he was talking about building a setlist that stuck with me, which I think applies here. He said, “You have to get people ready to take what you want to give them.” I’m not quite sure what that is for the Bananas, but for Kellogg, I know I want to give them a little bit of wisdom. Over the course of a show, I want them to laugh and I’d like to awaken something in their heartstrings. Those are three things that I want to give at every show. My job then is to create a landscape where that’s possible. Where they can participate and be involved, but I’m not completely at the mercy of because sometimes people think they want that. You haven’t seen me in years and maybe you show up and go, “I want to laugh tonight. That’s what I want.” If I can give you that piece, then open the gateways so that I can offer you some things that you didn’t know you needed. That to me is the powerful stuff. That’s what my goal is. I’m not quite sure how that applies to the Bananas, but I bet it does. I bet there’s a way to do that.
It applies to every business. You think of wisdom, laugh and heartstrings. You could probably do a little bit of wisdom, that you can make someone laugh, and pray at their heart, you win. That’s powerful. I could go on a lot of areas from that. I’ll jump in the book because I know you’ve got this coming out. It is a reflection. Is there a message that you think could share some wisdom that could help anybody from the book that stands out for you?
There’s a lot and the essays are broken up. There’s an essay on marriage, friendship, forgiveness, integrity, and work. I broke them out. As I say in the introduction, the goal isn’t to say do what I do. It is, “Here’s the best stuff that I found and maybe it will help you.” That’s the point of reading this book is that, hopefully, in an entertaining way, I’m sharing things that I’ve learned along the way that could be of use to people. That’s what I like about David Sedaris, Anne Lamott, or Elizabeth Gilbert. These are writers who can make you laugh or cry and you’re being entertained and you realized that you got smarter for reading their book. That’s what my goal is in my art in general. That’s what I want to do with my life when I grow up here.
You are the creator. I do have a couple of games, Stephen, before we finish here.
Let’s make sure we get to them. I’m up for the ride, Jesse.
We’re creators. A lot of business entrepreneurs are creators. I don’t want to ask the question, how do you create, but I’m fascinated by getting creative spaces because we all have different things that get us to be able to get that. For you, you’ve written many songs, you’ve found these rare moments. What’s your creative formula?
I’m a melodramatic person, in general. I live in an emotional way. I’m a wide-open vessel. I’ve had to learn how not to be constantly overwhelmed when I’m creating. I could go out every day and be like, “That should be a song. This should be that. I’ve got to turn this into that.” It can almost take the fun out of it. To me, the goal with creativity is to have enough space to let there be fallow periods where you don’t have to create every second of every day. Live a little bit, let some things happen. If you are not feeling creative on a given day, I don’t make a big deal about it. I’m not like, “I’m not creative. I’ve lost it.” Probably, when I was younger, I did but it wasn’t serving me.
The beauty of it is like, “We don’t have to do that.” If I need to figure out how to feed my family and I’m still not feeling creative, then I might sit down and try to jog it lose and call some friends and say, “I’m looking for an idea. What do you think?” You kick it around. You can shake it up when you have to, but you should be allowed to rest as well. It’s okay to go and then you have periods where you can’t stop it. We are rolling and you get many good ideas in the short span and then you implement the ones that seem to work or seem to resonate, and you still got ten good ideas that didn’t. You file those away and maybe on that day, when you can’t think of anything, you revisit them. It’s trying to ride that wave where it is and be with it.
It is giving yourself space. You can’t force creativity. It is important. It’s also getting into different environments. I don’t know if it helps for you, but I envisioned myself literally at that Family BBQ with all you guys and I envision myself, my creative juices flowing because I’m in a different environment. I’m with different people.
You should come. If you’re around that busy season, I’d love to have you as my guest. It is if you and Emily want to come.
We’re going to go to our first game. This is ironic. I do it with every guest, but it’s a game called truth and dare, which one would you like first?
