A simple Google search will turn up the definition of “fumfer” as:

A Yiddish word meaning to "mumble", most often used to mean to be evasive; can also mean to putter aimlessly or to waste time.

However, in my family it’s come to mean something slightly different. My father uses “fumfering” to refer to the tendency he and I share, of relentless tinkering with something until it does what we want it to do.

I fumfered the other evening with the RSS feed for this very blog, going back and forth between Mailchimp support, my XML configuration, the Kirby CMS forums, and my PHP blueprints until I not only solved the issue, but improved the formatting and flexibility of the template.

I fumfered all afternoon yesterday with my family’s old Panasonic camcorder, jury-rigging cables and cleaning tape heads until I was able to not only play back the old tapes, but record them for safekeeping onto my hard drive in HQ.

In this world of overwhelming complexity, it can be useful to take the time and figure out how something works. The satisfaction of achieving even a small solution on your own can fuel you for the rest of the day, reveling in your own ingenuity.

Of course, “on your own” doesn’t preclude the use of mental aids such as excessive Googling, YouTube tutorials, and the tried-and-true method of narrating your steps out loud to uninterested friends or family.

But don’t go running for help or give up easily. Just fumfer until you figure it out!

Other great words to describe this technique include: futzing, fdreying, fucking around.

PS: Huuuuge thank you to Jake Udell for reposting my "Horizontal Engagement" blog post in yesterday's edition of his Art of a Manager newsletter. :)


Skepticism can be a very important quality. It can help you avoid scams, make informed choices, and stay sane in this crazy world.

But credulousness also has its own benefits. By not assuming the worst of people, you open yourself up to unexpected possibilities and genuine connections.

One of my long-term goals is to tone it down on the skepticism. I’ve spent enough time protecting myself from everything that doesn’t seem 100% certain, and have surely missed out on valuable insight because of that.

I’m going to try and stop seeing dangers that aren’t there in opportunities for connection, and instead try to take things as they are and not as I’m scared they’ll be.

This blog post brought to you by this amazing meme from @musiccitymemes on Instagram:

Horizontal Engagement

In music, a lot of mainstream digital marketing strategy focuses on establishing, maintaining, and growing the relationship between the artist and their fans.

Which makes sense! In order to give artists a platform, you need to give them an audience. One that will listen to their music, buy their tickets and their merchandise, and help them earn a living.

It’s a vertical relationship by nature— on top is the artist, below is the fans. There are a lot of good ideas out there about how to effectively strengthen those bonds in the digital age, from direct interaction and VIP/meet and greet programs to experiential events and social media capers.

But what people forget is that this is only half the picture.

The vertical relationship between artists and fans is going to be dangerously imbalanced if there isn’t equal care and effortful strategy applied to the horizontal relationship between and among the members of the artist’s fan community.

While the relationship between artist and fan can only ever usually be one-way, given the numbers, the relationships between fans can go leagues further. Life-long friendships are formed, histories are shared, commonalities are found and lessons are learned.

These intra-fan bonds provide the solid ground foundation to the central pillar of the artist-fan relationship, stabilizing it. The active social energy produced by these bonds in turn goes back up the pillar to the artist, providing them with content, ideas, inspiration, loyalty, and (to be blunt) money.

Fan-to-fan friendships are the meat to the sandwich, the gems to the geode. An artist can make all the great content in the world, tell the most beautiful story, but without fans who dissect it amongst themselves and generate discussion and excitement, you won't have an easy journey— or an authentic one.

By spending as much energy on encouraging and curating spaces in which fans can find each other, and rewarding them for engaging not only with the artists but with themselves, as is spent on traditional vertical marketing from artist direct to individual fans, you may find that work you’re used to doing yourself is done for you by fans, automatically and easily and out of love.

Why No Hit?

Last night for her birthday, I took my mom to see my friends Lawrence at their sold out show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago.

They killed it (natch) and even gave her an on-stage shout-out. Totally made her night!

