Timbo Reid: Welcome to Small Business, Big Marketing.
Mike Johnston: Thank you man. Thanks for having me. This is awesome.
Timbo Reid: It’s actually a pleasure to have you along. As I said before we started, we’re not going to veer into music because I’m tone deaf, so this is a pure marketing discussion.
Mike Johnston: I like it.
Timbo Reid: Okay listen, before we get stuck into the marketing, John, I want to play that game which I call Drop That Name. Now who’s the most famous person you’ve ever drummed for?
Mike Johnston: Oh goodness gracious, probably, I think, Nobody Smithson. I would say I’m the teacher. You know, I was in a bunch of bands in the ‘90s, or I was actually in one band that had a record deal and we were opening for everybody in the world and I got a glimpse into that world, and I called those bands Rage Against the Corn tones. They were just a mixture of all the bands that screamed and rapped and screamed and rapped, and you know, we played the last Woodstock that Limp Bizkit was kind enough to burn down, and so I was kind of in that mix, and we were always playing with Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, Foo Fighters, and I got to see that scope of things, and it really wasn’t for me. And then I did play with a band called Filter. I played percussion for them, and I got the opportunity to play on the Dave Letterman show and just seeing more of that world. But I would say lately the most cool thing that happened is a really famous American comedian named Bill Burr contacted me and asked me to give him a private drum lesson, and I’m a huge stand-up comedian fan, or a fan of standup comedy, so that was really cool to actually teach somebody that was famous outside of the world of music and to give him a private drum lesson.
Timbo Reid: So when you got the phone call from Bill Burr, who I don’t know who he is but I’ll take it from you that he’s really funny, did you go, “It is not?”
Mike Johnston: Yeah no, it was all through, you know nowadays it’s all through social media and it was one of those things where I see Bill Burr has tweeted that a lesson with @mikeslessons is on his bucket list, and I was like, “What?” I listen to that guy’s podcast every Monday, and I’m like, “That can’t be right,” and he’s in some of my favorite movies. So yeah, he found out I was coming to LA, Las Angeles, to do a clinic, and then he got ahold of me through the back channels of Twitter and just asked if we could do a private lesson. I said, “Absolutely man.”
Timbo Reid: Tell me, before we hit record, you were telling me a Phil Collins story. You’ve got a poster, you’re in the dark now, but you’ve got a poster over your right hand shoulder with you appearing on the same poster as Phil Collins. What’s that about?
Mike Johnston: Well yeah, so Phil was probably the first person I started obsessing over as a drummer and watching, just as a musician. I’d watch his concerts, and I had a video tape that I would just run over and over and over when I was a kid, and I’ve just always loved everything about his drumming and his approach to drumming I guess more than anything, and so last year I got an award from a drum magazine, and then Phil Collins and I play for the same sponsor, for the same drum company called Gretch Drums, and Gretch took out an ad in the magazine congratulating the people that had won awards, so it was this huge thing of Phil Collins and then underneath it was other people that had won the award from that company and Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters and myself, and to be on the same piece of paper with Phil Collins, he’ll never know I exist, but anyways, it was awesome.
So my wife had it turned into a piece of art for me and I totally appreciate it.
Timbo Reid: One of the things that I talk to my small business audience about is the importance of building brand, and one of the components of building brand is having, I think it’s really important, or it’s an interesting idea to identify a public figure that you see the brand that you’re trying to build as being most like. For me I always talk about Jamie Oliver. Don’t know whether you know Jamie, but he’s kind of the UK chef’s chef, the TV chef.
Mike Johnston: Absolutely.
Timbo Reid: So is Phil Collins that person for you, that you kind of are building a business around?
Mike Johnston: No, I mean it definitely, I can tell you this, on a business level, I’ve never once looked at the drum industry or even the music industry. It’s never inspired me. You know, I would say young, starting business, back when – I opened my first business when I was 26, my first brick and mortar business called The Drum Lab School of Drumming, and it was all about Michael Jordan. It was all about being the best in the world at something. I didn’t look to his personal life, I didn’t care about it, I cared about how did he approach basketball and how did he approach – You know, it’s funny that we think that like, “Oh yeah, everybody just wore baggy shorts while playing American basketball.” Well they didn’t. Michael Jordan started that. And everybody thinks that yeah, you just go out and get a pair of Jordan shoes. Well there weren’t signature shoes. There were a couple from Converse and maybe Adidas with some of the tennis stars, but there weren’t basketball signature shoes, and he did that and his brand is bigger than life.
