Ryan Welton

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Songwriter’s notebook: Perfection is the enemy of good

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Perfection is the enemy of good. Perfection is the enemy of good. Repeat it and repeat it.

It’s not that creatives don’t strive for greatness; it’s just that many of us nitpick our own work to the point that our quantity of production is minimal with no tangible improvement in quality. Some of the time, production for the sake of production is tantamount to a repetition that gets us closer to the significant improvement we desire.

As a songwriter, I try to be prolific. I try to churn out the tunes.

Sometimes, I go about a song as if it were a long-term project. Heck, I have one song that I’ve dummy-titled “Joy” that I’ve been sitting on musically for five or six years, waiting for the perfectly open day when I could devote all of it to its lyrics.

If you’re waiting for the perfect time, for anything, you’ll be waiting forever.

Trust.

Sometimes, I knock it out super fast, knowing that the music and subject matter isn’t so much “throw away” but that it’s not in the realm of something I consider seriously to be good. Truth be told, some of the times, however, I end up with my best work when I don’t think about it so much.

Take last Saturday when I decided I was going to conceive both the music for a new song and its lyrics in a three-hour window, whatever it took to accomplish. That type of setup can be too much pressure on some days, and I end up on the couch watching baseball or surfing the interwebs.

What I do is start pounding the keys. I typically start with something funky and see if a brave new c-jazz or Steely Dan-esque progression emerges. Barring that, I find myself rerouted toward something that’s more yacht rock or 80s pop. I’ll go back and forth and forth and back until a riff and a melody emerges.

If one doesn’t after 20-30 minutes, I get up from the bench and do something. Sit on the porch. Read a book. Mow the yard. Run a mile. Eat. Maybe not eat; I don’t like to be all belchy before I record.

Periodically, I force myself to go basic on the progressions and focus on 1-4-5 type of songs. Keeping things to three chords can force a meandering brain like mine to keep things simple enough that I can focus on developing a melody.

That’s what I did this weekend with my new song, “Wandering, Wandering Me (The Container Store Song).”

Although it’s not technically 1-4-5 (it’s 1-6-4-5, I believe — F to Dm to Bb to C in the verse), it’s still super simple. In terms of inspiration, I was trying to channel a little bit of Glen Campbell or Jerry Jeff Walker, especially in the chorus. It might not surprise you to know that I loved Glen Campbell, but it might shock you to know how much I love Jerry Jeff Walker, especially this song, which lyrically was kind of an inspiration for this song.

Musically, it’s quite different.

The title for the tune just started coming to me, “Wandering, Wandering Me.” I don’t know where it came from. I think I was THINKING about Warren Zevon and “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me” when I was riffing with the chords. However, I liked the title, and as my process goes, I rolled with it.

And then I get to writing lyrics.

I had an afternoon appointment to make, so I needed to boogie and get words to paper. My process is pretty simple. I start rhyming and see how the story develops. It’s as if I don’t even know what I’m going to write when I do, searching instead for interesting phrasing or well-crafted rhymes.

Once I get a verse, I immediately get to a chorus, even foregoing a pre-chorus until a second- or third-take.

At this point, you know kind of what the story is about, and if you’re feeling traditional, you try to develop that story. Advance the story is what my far-more-experienced songwriter friends call it.

However, I don’t let curve balls or crazy ideas throw me. In this case, I was writing about the week after Mom had died and the trips I took back-and-forth to Henryetta. There was no Texas. It was a metaphor (or just an excuse to mention the great Lone Star State). In the third verse, I talked about wanting to settle down, which I’m presently doing (details soon), while at once maintaining my freedom.

In my case, that mostly means freedom to create (content creation, songwriting) and freedom to “Ryan.” Ryaning is the name I give to the process of me taking a whole day to work on projects of interest to me, which typically includes household errands, cleaning and organization. So, I wrote my truth and then faced a conundrum.

How do I explain, “How to write some songs and organize?”

Does he mean organize such as in a union or as in a community organizer? Is he an activist?

That’s where I threw in the line about The Container Store.

And just like that, I’ve explained what was an extraordinarily satisfying afternoon of songwriting, fighting the urge to review and edit and take months to produce a piece of content. Truly, if somebody came along and said, “Great concept. Would you mind hooking up with a co-writer for some collaboration?” then I’d do that in a heartbeat.

Yet the sooner that you finish one song, you can get to the next.

