Case Study: Independent Artist Shook
Insights in creating a sustainable business as an independent musician
Introduction: How it all started..
Shook is named Jasper in real life. And my name is Thomas. We are both quite your regular kind of guys. We don’t drive expensive cars. We don’t own huge villas in Beverly Hills. And we certainly do not consider money as the most important metric for measuring the success of our collaboration.
Jasper and I met a few years ago. We both were hospitalised for a longer period of time. We both carry around a true appreciation for life. As well as for the talents we’ve been so carefully crafting since birth.
Although our stories and talents are totally different, our paths crossed and here we are. I mark this day as the end of the most successful week of Shook. This case study will tell you how it got to this point.
I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate our achievements and hopefully provide you with some creative triggers to build your own business.
Let me start with saying this. If you truly believe in yourself and you have the patience to nurture your skills, everything is possible. It is not a question of how, but when. You will learn it along the way. You will learn by doing.
For me success is a by-product of making decisions. It is about allowing yourself to make mistakes and trying your utmost best to learn from them. It is hidden within those mistakes to eventually become what you intent to be.
This is not a quick fix
The main problem I see with many entrepreneurs is the constant search for quick fixes. Everything has to be now. It has to be fast. And it is never enough. For me this fast growth withholds many things I will never be able to appreciate. That is why I keep as far away from it as I possibly can.
I understand completely that today’s landscape of social media triggers just that. On a daily basis you compare your inside with other people’s outside. This is my first recommendation for you. Stop doing that!
You are chasing emptiness.
You deserve better. You need to start treating yourself in the best possible way. In the end, the only thing you have is yourself. If you can’t rely on yourself, you are simply f****d.
Of course, you can pretend it is all different. It is super easy to think yourself into awesomeness. Let alone to manipulate others in believing your own little fairy tale.
I did that. For a long time. It is what got me in the hospital in the first place. That said — this mistake was also the best thing that ever happened to me. Apparently I needed this genuflection to life to finally change my game.
This is how I learned which values are really important to me. Eventually it allowed me to achieve those simple things I used to envy in others. It was not easy, but I persisted. And here we are harvesting the fruits I sowed ever since.
Living my life in full gratitude.
You see? That is what I mean with cherishing your mistakes. Just embrace your flaws. Mistakes are the best things that can happen to you. You just gotta learn how to handle them. Even better, how to convert them into something that moves you forward.
Well forward? Allow me to rephrase that to “in the preferred direction”.
Let’s take a moment and consider what is to come. Just pause a moment and reflect on what you just read. When it already crossed your mind that this little piece of work takes to much of your time, please stop reading here. Just leave it here. This is just not for you.
No problem. There is lots of other great stuff to find online.
First, I will begin with explaining to you what this past week was all about. Next, I will take my time to tell you which values were behind these pivotal moments. Let’s start with the fun part. Let’s celebrate milestones!
Into the oceans: The Outlaw Ocean
At the end of 2019 we were contacted by a great journalist. We got the opportunity to work with New York Times writer and Pulitzer prize winner Ian Urbina to make music based on his incredible book “The Outlaw Ocean”.
This book is based on five years of reporting, much of it offshore, exploring lawlessness on the high seas. All of the music Shook composed is based on this New York Times best-selling book that chronicles lawlessness at sea around the world.
First things first. Let’s watch a little clip to add more feeling to this project.
This music project is based on the challenge to write music based on the investigating journalism of Ian. As a composer it is an honour to be part of such a creative project. Of course, we were not the only ones. Many other musicians joined this project.
I highly recommend to take your time and learn more about the entire project and the amazing work done by dedicated artists worldwide. It is worth your time.
This is what Jasper had to say about it:
Reading The Outlaw Ocean brought about so many emotions for me — from sorrow to new hope, from sadness to kindness, from powerlessness to anger, from the beauty of the ocean to its deep dark secrets.
It was all quite overwhelming and incredibly inspiring. While reading, there were moments when I had to pause and work on more ideas I had for the songs I was creating.
With these songs, I hope to translate all those stories, emotions, and thoughts into music so that more people can connect with the book the same way I did. I am so grateful to be a part of this special and unique project.
Besides the book, we also got access to a fully packed sound library consisting out of 5 years of field recording captured during Ian’s travels over the oceans.
Eventually all this led to Jasper creating “The Void — inspired by “The Outlaw Ocean” a book by Ian Urbina”.