So Michael Jordan was the one that kind of got me going, and then eventually it became Steve Jobs and realizing what it’s like to make something as simple as a little device cool. That had never, in my opinion, really happened. And in the last two to three years, it’s been Elan Musk, the president of Tesla motors and Space X rockets.
Timbo Reid: Do you make a point of looking to these people and, I often use the world channeling, it’s gets a bit woo woo, but do you look to those people and say, “What can I learn from them? What can I draw from them? How can I integrate some of what they’ve got into Mike’s Lessons?”
Mike Johnston: 100 percent. I mean, I’ve never thought, “Oh, I guess that only applies to designing rockets,” when I hear Elan Musk talk or speak. I think, “Yes, I could totally do that.” I also look at how is the world perceiving these people, and what is a common thread between Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Elan Musk, the people I do look up to? And then, what are they trying to do with their brand, and is it a positive thing? It’s very rare that somebody gets on board with a giant, you know, negative business campaign, where it’s just about crushing the little guy. That’s very rare. It’s when somebody says, “You know what? That’s enough of this oil stuff. Let’s make an electric car that looks cool,” and then the world’s like, “Yeah, we should do that,” and then they get on board and they like the person that had the idea and they like the person that the oil companies can’t buy out. And I don’t want to get into that stuff, but what I mean is, there’s something there, where it’s like, “Yeah, I agree with you man. That’s really cool.”
And so I kind of think if I draw from them, it’s little bits of everything, and I never think of it as, like I said, shoes from Nike or iPods from Apple. I just think of it as, “Okay, I’m going to take that and apply that to drum lessons and the distribution of drum lessons.”
Timbo Reid: I imagine I always have this idea of; I would love Steve Jobs, even Sir Jonathan Ive, to have designed a car. The Apple car would be cool. What would you like Apple to design, a drum kit?
Mike Johnston: Oh man, if Apple could design anything for me, who boy, it’s pretty tough because everything they’ve designed is what I wish they would have designed for me. Yeah, if they could design anything for me, it would have to be some sort of encompassing helmet that would allow me to travel the universe, just visually, like take star tours. I’m very interested in astronomy and physics and I would love to just put on some glasses or more of a helmet, something that shuts out the world.
Timbo Reid: See, Ives would never; a helmet is far too clunky. I mean, it would be a chip. It would definitely be an inserted chip of some sort into your kind of lower bicep or something that allows you to then go anywhere you want to. It’s much more minimalistic kind of thing.
Mike Johnston: I just need, I don’t want just glasses, because I bought those when they came out, like, “Plug these glasses into your iPod.” I was like, “Yeah,” and then there’s still babies crying next to me on the plane, and it’s like, “No,” I need to shut out the world with this. But yeah, that would be it for me.
Timbo Reid: Now John O, let’s get stuck into Mike’s lessons, because it seems to be, looking at it from the ad side, someone who’d not come across you until Danny Thompson from themusicfactoryic.com, he’s a member of my forum, suggested I have a chat to you. It seems to be a bit of a juggernaut. In fact, Danny said in his email to me, “Mike’s built the most successful online teaching business in the world.” How accurate is that?
Mike Johnston: It’s, you know, I can say that it’s been said by enough other people that I’m starting to trust it, but I don’t spend any time looking to see who’s doing what. I’ve never been sitting with another person that does online education and said, “What’s your revenue stream like?” I don’t really care, to be honest. I can tell you this; one of the greatest things businesswise that’s ever happened to me is having enough financial freedom to quit caring about money. And I don’t mean that on any kind of billionaire scale. I just mean that at some point the wife gave me a look saying like, “You know what? Just do it. Do things for the right reason. We have enough to get by.” And it was like, “Cool.” I don’t want to ask how many videos did we sell last week. I just don’t want to be stuck in that world, because I think it kind of shapes the product and you start going for cash grabs and you go, “Oh man, we’re hurting a little this month. I’ll do this video that I know is a popular topic.” I don’t want to do that. I want to sit down on the drum set and say like, “Man, if I explain this just right, this will help a lot of drummers.”
And then usually by doing that and having that mindset, those are the things that sell anyways.
Timbo Reid: An assumption here, how long were you stuck in the opposite world where it was a grab for cash?