I don’t necessarily apply this to all pursuits, and it’s definitely not an excuse for sloppiness. But I find that striving for perfection is just a recipe to quash production.

Strive for good. There is no perfect. Check out my new song, “Wandering, Wandering Me” and read the lyrics, below. You can find more from me at youtube.com/ryanweltonmusic


“Wandering, Wandering Me”
Copyright 2018, Ryan Welton

Verse:
I have a hard time trying to stay in one place
One day I’m here then I’m gone with no trace
Though it might be hard to swallow
I do not want to be followed
It’s just wandering, wandering me

I like to take the back roads Into small country towns
One minute I’m your neighbor then I’m never around
If you think it’s cause I’m flaky
You can take me at my word
It’s just wandering wandering me

Chorus:
Baby, I remember Tulsa, Oklahoma
Summer nights of harmless fun
Then I packed my bags and drove to Texas
With the sun
Put a lot of miles on
Never took a day off
Saddle up, and there I’d go
And there’s not a single minute
Hardly even seconds
I’m not missing you so

Verse:
It’s mostly human nature as I know it to be
I wanna settle down, but I want to be free
Free to write some songs and organize
But end my day deep in your eyes
It’s wandering wandering me

 

5 things I learned as a YouTube creator in 2017

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Toward the end of 2016, I realized with regret that I had allowed a ton of momentum on YouTube to slip by. Between 2006 and 2016, I built an audience of 590 or so fans only to stop creating. I know: 590 isn’t that much in the world of YouTube, but the way I always looked at it, it’s 590 more than zero.

My resolution was to get back in the YouTube game in 2017.

Since my decision to become a YouTube creator once again and to be a student of all-things YouTube, I’ve created 69 videos for the platform including 64 in 2017 proper. Most of the videos are original songs and covers although I dabbled with driving videos and ASMR sort of. I’ll do a full blog explaining ASMR sometime. If you know what it is, then I suspect you’re a fan of those videos. If not, it’s a little hard to explain in just one sentence.

I’ve picked up 92 subscribers this year, but it’s been a struggle to gain subscriber momentum. The best I can tell, even with focused SEO and tagging work on your videos, there isn’t much organic reach to be had on YouTube. I’m not talking engagement; I’m talking reach. I’ve even spent some money to promote videos this year, and I’ve found AdWords to be frustrating compared to Facebook’s ads system. I’m not sure I even recommend it. The competition on YouTube is tougher than ever, making it as close to impossible as it’s ever been to break through.

And yet the process of being a YouTube creator is still damned fun. I’m in the game, in the mix. I’m creating and learning.

youtube-stats-2017

I created 64 videos and earned 35,672 views this year. There are companies that haven’t managed to get 35,672 views this year. I added 92 subscribers, and I made $17.79, which I won’t see unless I make another $82.21. Google disburses after $100.

Sure, YouTube is very much only a hobby for me at youtube.com/RyanWeltonMusic please subscribe please subscribe please…you know. Ahem. My apologies; I get carried away. I always do. YouTube is a hobby for me, but I’ve learned a ton about digital content creation, audience development, SEO and using other platforms to funnel into YouTube.

I have not mastered YouTube, not close — but every week I get a little better at it. So, I wanted to share with you what I learned about YouTube in 2017. Maybe you’ll find one or two helpful tidbits in here.

1. The competition on YouTube is only getting more fierce by the day. If you’re not OK with only doing YouTube for fun, it’s going to disappoint.

When I started in 2006, it only took a mention from The Boring Dispatcher (R.I.P.) to get me my first subscribers. I need to do a blog post on The Boring Dispatcher sometime. He was a trip. His direct message to me was literally, “Holy shit. You should have subscribers.” He mentioned me in a video somewhere, and suddenly I had subscribers. It was my first time experiencing the benefits of influencer marketing.

Today, you have to stand out to be among the elite on YouTube.

Your talent has to be world class.

Your videos have to be top notch.

Your content has to be useful or entertaining.

However, you don’t have to be any of those things to have a go at it on YouTube. Not at all. In fact, I like to tell people that perfection is the enemy of progress. Create a channel. Shoot video. Go, and see what happens.

But if you’re interested in growing a significant audience at some point, however you define that, you’re going to have to hyper-focus on talent, video quality and creating useful, informative, entertaining content. That’s the stage I’m in: trying to improve my YouTube game.

