How to Play the Odds with Your Music

This past weekend, Alli and I went over to a friends’ place for a board game night, and the group decided to play this dumb party game called “Beat That.”

The premise: The game includes chopsticks, dice, plastic cups, a tape measure, and ping pong balls, and you take turns drawing from a deck of “challenge” cards.

The challenge cards give you random tasks to do with the items – i.e., “balance a die on your nose and spin around in a circle on your tip toes. If the die doesn’t fall, you win.” You get little chips to bet on yourself for each challenge, and at the end of the game, the person with the most chips wins.

It’s basically a drinking game.

But it was a church gathering so we drank the Kroger’s version of La Croix.

Anyway, I was awful at this dumb game. I kept overestimating my ability to do these dumb challenges and so I kept losing my dumb chips.

I finished with a score of three. Only one person scored worse, and I think they did badly on purpose.

As you can tell, I’m not mad.

But if I was mad, I’d be mad about the challenge where we got three chances to flick a ping-pong ball across the wooden floor and have it stop anywhere between 36 and 48 inches.

Just flick a ping-pong ball three-to-four feet? Too easy.

I should’ve been a pro at this.

I played marbles as a kid. Once. But I had the technique down. The trick is to flick the ball with your thumb instead of using the raw, haphazard power of your index finger.

I knew this, so I wagered a lot of chips.

I sat down on the slick hardwood floor and took a few practice flicks to loosen up. I eyed the tape measure. I did that thing where you lick your index finger and hold it up to test the direction and strength of the wind. There was no wind. I took aim.

My first flick rolled 34 inches.

“Good start!” said Alli, patting me on the shoulder.

“Aha,” I thought. “I only need to flick it a tiny bit harder to cover those last couple of inches.”

I flicked it a tiny bit harder. The ball rolled 92 inches.

“Hehmm,” I grunted.

The room went quiet.

I stood up and eyed the tape measure again, stretching out my thumb. I paced out the distance. Then I sat back down and lined things up with meticulous care, sweating slightly.

I knew this was my final chance – but this time, I also knew I had the measure of the task.

My third flick started off with just the right bit of momentum. It felt perfect, and as the ball rolled toward the markers it drew an anticipatory murmur from the crowd, like when a golfer taps a long putt and it becomes increasingly clear that it’s weaving an inevitable path toward the hole.

The ping-pong ball approached the three-foot mark and slowed – and slowed – and, with a final, halting half-rotation, stopped.

At 35 1/2 inches.

“Good try!” said Alli, patting me on the shoulder again.

“$clkad4%” I said, suppressing a strong desire to stomp on that worthless ping-pong ball. Instead, I went back to the kitchen and cracked open another can of Simple Truth Organic Mango Grapefruit Seltzer.

Here’s where I’m going with this…

I think, too often, we treat life / art like one of those dumb challenges.

We only give ourselves a few chances to succeed, and then when we don’t get things right quickly, we call it failing.

If I’d gotten more flicks, I would’ve won. Eventually.

In life / music, you get more flicks.

Case in point: I’ve talked to three or four artists in the past month who have really hated on SubmitHub. It’s totally understandable to hate on SubmitHub. But when I asked those artists about their experiences on the platform, they all said some version of this:

“Well, I submitted to five or six blogs and they all rejected me, and the feedback I got was really annoying, so I don’t think SubmitHub works.”

Fair point on the feedback. But that’s not a fair shake on the platform as a whole.

Look, on SubmitHub, there’s like a 15% (give or take) approval rating for all submissions. That means if you submit to five blogs, you can expect to get 0.75 press placements.

(And that’s pretty good for PR in general – out in the wild, response rates are often lower.)

Given those odds, why in the world would you cap your submissions at five?

Why not submit to 50 blogs? Or 100?

In fact, for one of these artists, I ran a SubmitHub campaign and submitted to another 50 outlets. We got five placements.

That’s not out-of-this-world-amazing, but it’s not failure, either.

It’s an obvious lesson, but it’s still hard to learn: You have a better chance of succeeding if you don’t give up easily.

Clearly, there’s nuance here. There are times when certain tactics just don’t work, no matter how many shots you take. You can’t beat your head against the wall and expect to break through it.

But I think most of us probably have the opposite problem.

In my experience, many of the artists who “fail” at marketing just haven’t given themselves or their music enough chances.

They boosted a Facebook post and it didn’t go viral, so they swore off of social ads forever.

Or they submitted to five blogs and nobody responded, so they stopped reaching out to other outlets.

Or they released one album, and it didn’t blow up, so they stopped making music altogether.

This week, my advice is simple: take more shots.

Because you get more chances.

Unless you’re playing a dumb game called “Beat That”. If that’s you, you don’t get any more chances. Actually, I recommend giving up and never playing it again.

But have fun either way.

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