Mike Johnston: Luckily for me, I never did the, “Okay, I’m broke and now I’m just going to start a business,” thing. I always had something underneath as a revenue stream. So I taught private lessons after I was done touring until I could financially open my own business doing that and have teachers teach under me. I ran that business while starting mikeslessons.com, and I let it build gradually. So it was never in that position where you can’t eat, but yeah, I think the other thing is, I didn’t have expectations. I started online lessons when it wasn’t being done by anybody in the world, so I had nobody to look up to and say, “Oh, this could be really big one day.” I just thought, “Well, it sucks that there’s a kid in Japan that has seen me on YouTube and really wants to learn from me, but he just can’t, and he never will be able to. He’ll never be able to come over here and study in California,” and then technology was getting to a place where it was like, “I don’t know man, maybe he could. Maybe I could speak to him.” So that’s kind of how it all kind of grew.
So I would say I didn’t spend much time feeling like, “Woe is me,” or, “I’ve got to do the cash grab thing.” I just know, I would say it was a little bit different. What it was was, when things actually did start to take off, that’s when I screwed up a little bit and went, “Oh man, if I just did this I could make twice as much,” and it would bomb, and I would go, “Oh, that’s weird,” and then I’d kind of forget about money and I would think, “Oh, this is going to help a lot of drummers,” and it would explode. And I would think, “Oh, if I just do two more of those,” it was almost like a great movie comes out and then you make a terrible sequel just to get the money from the great movie. That’s what I had to learn was, “You know what? Just keep making one great movie at a time. Stop making sequels.”
Timbo Reid: And hello to the directors and producers of Police Academy 49.
Mike Johnston: Yes, yes, and I can’t wait for Hot Tub Time Machine part two.
Timbo Reid: I’m not going out just in case it gets a pre-release on iTunes.
Mike Johnston: That’s darn right buddy.
Timbo Reid: Yeah, really interesting, let’s explore that Mike, because, you know, from what I understand, you started posting some drum lessons on YouTube. Yeah, that was kind of your thing. You put them up because of the kid in Japan with no real kind of plan in place. There’s a point in time it gets traction. And what was that traction, just starting to get reviews, feedback?
Mike Johnston: Yeah, you know, honestly it was just numbers. When I started with YouTube –
Timbo Reid: How long ago?
Mike Johnston: I can tell you this, it was when I was telling people, “It’s www.youtube.com.” That’s how new it was. So I started, I think I was probably one of the first people to ever do a drum lesson on YouTube, and I actually started it because I was constantly taking off for like a week or two for short tours and I would tell my private students, “Hey, I have to leave, but I made a video of your drum lesson. I’ll be back next week. Watch it on this website, www.youtube.com, and when I come back, we’ll go over your lesson with you.” And I would tell the parents the same thing, and I’d come back and that video would have 25,000 views, but I only showed it to six kids. And I was like, “That’s weird. That must be wrong.” Because everything that we think of as normal now, at one point it wasn’t normal, and I didn’t know what views were and I’m still on Myspace. So I was like, “Wow, that’s a lot of views.” And then when it hit about a million views, that’s when I thought, “Okay,” and people were saying things that I’d never heard in my life.
No one had ever said, “Thank you so much. I’ve never been able to understand this subject until now.” And it’s like, “What? All I did was teach it.” But then other drummers started coming up with lessons on YouTube and I got to really A B the difference between how I explained things and how other people explained things. And I think a lot of that is where I started to notice the traction and I thought, “Okay, we’re at a million views on one little lesson. If I would have had $.99 from every one of those views, that would have been a million dollars, minus a couple of pennies.”
Timbo Reid: Can you just pick up on a point you said there because I’m at the moment working with someone to get their podcast up and running, and we just had the conversation this morning about the difference in the way she’s going to present it versus the way someone else is going to present it. So the premise is, assume that someone is going to do something similar to what you’re doing tomorrow. They’re going to start the same business, the same podcast, whatever it is. The point of difference is the way you deliver. So the way you were delivering your music lessons was like only you could do it. People could copy what you do, but not who you are.
