Derek Sivers

Flip the stick

The old saying, “It’s all who you know,” used to feel so defeating.

I wanted to be a famous musician, but I didn’t know any famous people. I didn’t grow up in Hollywood. None of my friends were successful. Fame was a secret insider’s group.

So when I heard, “It’s all who you know," it felt like the rest of that sentence was, “and you don’t know anyone. So forget it.”

One day in college we had a guest speaker who was a head-honcho at BMI.

On his way into class I overheard him say he was hungry. He had come straight to our school without lunch, so when the teacher told him it was a two-hour class, he groaned.

Because everyone was still getting seated, I quickly ran out to the hall, called the local pizza shop, and ordered a few pizzas to be sent to our classroom.

After they arrived, he laughed and said, “Good move. I owe you one.” He gave me his card after class, and suggested I keep in touch.

For the next two years, he always took my calls, gave me all kinds of advice about the music business. When I graduated college, he got me a great job at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing in New York City.

A year later, I realized “It’s all who you know,” doesn’t have to be depressing. I just never considered it could work in my favor.

Then I realized the profound conclusion. Everything that seems depressing can be flipped to work in my favor.

Every deal that’s bad for someone is good for someone else. So instead of moaning about one end of it, I can take the other end.

Think corporate radio is keeping your music from being heard? Then make a radio station.

Think banks have an unfair advantage? Then start a bank.

In 1996, distribution for musicians sucked. The only way to get your music sold was to sign a deal with a major distributor, who would keep 60% of the net, which was 50% of the gross, and you were left with $1.50 per album sold, although they were notorious for never paying, and of course you never found out who bought your music, and they would kick you out if you didn’t sell huge numbers in the first few months. So instead of moaning, I just became a distributor.

It’s easier than ever for you to replace a broken system, and never feel helpless again.

If you’re offered the shit end of the stick, never forget you can flip the stick around.

(Then clean it, so it’s not shitty for anyone else again.)