2. Lighting and audio quality matter, and it doesn’t cost a fortune.

In 2006, I used a pocket camera that I bought at Target, a contraption with a USB connector that popped out of it. Then I bought a Sony Handycam and used that for the next 10 years, shooting always in available light. Then in 2017, with my iPhone 7 in hand, I bought a lighting system for $52 on Amazon at the recommendation of my friend Rob, who among many talents holds lighting expertise among them. I thought I was going to have to spend $1,000 for a good lighting system.

Nope. I spent $52, and my lighting system is bad ass. It pays to have smart friends.

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The basics of a lighting system are pretty simple: a key light, a fill light and a back light. Apparently, that’s the construct for good lighting everywhere, those three lights. They even call it three-point lighting. Those of you who are more frugal than I could probably make this happen with lights you have sitting around at home. My office is now a YouTube studio. I don’t even have room to walk through it, and I’m totally fine with that.

As far as the audio, I have a mixer, and I have lavalier mics, and I even have a little gadget my YouTube friend, Ric, sent to me. I haven’t made time to use it yet although it’s among my next goals on YouTube. The reason improved lighting and audio are important is simple: because the competition is better than ever before. I’ve improved my lighting, and now I need to improve my audio — and little things, at scale, are a big damn deal. By the way, that’s just a nugget of life wisdom right there.

Even if we’re not super talented YouTubers, the least we could do is get a little bit better at creating competent video.

3. Google AdWords might be a waste of time if you produce niche content and need to reach a narrow audience.

google-adwords-207

This year, I spent $133 on video ads for a total of 88,500 impressions and 103 clicks. That’s a cost-per-click of $1.30. What made AdWords ultimately unsatisfying is that, unlike Facebook ads, there’s no way to hyper-target your YouTube promotions. I do smooth jazz and yacht rock, essentially a type of blue-eyed soul from the late 70s and early 80s. My best targeting option in Google AdWords is to go after music fans in the United States and Canada. On Facebook, I could target people who are fans of yacht rock, music fans who “like” Daryl Hall, etc. I could get super specific.

If anything, my lack of success with Google AdWords served only to discourage me because the views I got didn’t result in engagement or subscriptions.

4. A great thumbnail can be the key that opens the door, and you don’t have to be a graphic artist.

thumbnail-example

Link to video: “Step To It” by Ryan Welton & Chris Hicks

If you’re not taking the time to create a strong thumbnail for each of your videos, one that looks good and has a direct, compelling call to action, you’re missing out on a key opportunity to attract views and possible subscribers. In the last month, I’ve subscribed to something called TubeBuddy, a browser extension that works on top of YouTube. Among all the things it does, TubeBuddy helps creators come up with good-looking thumbnails on the fly.

tube-buddy-backend

TubeBuddy is also great for suggesting tags to use on each of your videos for SEO purposes. Another benefit of TubeBuddy is that you can do all sorts of keyword research, work that can help you decide what kind of videos to create in 2018. Despite the fact that I’d love to get a million subscribers doing nothing but yacht rock and becoming the next Michael McDonald, that’s not likely going to happen because the demand isn’t there for it — and TubeBuddy can help clue you in to where the demand actually is so that you can create videos that provide supply to demand.

The free market is the free market.

However, in the short time I’ve used TubeBuddy, I’ve actually lost subscribers, and my daily video viewership is down. On the average, I had been getting upwards of 100 views per day earlier this year. Right now, I’m down to 30-40 per day.

The jury is out on TubeBuddy for me in terms of building audience. We’ll see. Where TubeBuddy might be really useful is in driving me toward other types of content creation, ones that drive more traffic.

5. Spending time as a consumer, networking within the YouTube community is everything — and I suck at it.

One proven growth tactic I have done woefully little of on YouTube is in becoming a true, genuine part of the YouTube community as a consumer. Commenting on other posts. Collaborating with other creators. That has to be my No. 1 YouTube goal for 2018. Based on everything I’ve heard from knowledgeable folks like Gary Vaynerchuk and Dusty Porter on the YouTube Creators Hub podcast, which you should be listening to, going beyond posting videos is a vital part of any YouTube strategy.

In 2018, I’m likely to experiment with different types of content, focusing on improving my lighting, my audio, my editing, all of it. Combine that with a genuine effort to dive into the community head-first, and 2018 could be a move-the-needle year on YouTube. Even if it isn’t, I’ll be back here next year to tell you what I learned.

You can find me at youtube.com/RyanWeltonMusic

 

 

 

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