Mike Johnston: Absolutely. And no one and you know what? I’ve had to sit down and when you’re successful at something like art, the world wants to find out, “Okay, you couldn’t possibly be good at what you do, so what’s the secret? What did you figure out that no one else did?” And you know, what I can always tell them is, “Look, we all have access to the same information. I’m not teaching anything new. I’m only delivering it in a way that it hasn’t been delivered, and that’s the personal spin.” And that’s it. That’s the only difference between me teaching a simple drum pattern and someone else teaching that exact same thing. It’s just the delivery, and the care in the delivery. I can tell you that the one thing has separated my YouTube channel from the rest of the world of drumming education is how much I care about the end user, where I even start every video acknowledging them first. I’m not making random content and then just putting it on YouTube. I’m making the content for YouTube. And I say, “What’s up YouTubers and Facebook Cats. This is Mike Johnston. I am making this clearly for you.” And so yeah, so I think that that’s, what you said is spot on.
It’s about putting your spin on it and being you, and sometimes it catches on with the world and sometimes it doesn’t, and there’s not a lot of explanation of why.
Timbo Reid: No. At that point you kind of, yeah, you try and figure that out, it’s difficult. But it’s interesting. In every category, I mean, there’s one airline CEO that gets all, well, as you see, Ike Branson, I mean, he gets all the exposure. There’s hundreds, if not thousands, of airline CEOs in the world, and there’s every category. It comes down to personality, so I think that’s real interesting, and thanks for sharing that. Was there a – Actually, before we move on, I’d love to wrap some numbers around Mike’s Lessons. I don’t expect you to reveal revenues, but whatever you’ve got that gives us a sense of the scale.
Mike Johnston: Sure. Well I would say that keep in mind the drum industry is a tiny tiny industry, which was news to me. Even though I’ve been playing drums my whole life, I think as a drummer I just assumed the world played drums. But, you know, man it’s hard, because like I said, I don’t keep track of much, but I’m trying to think of a good number that would tell you how impactful this is to the drumming community. I can say that it won an award for educational website of the year by drum magazine, and then the following year I won educator of the year, and I think that, nowadays we’re dealing with popularity contests because we have the online world and social media, and I think that that, by winning those awards, it was showing that the world of drumming was paying attention to this website. But, you know, the amount of people that we have on there, because we have different services. So we have downloadable content, and that probably has about 20,000 or 30,000 people that have used that service where they just download the content, they never speak to me, it goes straight to their iPod or their desktop, and then they just watch it, and they’re just video drum lessons.
And then we have the Livestream, which is live online drum lessons that happens in the morning and then the evening Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and that has less people, but a normal broadcast will be about 1,200 to 1,300 people in the morning and then another 2,000 in the evening, but that’s a lot of people if they all ask questions.
Timbo Reid: Now you’ve got one starting in two and a half hours as I know from the front page of your website. Are those, they’re members are they? They’re paying a monthly membership?
Mike Johnston: Those are paid subscriptions. That’s a monthly subscription. It’s $20.00 a month, and that was a goal. There were financial goals in that. If I could get 100 people to sign up for this at $20.00 a month, that would give me $2,000.00. That was a goal at the beginning of the business like, okay, that would get me to the point that I wasn’t losing money and my wife and I wouldn’t fight about it. And then it was alright, well I want 500 students, and that’ll give me this amount, and then 1,000 students, that was just like this huge goal. $20,000.00 a month from teaching online drum lessons. And I know that’s not millionaire type stuff, but as a drummer, that was pretty neat, you know? And not traveling, not touring, just staying home with the wife and the dogs and having a normal life and bringing in $20,000.00 a month just off of that was a huge dream and a huge goal. So yeah, and once those kind of goals started to happen it was like, “Okay, I can get obsessed with this, or I can say you know what, this is way more than you ever thought it would be. Turn that part of your world off for a second and let it just go on autopilot and now make the best product ever and it’ll probably skyrocket.”
Timbo Reid: And did it?
Mike Johnston: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s been a good year.
Timbo Reid: Yeah, oh that’s fantastic. Tell me, what a great story. There’s a kind of idea I want to explore with you is this being a teacher. About seven or eight years ago, for me I was working corporate marketing, working on big brands in big agencies and I had this kind of epiphany that you know, I just want to teach. I don’t know whether I necessarily want to consult, I don’t want to execute campaigns and all that type of stuff, but I really was really enjoying teaching and sharing knowledge, and that was a massive change for me, and it’s led to me, and in actual fact it was, I took it so literally that I was going to go back and study to become a teacher and go to a, at that time I was really inspired by Robin Williams’ character, Professor John Hughes in Dead Poet’s Society. I thought, “I’m going to be like him,” but that was being too literal. And I realized that, “Why don’t I just go back. I’m going to teach marketing somehow,” and that’s what this podcast is about and that’s what my public speaking is about.