Take your time to listen to this complete 5 track EP by Shook. After you press the play button, you can get yourself to this page and find out more about this amazing project.
Into space: NASA Astronaut Christina Koch
This story is simply amazing. It is about love and devotion. I personally think it withholds the greatest compliment an artist can ever get. On top of this, it tells you about how Shook’s music was played in space.
You have to consider that Jasper and I have been working really hard to get his music spread all over the world. And then suddenly, this message arrives. We had no idea. We actually completely missed it until last Tuesday.
I have taken the liberty to copy a part of this story into this article. For all you curious people, Christina’s story is much greater than just Shook. Here is the full story as shared through Spotify’s newsroom on March 23, 2020.
Here we go!
NASA astronaut Christina Koch has spent 328 consecutive days floating in space (the longest-ever single spaceflight for a woman), but her love for all things audio kept her firmly grounded throughout the journey.
I listened to a lot of different playlists that my husband would make for me, but in terms of one exact song, there’s a story behind it.
The song is called Always by the artist Shook, and it was one that my husband put on a playlist. It really stuck out to me because it has a line that says “always on my mind,” so it was something that resonated while we were apart for so many months.’
Around last October, my husband and I had our anniversary. We’ve spent many anniversaries apart, unfortunately, but I wanted to make this one special. Since I couldn’t buy him a gift, I decided to learn how to play that song on the keyboard.
We actually have a keyboard on the Space Station, and I am not musically inclined, but I listened to the song over and over again using Spotify. I was able to actually figure out how to play it between that and a little bit of help from my more musically inclined crewmate, Luca Parmitano.
I ended up playing the song for my husband on a video chat that we did on our anniversary, and it was really special — probably one of the most special moments of my entire flight. And, interestingly, the very next day I had a spacewalk, and because I had listened to “Always” so many times in the days leading up to it, it was on repeat in my head the entire spacewalk.
That is truly amazing, isn’t it? What a milestone. Jasper and I will print it, frame it and keep it above our beds. At least for the upcoming decade.
You know, this is what it is all about. This is what I count as success. It is not about the money. It is about your music having this intense effect on real people. It is about being part of those pivotal moments. That is such an honour.
Also, who would ever thought Shook’s music would make it into space. As space is a big influence on part of the Shook catalog. This makes this milestone one with a golden edge.
You can find the playlist by Christina Koch underneath with in the end Always by Shook!
Into China: collaborating with Zhang Zige
As Shook is part Chinese and part Indonesian, the Asian market always attracted us. A couple of years ago we had the opportunity to build business related friendships with a few people in China.
We always nurture our relations. There is a reason behind this. Although that partnership does not seem to deliver a few quick bucks, it is worth investing time and devotion in people you believe in. As nobody can predict the future, we do not know how the careers of those people will evolve.
That is why we always try to pinpoint a mutual benefit. Something we both can invest in. Something besides the revenue and the money. It is about the willingness of both parties to invest energy in the relationship.
As soon as we are able to locate such a value, we believe it will turn out into something great. We just have to be patient and truly devote our efforts in moving forward. The pay-off will come. The only question is when?
The answer is “when the time is right”.
This is what happened with us in China. We’ve been working on being more visible in that territory. This is really complex, as the exchange of internet data is controlled and restricted between governments. You simply need feet on the ground in China to make a difference.
Everybody reads about the immense power of companies like Netease and Tencent. That said, it still is really complex to make a difference there. It is easy to distribute music to China nowadays. The question is how do you promote it and create visibility?
At one point a small company from China approached us. We started to work and build this partnership. Passing the language barrier. We found out that it is best to communicate with music rather than words. That is how we slowly moved forward with our first production with female vocalist Zhang Zige.
Last Wednesday the news arrived that the first (of six) tracks has been released. It came to us quite suddenly.
It can be really complex to not monitor everything. To not be in full control. We fully have to trust the ability of our partners to properly take care of business in China.
If we were not able to do that, we simply shouldn’t have started it to begin with. Also, we have to acknowledge that control is actually quite superficial. It is not real. Letting go of that control is what actually moves us forward.
Only time can tell us where this will lead us too. It will for sure be another adventure. We will see what happens. Life is full of surprises. If it was not, it would be predictable. And that is b-o-r-i-n-g!
Enough about that! Let’s get back to the music. We kindly introduce our first officially released Chinese production.
