Photo credit: Kale King

First off, thank you to everyone who supported Pariah Reign this year. Whether you bought some gear, came to one of our shows, or read the blog, I appreciate the hell out of you. I wish you a happy holidays, and a great New Year.

Every year around this time, I sit down and reflect on what went well in life, business, and family. I have self-talk about how things went, and where I can improve.

This post is a collection of the thoughts that have made monumental changes in my personal and professional life for the past 12 months.


Best of 2016: Top Takeaways from this Year

1. You are not What You Do

“I am a human being, not a human doing. Don’t equate your self-worth with how well you do things in life. You aren’t what you do. If you are what you do, then when you don’t…you aren’t.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

As a creative, it can be tough to separate the craft from personal self-worth. We often measure ourselves by what we build instead of what we are.

I see this so much with the musicians that we at Pariah Reign work with. When the music is good, the musician is good. When the music is bad, the creativity is flowing, or the recognition isn’t there, the musician suffers. It’s as if the music is this polarizing function on whether or not they should be happy.

This is bullshit. Honestly, I’m extremely fed up with this Kurt Cobain starving-artist mentality. Our society has created this narrative that artists (musicians, painters, writers, entrepreneurs, etc.) should eat, live, and breathe what they do–even if it kills you. Sometimes, it seems that the social norm is to die for your art than to take up a day job and support yourself.

This is utterly ludicrous. Art is something you do, not something you are. If you think that you are only your art, you need to do some self-exploration.

While I may exude confidence and Pariah Reign might seem like it’s only going up, there has been challenges in the business that have bled over to my personal life. I’ve gone through more pain than I should have because I let my creative endeavors take me over.

2. Discipline = Freedom

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” -Archilochus

Jocko Willink & Leif Babin’s book, Extreme Ownership has impacted me more than anything else I have read, watched, or listened to this year. Numbers 2-5 on this list are all from the book and reinforced by one of the author’s podcast, Jocko Podcast.

Jocko’s tagline is this: discipline equals freedom. It seems counterintuitive, but having a routine can allow for better creative results. It does this in two ways.

First, having discipline and delaying gratification in your life sacrifices the small things to obtain the big things later on. If you’re financially disciplined, you have more freedom to spend your money on the things that matter. If you’re physically disciplined (aka: going to the gym), you have the strength and energy to do physically-intense things later on. Plus, if you keep it up for long enough, you’ll probably look pretty damn good too.

Secondly, discipline creates the traction and momentum needed to get a career going. I know several artists who chase “inspiration” like a 11 year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. To them, The Muse is a fickle mistress who winds them this way and that.

What’s the solution to creativity and writer’s block? To do the work. Amateurs wait for inspiration, and pros go to work. Show up and sit down and hammer out your design, song, or blog post. If you wait until you only feel like it, either always feel like it, do it anyway, or stay a fool. You will not make progress without consistency.

Over the past year, I’ve implemented discipline into daily workout sessions, weekly content publications, and monthly times of reflection. I’m pretty epicurean by nature. It’s hard creating delayed-gratification in myself. But, everything I have applied discipline to has ended up benefitting me much further than I could imagine.

3. Leadership (Culture) Trumps All

“There are no bad regiments, only bad colonels.” -Napoleon Bonaparte 

I’ve worked with a lot of different promoters and teams throughout my time in the music industry. From scrappy startup promotion teams to corporate concert venues, there has a been one string that has tied all of the effective teams together: top-down leadership.

After working with all of these teams, I noticed something incredible. The highly paid teams underneath a questionable leader would perform less than the lesser-paid, highly-motivated teams under a great leader. If the team believed in the vision and the person behind it, they would turn out.

While a lot of Pariah Reign is a one-man show, we have a few teams internally. Our teams are effective, and drive results when led right. I can easily see the results when I do what I say, own the problems, and pass on the praise.

I’m not a perfect leader. I miss messages, emails, and phone calls regularly. My phone is blown up 24/7 to the point where I’ve literally posted screenshots to show why I can’t get back to 35 people at the same time. As I’m writing this, I’m kicking myself over all the messages I glanced but never had time to reply.

4. The Best Bets are Big and Safe

“I seek as much as I can to mitigate risk.” Gen. John R. Allen

The best bets are impactful, cheap, and reversible. Those who play a big game rarely bet their mortgage on making their next thing. Rather, they mitigate as much risk as possible to make big moves less risky than the small ones.