Did you kind of have that similar teacher epiphany at some point?
Mike Johnston: Yeah actually I did. I got a record deal when I was 21. I was already teaching drums at a local music store, got a record deal, and wasn’t really that into it. I never had dreams of being a rock star or anything like that.
Timbo Reid: Why not?
Mike Johnston: I know, right?
Timbo Reid: What’s wrong with you?
Mike Johnston: I know, my dad was like, “Well I’ll go on tour if you’re not.” But no, he was like, “Look son, you may never have this opportunity again. You can always go to Berkley School of Music, you can always teach, but you should take this.” And so I went out and I did the touring thing, and we made our little MTV videos and all that stuff and like I said at the beginning of the podcast, I got to experience that world. And while I was doing that, we started playing all the big festivals in Europe. You know, they have these 50,000 to 60,000 people festivals over there, and we’d play those things, and I’d look out at this sea of 50,000 people, and all I could do was, I would create these patterns in my head that I would think, “Okay, as soon as this show is over, I’m going to go back on the tour bus with all the other drummers, and I’m going to teach them this really cool idea that if you hit every fifth 16th note it’s going to create a five over four poly rhythm,” and I’d snap myself out of it and go, “Oh my god dude, pay attention. You’re in the middle of a dream right now. You’re playing to 50,000 people.”
Timbo Reid: Yeah yeah, and that girl in the front row is looking at you. Don’t worry about teaching the drummers back in the bus.
Mike Johnston: She’s not ugly. She’s doing just fine. Let’s pay attention to that, Johnston. And so that was kind of, and then that happened more and more to where all I could think about, “All right, 8:30 p.m., that’s the end of the last set,” or 10:30 p.m. or whatever, “And then we can get on my bus, pull out the practice pad, and I’ll teach all these guys this stuff.” And they didn’t even want to be there. They were like, “Dude, let’s go to a bar,” and I’m like, “No, no bar. Let’s practice.” So anyways, that was kind of it, and then in the meantime when I would be off tours, those were little warning signs, and then when I would be off tours I was taking lessons with a very famous educator that I had worked out of all his books, his name was Pete Magadini, and one day Pete said, you know, I was getting ready to go back out on the road, and he said, “You know, Mike, when you play drums, it’s cool. But when you tell me something and you explain something to me, your eyes light up and you get so freaking excited you can barely contain yourself. You might want to think about doing that for a career.”
And I had never thought of it as a career, and I was like, “What, teach?” And he’s like, “Yeah, I’ve never seen anybody quite as excited about explaining something to somebody else as you are.” And I said, “Okay.” And that was kind of it. I quit my band and moved back home and started teaching.
Timbo Reid: There’s the turning point right there. You know, I’m really really passionate about so many small business owners know so much about what it is they do and I’m really passionate about helping them introduce additional revenue streams to their business, and I think teaching, whether it be teach, you know, train the trainer, or just teaching something, you know, like, if you’ve got a coffee shop and you’re knocking out the best coffees day in and day out, run some coffee classes, for example. You know, I just think not enough good teachers in this world.
Mike Johnston: No absolutely, and that’s, when it comes to online revenue, what I have noticed is if I sold the performance of a drum solo, I’d make $5.00. No one will pay, right now, with YouTube and all the social media, no one will pay for performance, but if I sold the concept that went into that drum solo that allowed me to create the solo, I’d make $5 million. And I realized that right away because there were companies that were like, “Well we have these great artists. We’re going to sell their performance,” and I watched it just tank, and I thought, “You know, you can’t compete with YouTube right now. No matter what you have for me on your performance, I do think that I can find someone that was in that crowd with a camera phone that has already uploaded it for free. But I will pay for information and education.” And I wouldn’t say I’ve trained, but I have really taught my students and my customers, “Look, the reason we charge is very important. If I am charging you for this, I take it seriously as an educator. And if you pay for it, you take it seriously as a customer. Everything I will ever teach you is already for free on YouTube, and you won’t practice any of it because it’s for free. But once you pay for it, you’re going to get your money’s worth by practicing, and you’re going to get that value out of the education.”