It is going into failure and discovery. I look at all failure as discovery. It’s what did you discover? I’m intrigued by what people may have said, “That wasn’t that good.” You discovered something that was like, “This is going to push me to the next level.”
Without making this too long-winded, this story is in the book. In 2011, the last Sixers record, I recorded a song with a producer out in LA who had all these hits songs and we basically plagiarized. I can’t go into all the details, but it was inadvertent. There was also this formula of like, “We’re going to take this Paul Simon song and do an updated version.” It all was this awful, slimy process and the label was in favor of like, “You’ve got to work with this guy.” He was having success with all these songs that sounded like other people’s songs.” I found myself in this murky, gray, awful territory. In the end, we recorded this song and people said, “This is going to be good.”
As soon as we let other people hear it, I was like, “I can’t. This isn’t for me.” I had a Jerry Maguire thing where I had to sit like, “Pull this. I’m going to rewrite this song. We’re redoing this. I don’t want anything to do with this.” Technically, it’s not like I was going to get sued, but I don’t like being here. This is my professional low point. This is an absolute failure. I am told by the label, “If you insist on this, the radio is not going to play you anymore.” I said, “That’s fine because I’m not going to be able to sleep at night if I don’t pull this single.” We were both right. It killed the momentum that I had at that point in my career with the radio, but I was fine.
I knew who I was. I learned that you’ve got to pay attention to those little voices in your head. I’m not perfect. I don’t always make the right decision. You can unwittingly find yourself making questionable judgments. That’s okay. When you realize you’ve made a bad choice, you’ve got to undo it. In terms of integrity, that was a failure that taught me one of the most important lessons in my life and I wouldn’t trade it. It sucked. It’s over now. I’m the one talking about it. I was the one sharing it because it’s a useful anecdote that can teach people some important lessons.
You’re staying true to yourself. You’re writing things that mean you are authentic, that you are real. You won’t do anything that’s those murky waters anymore.
I didn’t before and I didn’t after, but it was like, “I had to make this mistake to learn it and other artists have gone with it.” They go with it and then they get sued. I couldn’t live like that. You can do it, but it’s not for me. I don’t think it’s for a lot of people.
Are you ready for the dare? Don’t worry, I’m not going to make it one of yours, but we do this at the stadium and it’s called the sing-off. We have 2,000 fans versus 2,000 fans. We play a song when the song finishes, you have to finish that song lyric. I’m going to your childhood here. When it stops, you’ve got to finish that song.
I will sing the last lyric.
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Woah, livin’ on a prayer, take my hand and we’ll make it I swear. Woah, livin’ on a prayer.
You nailed it.
I sang that song with Richie Sambora. I got the call one night from Richie’s manager. I was in South Carolina and he said, “Richie wants to know if you want to sing Livin’ On A Prayer?” We’ve met a couple of times. “Do you want to learn it?” I said, “I don’t have to learn Livin’ On A Prayer. I know it.” I went down and I sang the second verse and chorus with them at this show. It was incredible.
I know you referenced Bon Jovi in your TEDx Talk talking about as a kid, you wanted to be with the leg kick and everything. I was like, “I’m going to go old school here.”
That’s well done.
That’s the best ever of Truth and Dare. You absolutely killed it. We’re going to go rapid-fire to finish here. Marketing minute, what was the best thing you think you’ve done to grow your fan base?
Write good songs.
Make a good product, a great job. Flip the script, if you are the host of Business Done Differently, you can ask me one question.
How do you keep the air in the balloon? You’ve got to come up with new ideas constantly. What do you do to keep things fresh in a way that you can sustain this job for years and decades to come?
It took me almost to a low point. I was struggling. I was getting close and I was like, “I’m constantly rolling.” I started writing down, “What are the things that give me energy?” I created my energy list. I wrote down what things are giving me energy. For me, it’s creating, sharing, and growing. I have different variations of what those are. The days that I’m not doing that, I’m in trouble. When I started looking at my calendar, how much am I creating? Am I sharing our story? I’m growing, learning, reading and doing. I adjusted that. Every day when I go home, I still have energy. I want to do more of it because I’m doing the things that give me energy. There are many times people end up doing like, “What am I doing? I don’t enjoy this. I don’t like these.”