Don’t you just love those signs?
Into Hollywood: The High Frontier
Shook’s track You Where Bigger Than Life was released in 2016 as part of the Continuum album. This specific song did extremely well in the US market. It generated millions of streams on Pandora. And it is exactly that what caught the interest of film makers (and music producers) in the US.
As you know “synchs” can deliver much awareness around your work. We learned that through the song Milestones after it was synched in the Netflix serie Better Call Saul.
Not only in that serie, but in the first episode of season 1. Until this day, Milestones delivers us new listeners across the globe on a daily basis.
I am drifting away from the initial subject. Thanks for reminding me of that. This was about The High Frontier and synch placements in movies from the US.
This chapter is essentially about patience. As we released You Where Bigger Than Life in 2016 already, we were surprised that we were contacted by the people behind the documentary The High Frontier: The Untold Story of Gerard K. O’Neill late 2019.
We started to build our relationship with these kind people. Little did we know back then. It turned out to be an even bigger project than we could have imagined.
That is why it so important to invest energy in getting to know your partners. Based on this you can make smarter decisions. You have to ask yourself a couple of questions while building partnerships.
Is it worth your energy to move forward? Is there sufficient trust to take the next step? Is the relationship equal?
Especially that last thing is for us so important. We are people, dealing with people. And in essence, the best partnership is based on equality. At least, that is how we like to play ball.
Let me share a bit about the documentary film first, as taken directly from their website.
This is a documentary film about the life and influence of Gerard K. O’Neill told through the eyes of his peers, family and the younger generation he inspired during the 1970s and 80s who are now leaders in the modern day space race.
Through old stories of “Gerry” as many called him, and the social impact he made on the world, this documentary pays tribute to the unsung hero of today’s space race, while hoping to inspire all ages and walks of life to reignite our planet’s space venturing spirit.
Recently the trailer was released during a live stream with over 20,000 viewers. We were not fully aware we had become part of a community that is so active and engaged.
We did know the people we were dealing with were extremely dedicated, respectful and sincere. That knowledge did not arise overnight. It was the result of investing time and energy into building it.
You see? That is what I mean about investing in relationship. These results are the side product of making the right decisions.
Like attracts like. If you think you are dealing with good people, you can predict that their network consists of comparable people. And that — my friends — is what we are looking for when expanding the visibility of your work: networks & communities!
That is the sustainable fuel for exponential growth. Something that is hard to achieve on your own.
Let’s take a look at the results. When you press play on the YouTube video underneath, you will start in the middle of a fully packed live broadcast. Again, for all you curious people. It is worth watching the full 5 hours.
At this particular point in Yuri’s Night 2020 global webcast, premiers the trailer of The High Frontier: The Untold Story of Gerard K. O’Neill. The documentary film about about the book that inspired both Jef Bezos and Elon Musk…
starring “You Where Bigger Than Life” by Shook.
That is not all. We’ve been in contact with the film makers ever since and started to expand our relationship with them. As a matter of fact, they are also know from Test Shot Starfish and their Space X webcasts.
Eventually this led to adding more of Shook’s work in this documentary. We agreed on Wednesday to add multiple tracks as taken from the Continuum album to this particular synch licence. Which one would you select?
Furthermore, the deal now also withholds a collaboration. I will tell you more about that……when the time is right!
Starting the conclusion: How do we work?
Shook is a team of three. Of course Jasper is Shook. He is the creator of all the musical work.
Besides Jasper is his partner Juliet. She is the creative director. Although many times in the background, and sometimes leading on vocals, she is essential in the creative process.
Especially when it comes to other forms connected to the musical work. Like artwork and video. Also, she is the leading force when converting Shook’s creative work into stories people can relate to.
I am the gatekeeper of their creative process and property.
That means I make suggestions and provide advise. Allowing them to become aware of opportunities and challenges. Therewith they are able to make proper decisions concerning the direction of their careers.
From that point of view, they are the decision makers, I am merely suggesting.
Our primary purpose is to expand the reach of Shook. We consider the discovery of Shook’s work by new listeners our primary purpose at this point.
That is why we are interested to meet those listeners through collaborative projects that are touching a deeper — and more versatile — artistic level.
Projects like the above mentioned fit that purpose perfectly.
The world is huge for small independents..