Timbo Reid: Yeah, great concept. Let’s talk then about not just the online business, because what I love about mikeslessons.com is that it is so much more than an online business. In fact you’ve got drum camps and you’ve got live lessons, you’ve got lesson packs, you’ve got single lessons, and Mike, I’ve got to say, tell me who’s responsible for the site? I have no, I kind of like to drum, but I’m not going to go out and buy drum lessons or anything, but your site makes me want to buy. It’s just like, “I’ve got to click something. I’ve got to put it in the shopping cart.” It’s so brilliantly set up. Tell us about that.
Mike Johnston: Yeah, so the first three or four versions of mikeslessons.com I had done myself. I’d stay up every night and learn things from this website called Linda.com, and I would just learn back in the day I was learning flash because that was so popular so action script, swish, I was learning all of these html everything, and I was making my own site because I couldn’t afford for somebody to do it. Eventually as it became big enough that I couldn’t handle it anymore, especially with all the roles that people get assigned as a member, I hired a web developer named Brad Phillip, and he’s responsible for a lot of things in the drum world as well as the music world. He does The Vans Warp Tour site, he does Macbeth’s Shoes, and then SJC Custom Drums, so he does a lot of cool, hip sites, but he does do it all by himself, which I really wanted. I wanted somebody that, because sometimes designers can just do design and coders can just code.
I wanted somebody that could do it all. And he happened to be a drummer.
Timbo Reid: Not easy to find, by the way.
Mike Johnston: No, oh my god. I thought everyone did that.
Timbo Reid: That’s like finding a builder and an architect.
Mike Johnston: No, and I thought everyone did that. So yeah, so I went to Brad and I said, “Look, I know how much my website would cost. I totally get it. I can’t give you that. I don’t have it.” This was before it ever started. “But what I will do is I will pay you monthly whether you do anything or not.” So we worked out a deal, and I said, “And that payment will grow as the site grows,” and he agreed to it and it’s been awesome. I’ve been working with him now for about two years and the site you’re looking at, to me, it’s funny because that’s our, like, that’s like ancient compared to what’s coming out in about, I think we’re going to launch on January 1st, our new website.
Timbo Reid: Why?
Mike Johnston: It’s just a redesign. It’s just a redesign.
Timbo Reid: Is that John O the business owner getting tired of his marketing before anyone else does?
Mike Johnston: No, it’s something where I’ve just always thought by the time that my industry catches me, I will be gone, and I know right now that in the world of online musical education, I don’t mean this to be cocky, but I know that my website is the leader, and now I’m starting to see the copies pop up, so I have to leave, and I have to make them think like, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. We just launched and he’s gone.” So the new website is just very very hip and new and, I mean, it’s got a new look and feel. The products are the same. The products will never change. We make downloadable content and livestreaming content and then I host drum camps here. But yeah, Brad Phillip has been an awesome person to work with for sure.
Timbo Reid: So let’s talk about that new iteration of the site, because how old is the current site? I’m going to have to take a screen grab and put it in the show notes so people can compare, but how long has this site been up?
Mike Johnston: One year.
Timbo Reid: Wow, that’s short.
Mike Johnston: Well, I mean, just one year of that design. You know, mikeslessons.com has been up for six years.
Timbo Reid: So now tell me the new iteration, you’re using words like cool and hip. Is it about a design thing or has there been some lessons that you’ve learned that you think are going to encourage more sales and what are they?
Mike Johnston: Yeah, you know, one there’s wasted stuff on our site. One of our tabs right now I believe is students. Well when we started that we thought, when you sign up you should make your own profile and your pictures and your drum set. It doesn’t work that way. They already have Facebook. They will not do it. At least in the drum world, trying to make your own social media site does not work.
Timbo Reid: Yeah, there’s a lot of not mirages but similar.
Mike Johnston: Yeah, there are a lot of avatars that don’t have pictures. So if you go through 15,000 students, they don’t have 15,000 pictures. So we noticed, “You know what? Let’s ditch it.” So about a year ago we made the Mike’s Lessons Family Facebook page where when you sign up for our site, you’re immediately invited to this private page, we all keep track of each other, we all support each other, and if we’re going to use social media, Facebook is doing it better than I’m doing it. So that was one of the lessons that I learned. One of the others was that right now, we’re one of the few companies that allow people to download the content and literally keep it. So as soon as you download it it’s yours. Meaning if you wanted to, you could upload it to YouTube and ruin my world and that’d be fine, but what we’ve noticed is they just don’t. When people pay for content, they’re very private about it and they don’t want to share it with the world. So that hasn’t been a problem, but one thing right now is, let’s say that you logged in from a mobile device, you can’t access your downloadable content unless you’ve synced it to your mobile device. So we’re adding that as a feature. There’ll be the download button and then the on demand watch button where you just watch it on your mobile device but it’s not actually taking up any room on your mobile device.