On the drive home, she was commenting on how much she enjoyed the music. “Why aren’t they super famous? They should have a hit song!”

This is a reasonable question from an older adult my mom’s age, who grew up in the age of vinyl and radio. But an answer requires a huge amount of context, explanation, and assumptions on the part of any given artist.

An independent band with a solid and loyal fanbase, a few million plays on Spotify, 500-1,000 tickets sold per show in major markets, and lower-rung spots at major festivals (like Lawrence) may seem, to someone like my mom, like they are destined for the mainstream.

It’s not an easy position to reach and implies a TON of hard work on the part of the artist and their team (manager, agent, publicist, etc). But the leap from that comfortable middle tier to the upper echelons of pop hitmakers is Richter-scale algorithmic in magnitude, and is exponentially harder to achieve for any given act.

Of course, growth and success is always the goal. But unlike in the heyday of the “traditional” industry, approval of gatekeepers such as labels and radio is unnecessary (though that isn’t to say undesired) for acts to succeed on their own terms today.

With few exceptions, a “hit song” in 2018 goes through a gauntlet of writers, producers, label execs, marketing experts, radio pluggers, playlist makers, sync supervisors, and a whole lot of other BS in order to reach true ubiquity. Songs are heavily workshopped, focus-tested, and engineered precisely to achieve market penetration. And that’s fine!

But with all of the direct access to listeners available through independent means, it’s a contemporary blessing that a band with a unique sound and a loyal fanbase doesn’t have to shackle themselves to the pop machine in order to reach an audience, if they don’t want to.

Of course, it’s a shame that the charts aren’t more diverse in terms of sound, and that some songs that surely deserve to be heard by the masses never will be.

But when I see independent acts succeeding on their own terms, I’m thrilled by the possibilities that are emerging for musicians and artists to make a living. Good riddance to a “one size fits all” view of the music business, hello kaleidoscope of alternatives. Who needs hits?

Listen to Lawrence’s new single, “Try” !

It's Only Being

“It felt like being a child again, though it was not. Being a child is like nothing. It’s only being. Later, when we think about it, we make it into youth.”

—China Miéville, Embassytown

There is no better place to have read that line than here, in my childhood bedroom in Skokie, Illinois.

This isn’t my first time reading the fantastic Embassytown, by the amazing British writer China Miéville. According to my Goodreads, it was November of 2012 when I finished it for the first time. That would make me newly 17, in my junior year of high school. I probably read the majority of it in this very bedroom, in between Tumblr posts and Doctor Who episodes and AP Psych assignments.

I must have skipped right over that line, immersed as I was in the deepening worldbuilding of the novel and the sympathetic revelations of the main character, Avice.
But last night, six years separated from my first read, it hit me like a freight train. Because it’s true.

I freak out a lot about my relative youth/lack of it. Especially now, less than a month graduated from college, I’m wondering if I did it “right.” But of course that’s only something you start to worry about afterwards, when in Miéville’s words you “make it into” its own category of your life, give it shape and posthumous meaning, spin it around in your mind like a 3D model to examine all of its angles, its flaws, its surfaces.

When you’re in the moment, when it’s happening, it’s only being. That’s how I remember my time in this room, this house, this suburb. A lot of being.

While reflection is necessary, it’s almost too easy to get trapped in the moments of making and re-making your past and forget to just be— even just in service of giving yourself the experiences needed for future reflection.

I hope that this transformative year in my life will lead me back to a state of balance, between the being and the making, the doing and the remembering.

Anyway, Embassytown has it all. Bizarre alien linguistics, political scandals, clones, houses made of flesh, dimension-hopping space travel. Highly recommended for fans of LeGuin, Chiang, and Gaiman.

For more Miéville goodness, check out The City And The City (a modern classic) or my favorite short story collection of his, Three Moments of an Explosion.

I’m also currently working my way through Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, but I’ll do a post on that once I’m finished… stay tuned!