As a small independent creative team we have to keep building our sustainable business with every step we take. We protect our independence by keeping this goal just below the surface. It is not our primary purpose, but it is most relevant to keep doing what we love to do.
More importantly, we always investigate the opportunity to add other creative forms to a project — with artwork and video — when looking at Shook’s contribution to the project.
This is our secondary purpose. We are always investigating to broaden our creative output in other forms of art (and entertainment) connected with, but not limited too, our music.
True admiration for the process
It is not a secret that I carry around a true admiration for the creation process. I like to support local creators and their work. In the broadest sense of the word. It is the essence of my work.
As a creative business developer, I work closely with creative thinkers. And convert creativity into a valuable business.
It is not solely about making money. It is about building a sustainable model. A scenario of growth. Allowing yourself to fully focus on what you love to do.
That is my main priority.
That does not mean everything has to be nice and we all live in a constant state of happiness. Not at all. It is hard work. Constantly processing rejections.
It is exactly that battle that makes it all worthwhile. Without that struggle, it becomes worthless.
It is about challenging yourself from a professional perspective. The adventure of mastering new skills. And taking your craft to the next level.
No matter if it is art or entertainment.
Art or entertainment?
I often think about the way we experience music. It is a thing I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for quite a while now. I consider that there are two main options in the way music is experienced. On the one hand I have music as entertainment. On the other hand I have music as art.
What is the difference?
To answer that I’d like to give a little twist to the phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.
This way I clarify that the same musical work can be perceived as art as well as entertainment. Even by the same person.
Entertainment is about self-satisfaction. From this perspective music is ‘used’ by the listener to fulfil its own needs.
For me that is about the self-centered musical experience. It is primarily about the listener’s perspective. The listener’s perception. And the way the works satisfies us. Or not.
I call that entertainment.
Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with self-centeredness. Not at all. It is part of all of us. It is what makes us human. I’d like to quote one of my co-workers in a totally different and unrelated project on this particular subject:
I see entertainment music as short term and giving the listener a nice feeling, more surface, more touch and go. If one takes music as a form of art, it has a long term effect and leaves behind a good feeling which sits deeper and stays inside for a longer time.
Both serve their own purposes and it is a good balance for one to enjoy both art as well as entertainment.
What about art then?
I think differently about this. For me art is not about me. Of course, as a spectator, I am essential in the interpretation of the work. But I am not the center. Instead of a mean to satisfy self, art is an end.
At least that is how I see it.
It is about the creation and its creator. It shifts the process from satisfying needs to a more empathetic and compassionate approach.
That makes the same song suddenly a totally different object. Nurturing an entirely different objective.
The experience of music for me then becomes an adventure. An investigation of forms produced by another.
Not necessarily to comfort my own soul, but more as a fascinating challenge to understand.
A discovery triggered by something I could never have produced myself.
For me that is when gratitude arrives. Which leads to a true admiration and appreciation of the work.
It does not really matter if I like it. It is more about trying to understand intentions and techniques.
What is this work telling me?
The interest is in the object. The creation. Maybe even more important, it is about the creator and its surrounding.
That is what I call art...
Be firm, but fair!
To finalise this article I’d like to sum up a few things that I’ve been discussing in this monologue.
First of all, make sure that you set goals other than making money. Secondly, invest in equal partnerships. Besides this, it is important to allow yourself to make mistakes. Be patient and sincere. Things will move forward when the time is right.
Just keep it real. Keep yourself grounded and be honest. Be honest to others. But more importantly, stay true to yourself.
Stop the charade. Stop being a victim. You are not. Life provides chances to everyone. Start creating your own success based on deeper metrics. And persist in doing what you believe is right.
Make sure you keep your goals in sight with every step you take. And allow yourself the adventure to explore opportunities outside of your comfort zone.
And remember, the best things in life come forward out of struggles. Those struggles and desperate feelings are essential to fully enjoy your achievements later down the line.
If you keep doing this, I am sure great times will arrive. Others will start respecting you for what you are, and that will lead to the appreciation for your work.
Be firm, but fair!
As I said, all above was not born overnight. All theses outcomes came together last week as a result of making decisions over the last 6 months. It was a joyful ride and we became lucky just for now.
All these feelings and emotions are just temporary. They all will pass. Enjoy them while they are here.
The icing on the cake was actually this little surprise. Instead of adding the latest releases of Shook to an editorial playlist, Spotify decided to dedicate an entire playlist to the work of Shook!