A Tale of Two Restaurants

Right across the street from a place I used to work there was a restaurant. Bright. Airy. Convenient. With a beautiful corner location in a great neighborhood and plenty of foot traffic it seemed like a slam dunk for success.

Down a nearby side street in a cramped basement there was another restaurant. Small. Hidden. Dark. Tough to find and tucked away from passersby, it had hard sell written all over it. You could walk right by and not even notice it.

However, the first restaurant was always out of everything. On my first visit I ordered 4 times before they actually had what I wanted. While the menu suggested amazing, the food was generally just above average. The service was curt and even rude at times. A pleasant case of cookies and desserts at the counter promised so much more than the actual mediocre treats delivered. Normally, I wouldn’t have returned, but the location was ultra convenient so I visited several times before finally giving up.

On the other hand, the hidden place was always packed. People lined up in the crowded basement to get delicious soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. The staff was enthusiastic and offered plenty of free samples and generous advice on the best dishes of the day. It wasn’t cheap, but I never ate anything that was less than amazing. Great food. Great customer service. Truly remarkable. So remarkable that everyone at work talked about how great it was and always recommended it to new employees. Word of mouth in action.

I walked through that neighborhood yesterday and the corner joint was shuttered. Not sure why they closed, but the crappy customer experience couldn’t have helped.

The basement place was jumping. There was a huge line of people patiently waiting for great food and great service.

No matter what you do, a great experience will keep your customers coming back and telling their friends. They will seek you out and reward you with repeat business. Location can help, but nothing beats the power of awesome.

What do you think?

My Desperate Quest For Power

I burst into the coffee shop with two goals in mind. Power and coffee. Power, first, then coffee, then wi-fi if I am lucky. I scan the walls, peek under tables, look behind chairs. Other patrons eye me suspiciously. There it is! An outlet. I grab one of the two phone jacks always in my bag. Inserting one end into my phone, I plug the other into the outlet. A momentary pause, then the familiar buzz from my phone indicating that electricity is now surging into its depleted battery.

Give me 10 minutes and I feel a little more comfortable. 20 or 30 and I am close to full power. After an hour it is definitely 100%.

It’s amazing how a guy who didn’t even have a home phone in college could be so completely lost without his phone. And that phone requires power. When the the battery percentage drops to 80 it makes me nervous. 50% makes me down downright edgy. At 30% I’m in a panic. Must. Find. Power.

I spend most my days in the city going from meeting to meeting, appointment to appointment. Like most consultants, freelancers and/or job seekers. the one thing that I don’t always have is a place to charge my phone and laptop. Even more than wi-fi, my primary requirement is a free source of power. I know the coffee shops, restaurants and libraries that offer power, wi-fi and a clean place to sit.  I check Foursquare tips and keep a list of the best spots all around town. Throw in some good coffee and tasty snacks and you’ve got my dedicated business. I will come back again and again and schedule meetings there with friends and spend money because these are the places that offer a great customer experience.

If you are a consultant, freelancer or job seeker, what are some tips for getting your job done on the go?

Are you really being social in social media?

Some twitter users have thousands, tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers and they don’t follow anyone (or very few). I don’t mean celebrities, just experts, pundits, writers and the countless social media ninjas/gurus/rockstars/experts, etc. Or there are people who follow thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people and have an equal number of followers. Are they really being social or just amassing followers?

How engaged can you be when you don’t follow anyone? Or when you follow a massive twitter stream that is essentially a river at all time record flood levels? Either extreme suggests a true lack of interest in your followers. And this extends across plenty of other social platforms, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Path, etc. Whether you’re a brand or an individual the key is being social and showing genuine interest. We all want followers, likes and engagement, but we also need to engage right back. If you’re not it’s no longer really social media. It’s just a bullhorn and eventually many will stop listening.

What you have to say is important to me and I want understand your ideas, see the pictures you post, click on the links you share. I want to be SOCIAL. I want to engage in great ideas, funny moments, amazing experiences and remarkable thoughts.

Not everyone will follow us and we can’t follow everyone. The key is to find a balance between following a manageable number of social feeds and the right amount of time and attention to make the experience truly social. Sharing, listening, hearing, commenting, curating and engaging. That’s what success in social means to me. What do you think? That’s even more important.

If a song gets played in the woods and there is nobody there to meme it, does it make a sound?

I had a fascinating conversation with a great and very smart friend last week. Among the many things we discussed, we touched on what it means to be culturally relevant in 2012.

With mass audiences rapidly splintering and subdividing into various tribes and subcultures, does broad cultural relevance exist beyond huge news stories, live sports and blockbuster movies? We all watch our own shows, listen to our own music and find the news and information that matters to us. Everything that isn’t interesting or relevant, we just ignore.

So what is a hit anymore? The shelf life for anything that sparks our imagination has become so short. New shows, songs, articles, movies, books and memes crowd our inboxes and social feeds every day, demanding our limited attention. If something doesn’t grab our immediate interest, chances are it will disappear quickly.

Music is especially hard hit as physical formats are rapidly disappearing and most music can be found for free without much effort. Plus, there is just so much available. We can all find the music that matters most to us and the multi-platinum crossover records just don’t happen anymore. I’ve noticed that the only songs that really ascend to mass popularity are those that become omnipresent cultural memes, parodied, lip dubbed and burned into our collective cultural conscience.

So does the song make the meme or does the meme make the song?

Two recent songs we’ve all heard way too many times are perfect examples of what it means to be a hit in 2012. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” have both become mega-hits, overplayed and hogging the cultural spotlight. But are they relevant on their own merits or because they have become ubiquitous hit memes that reach way beyond the original work?