It gives you burn out on things that you’re not into.
They might not be around creators. When I’m around creators that fires me up because I come up with ideas. That’s a great question. The question time, if you want better answers, you need to ask better questions. One question I heard you ask, know why you are working. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Are there any other questions that you ask yourself or others?
Any other questions that I ask myself, this is a lame answer, but one of the biggest questions I have is about the analytical data of how to reach more people with music. I’m such an analog guy that this whole algorithm nation that we live in has thrown me for a loop. Everything I always did was grassroots that I don’t understand how we’re supposed to reach more people on Spotify other than luck. I know it’s playlists and things, but without devoting my life to learning this one thing, how do we infiltrate into the thing so that more people can hear our music? I don’t believe that the limitations on our audience are due to the product as they are to our lack of ability to crack and break into the algorithms and stuff and understand how to do that.
I’d love to dive into that offline some time because I’ve got some cool advice.
That’s why it’s not a lame answer. It’s a good answer because I’m looking for an answer to this question and I haven’t got a good one from even bright friends of mine in the business yet.
It’s a great question. Magic moment in your life. You’ve had some great moments, what’s one moment that you won’t forget?
There have been many. The first time we sold out the legendary 9:30 Club in Washington DC. That’s 1,300 tickets and we played four encores and the crowd wouldn’t stop clapping. They wouldn’t let me start the fourth encore. Every time I’d go up to clap, they’d get to start singing. They’d get louder until it broke me down and I started sobbing because it was one of those moments, you’ll never forget as long as you live.
I’m feeling that right there. What’s one thing you’ve done to stand out in business or in life?
I don’t even lie. Sometimes I don’t like standing out. I want to be like one of the guys. Clearly, I live differently than what I’m saying. One thing I’ve done to stand out, I’ve said yes to a lot of crazy stuff like, “Will you come to the overseas and land on an aircraft carrier and play for the troops?” That scares me, but I say yes and that makes you stand out because when you show up at a dinner party, not everybody has done that. Saying yes has been that.
I think that’s amazing. You’ve said yes to people proposing when you’re singing the song Diamond. You’ve had some cool proposals. You said to a lot of things that your shows have been special. What are some of the best advice you’ve received?
Take care of the work and the work will take care of you. When you’re sitting there trying to figure out, how do we market? Marketing is important. It’s a big thing, but it all begins with the product. If you’re taking good care of that product and making sure that it’s great, then it’s going to take care of you. I believe that.
Steve Martin said, “It would be so good that they can’t ignore you. Focus on that product. Make it so great that they can’t ignore you.” How do you want to be remembered?
I would like my legacy to be that I always say using words and intentions with the hopes of a positive legacy for my family. I’d like to be remembered for my words and my insights. As a family man, I was deeply committed to what it means to be a part of a family.
My wife, Emily, her favorite song is Roots and Wings, which you talk about and that concept of giving roots and wings to families. You definitely contribute to them in a lot of your work. Stephen, it’s been a joy and a pleasure. What you’re doing to create fans is different and unique and that you’re staying true to who you are, which means a lot.
It’s great to be on here with you, Jesse. I feel the same way about you. I can’t wait until we can hang again down there or up here. I’m looking forward to seeing the Bananas in action.
We’ll have some fun. Search for Stephen Kellogg. Where can they find out more to get the book?
There’s Facebook and there’s Instagram, but I’m getting back into the website because it’s one center for everything. It is StephenKellogg.com. If you search that, our site has the things we want people to know about. It’s got the tour stuff. You can watch videos there. You can see what the merchandise is. There are blogs. That’s the spot, but you can find more about me by doing whatever you want to do.
You’re making a difference. Thanks for joining me. I appreciate everything you’re doing.
Thank you, Jesse.
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