I made this mistake over, and over with buying product for Pariah Reign. Instead of looking at total cost per order, I became obsessive of per-unit cost. When buying clothing, stickers, business cards, or anything else that is wholesale, the price per piece decreases as quantity increases. I was so obsessed with keeping a low price per piece that I sometimes starved the company of cash. Without knowing how the products would sell, I’d drop thousands into inventory that has yet to all move. The company would have been better off to purchase small batches of clothing and diversify the designs at a lower margin, than buying a few core designs at a decent margin, but an outrageous total price for the cashflow of the business.

5. Get Active

“Get out of your head and into your body.” -Tim Ferriss

In April of this year, I decided I was done with being skinny. I was in a dark time in my personal life, dealing with a whole new set of challenges. I weighed 137 pounds, at 15% body fat. Four months later, I was 160 at 7.5% body fat, and loving it.

There’s a lot of changes that happened to me after I started becoming more fit. The biggest change was a massive boost of confidence in three different ways.

First, I was able to connect effort and output in a way that I hadn’t before. After noticing the gains, I realized that there was a direct relationship between work put in and results coming out. Up until that point, I felt that I was not in control of my life. I felt that the success of my businesses or my grades at university were up to chance, circumstance, and some effort.

Secondly, actually gaining strength brings a wave of confidence. I’d imagine this is true for people in general, but men in particular have a narrative of being strong, capable people. When you transition out of being weak to being physically able to do things, magic happens.

When I was working manual labor at a concert production company, I was always the smallest, weakest guy on the team. I had to have other people step in for me. I got beat up in middle school by a star baseball player, and had to ask my dad to take a break when lifting the couch 300 feet. Now? I’m chillin’. While I’m by no means the strongest person alive, I can do things that I couldn’t before. It’s great.

Lastly, there is a certain confidence that comes by looking better. Anyone who has spent some time with me knows how ludicrous I can be about checking my reflection. There’s this weird, arrogant, vain part of me that wants to say, “You looking good? Hell yea you looking good,” every time I pass a mirror or window. Where before I would see a man-child with a shrunken figure and poor posture, I know see a rugged, bearded warrior ready to take on life.

Since working out daily, I’ve noticed that my mood is regulated by my workouts. I used to be an anxiety-ridden, focus-lacking boy, moving around from task-to-task in a cocktail of negative emotional states. Now, I feel more on top of things than I ever have. Every year, researchers are discovering more links between body and mind, emotion and motion, working out and working through. Get healthy not just for your body, but for your emotions.

If you can’t make it to the gym every day, go 1-2 times a week. If you can’t afford a gym membership, go run around your apartment, swim in a lake, or do pushups off your bed. If you have weight to lose, muscle to gain, or both, you will feel better once you accomplish your goals.

6. Find Your Edge

“Being different is more important than being better.” -Anonymous

There’s an incredible amount of noise in the music industry. There’s a large amount of people doing the same marketing, making the same kind of music, and expecting better results than their peers. Certain genres, looks, and styles get oversaturated in a minute.

For musicians: Unless you’re Mozart, competing on and building a brand on musical quality alone will make you lose. While you may spend 7 years creating the perfect production workflow and crankingout tunes, some ungodly talented thirteen year-old in Germany could come onto the scene and destroy you with natural talent. Instead of claiming music alone, you need to find what makes you unique, and exploit it. Find your unique competitive advantage and compete the hell out of it.

I won’t lie: Pariah’s design style took heavily after other brands in our space. Our first shirt, unknowing to me, straight copied one of our competitor’s design. (More to come on this later). Our marketing for the past two years looks just like our competitor’s marketing. By no avail, we didn’t gain much traffic. That’s changing. In 2017, you will see a dramatic shift in the Pariah Reign ecosystem–one for the best.


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Bonus: My Favorite Things in 2016

Here’s my favorite books, resources, and other things that I’ve enjoyed in 2016.

Favorite Books Read in 2016

Jocko Willink & Leif Babin – Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Seth Godin – Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Ryan Holiday – The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

Ryan Holiday – Ego is the Enemy

Favorite Podcasts Listened to in 2016

The Art of Charm

Jocko Podcast

The Tim Ferriss Show

Favorite Purchases Made in 2016

NEEWER Video LED Light

Sliding iPhone Credit Card Case

Car Air-Vent Phone Mount

iPhone Cardioid Mic for Interviews (Thanks Carlos for the suggest!) Note: This is by no means a production-quality microphone. I use this microphone to get better audio of interview subjects in the field so I can transcribe decent audio later.