I heard “Call Me Maybe” several times, but it was the Harvard baseball team’s video that seemed to propel it into the stratosphere. A friend sent me the Gotye video months ago, but it was just another catchy song until the Walk Off the Earth cover or the Star Wars parody showed up on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Cultural relevance almost seems determined by the broad meta-meming (yeah, I think I just made that word up) of the original rather than the original itself.

Will this phenomenon extend across all forms of content where everything becomes an ultimately disposable meme? Or will content become a truly fascinating and creative space where art, music, film, television and books all serve as source material for a virtual cultural palimpsest with deep meaning and resonance? My guess leans toward the former, but I want to know what you think.

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2009

In my ongoing efforts to cram more music on my list every year, for 2009 I divided my favorites up in 3 groups.

1 Stuff other folks turned me on to
2 Stuff I liked
3 Stuff that everybody seemed to agree on

avett brothers
wooden shjips
elvis perkins
falty dl
department of eagles
atlas sound
crystal antlers

phantom band
fuck buttons
big pink
twilight sad
volcano choir
wild beasts
neon indian

passion pit
animal collective
pains of being pure at heart
grizzly bear
yo la tengo
bill callahan
camera obscura
cass mccombs
flaming lips

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2010

Top ten
Foals – Total Life Forever
Radio Dept – Clinging to a Scheme
Das Racist – Shut Up Dude
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Black Angels – Phosphene Dream
Liars – Sisterworld
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

Ten more well worth hearing
Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Toro y Moi – Causers of This
Sun Airway – Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandeliers
Scuba – Triangulation
The Chap – Well Done Europe
Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’
Junip – Fields
Field Music – Measure
Owen Pallett – Heartland
Gonjasufi – A Sufi and a Killer

Three best reissues
Robert Wyatt – Box Set
The Fall – The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall
Orange Juice – Coals to Newcastle

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2011

John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Tycho – Dive
Austra – Feel it Break
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Real Estate – Days
Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder
The Field – Looping State of Mind
Wild Flag – Wild Flag
Hospital Ships – Lonely Twin
War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
Cults – Cults
Cut Off Your Hands – Hollow
Brown Recluse – Evening Tapestry
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Gold-Bears – Are You Falling in Love?
The Men – Leave Home
Man Man – Life Fantastic
Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
Antlers – Burst Apart
Demdike Stare – Triptych

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2003

TOP 20
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in People
Calexico – Feast of Wire
Crooked Fingers – Red Devil Dawn
Delgados – Hate
Fire Theft – The Fire Theft
Grandaddy – Sumday
Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music
Ted Leo/Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak
Long Winters – When I Pretend to Fall
Mull Historical Society – Us
My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves
Nada Surf – Let Go
New Pornographers – Electric Version
Pernice Brothers – Yours, Mine and Ours
Josh Rouse – 1972
Shins – Chutes too Narrow
Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power
Thrills – So Much for the City
Wrens – Meadowlands

just bubbling under
Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun
BRMC- Take Them on Your Own
Blur – Think Tank
Nick Cave – Nocturama
Coral – Magic & Medicine
Decemberists – Her Majesty
Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers
East River Pipe – Garbageheads on Endless Stun
Eels – Shootenanny
Enon – Hocus Pocus
Wire – Send
GBV – Earthquake Glue
Idlewild – The Remote Part
Lilys – Precollection
Stephen Malkmus – Pig Lib
Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
Postal Service – Give Up
Raveonettes – Chain Gang of Love
Shazam – Tomorrow the World
Sloan – Action Pact
Spiritualized – Amazing Grace
Starlight Mints – Built on Squares
British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power
Travis – 12 Memories
Tyde – Twice
Rufus Wainwright – Want One

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2007

Going back and posting my favorites from years past

Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Okkervill River – The Stage Names
Apples in Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder
Beirut – The Flying Cup Club
Caribou – Andorra
The Besnard Lakes – Are the Dark Horse
Menomena – Friend and Foe
The Mabuses – Mabused
The National – The Boxer
David Kilgour – The Far Now

The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings
Sloan – Never Hear the End of It
Pelle Carlberg – In a Nutshell
Jose Gonzales – In Our Nature
Polyphonic Spree – The Fragile Army
Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
Battles – Mirrored
Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Thurston Moore – Trees Outside the Academy
Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Sank
The Fall – Reformation/Post TLC
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Architecture in Helsinki – Places Like This
Pinback – Autumn of the Seraphs
Rogue Wave – Asleep at Heaven’s Gate

Little Bear is Everywhere – Kids, Cable and Commercials

Back in 2006 when my son was 3, I realized how profoundly different his relationship with media would be than mine. His favorite show was on TV, DVR, iPod, DVD, cellphone, online and even on VHS for the VCR at a remote summer house. He could watch it whenever and wherever he wanted without commercials.

Yes, Little Bear was everywhere!

Fast forward to today and I have noticed something even more compelling. My kids haven’t turned the TV on in weeks. Yes, they don’t watch television, but they watch plenty of content. They are almost in complete control of their media diets and they avoid commercials at all costs.

My daughter is 7 and she consumed a fairly high percentage of the billion hours streamed on Netflix in June. She has appropriated one of my iPads and is usually found in her room or sprawled on the couch enjoying hours of commercial-free shows.

My 9 year old son is glued to YouTube and he can skip pre-rolls and delete InVideo Ad Overlays like a pro. While he can’t quite keep up with the 48 hours of video uploaded every minute he is giving it a good go.

Yesterday GigaOm announced an e-book called Cut the Cord: All You Need to Know to Drop Cable.. I might spend the $4.99 to shake my last bit of cable addiction, but I think Little Bear and my kids already beat them to it.