We’re hosting it for you. So now we’ll be introducing on demand, which is something that we should have done a while ago. So those are some of the new things that are coming as well as we want to have the ability to connect our students with each other physically as far as drummers like to hang out and jam together, so they should be able to type in their zip code or postal code and say, “Okay, how many Mike’s Lessons students do I have in my area, and could we organize a jam at somebody’s house?” So things like that, and then the biggest thing is just the visual re-design. Like I said, I have an amazing amazing designer, and when he is like, “It’s time to move forward,” then I know he’s done his research. And so hopefully the reaction that you’ve given me over the current site, I hope when you see the new site, you’re like, “Yeah man, now we’re getting somewhere.”
Timbo Reid: Well it’s just buy buy buy, without being kind of push push push. That’s what I love about it.
Mike Johnston: But the other thing that a lot of people don’t realize until someone points it out is that’s not mikejohnston.com, meaning there’s no gallery of me, there’s no videos of me performing, it’s only teaching. You can’t find “about mike”. There’s nothing about me. There’s just an educational portal that I happen to be the person that’s generating the content for.
Timbo Reid: Yeah yeah, and again, there’s no podcast, you’ve got a little button to Facebook and Twitter, but there’s no blog.
Mike Johnston: And that’s not even my Facebook. That’s the Mike’s Lessons Family Facebook. I try to keep, like I said, my goal marketing wise, and you mention this in, oh what’s it called the wakeup calls?
Timbo Reid: Oh yeah, the free download off smallbusinessbigmarketing.com.
Mike Johnston: Yeah, you mention in there a little bit, but I don’t even know if it has a name but I call it organic marketing, and it’s one of those things where I just want to say, “This is what’s out there. If you want to know more, you ask me. Instead of me telling you more, I’ll wait until you ask me, and then I don’t feel guilty about filling you in on more.” So I put out those things and say, “Look, this is what’s available. If you want it, come and get it, and if not, no big deal. It’s here for you.” Rather than doing the Sham Wow crap, 1999, in your face, graphics flying out of the screen, I can’t stand that stuff.
Timbo Reid: Listen, the Sham Wow ad was pretty good.
Mike Johnston: I know it was, but I just mean, that world of marketing is already out there. I think there can be a less abrasive way to say, “Look, I’ve made a quality product, and if you choose something over me, that’s on you, but if you didn’t know I existed, that’s on me.”
Timbo Reid: You’ve got this craze, and I can see the Steve Jobs coming out in you. You know, Jobs was all about, he found that intersection between the liberal arts and technology, that’s Apple. That intersection, that is Apple, and you’ve gone and got this crazy intersection going on of you’re an artist, you’re a creative person by trade, and often you could have gone down the path of just creating art for art’s sake, and you might have been happy, but you wouldn’t, you know, you wouldn’t be living the life. But you found this intersection of commercial reality as well without the pushiness that often commercial reality involves.
Mike Johnston: Sure. Well, I think, you know, and maybe you can tell me about, you know, don’t think that I didn’t do my research on you before we did this, so I look up to you as well in what you’re doing, and maybe you can speak to this, but I think one of the easiest ways to create an awesome product is to be the customer. And Mike’s Lessons is the site that I wish my drumming idols would have made for me. I’m the drummer. I’m the student. I wanted this website. I wished Phil Collins made online drum lessons when I was 16. And I think by always being the customer, the chief customer of your product, you make a much better product. Instead of guessing what the world wants and trying to sell it to them.
Timbo Reid: Such a great lesson that one, be the customer. I talk about it, again, when I talk about branding, I ask my listeners to identify their best mate, I call it their best mate, but that person who has the highest propensity to buy from them, and get inside their head. I don’t care too much for their demographics, but I care for what they think, how they feel, what problems do they have that we as the business owner can solve? And kind of come at it from that way. And thank you for doing your research on me. I still feel personally, and I haven’t talked about this much, I’m doing an annual wrap-up of the year on Small Business, Big Marketing shortly, but I still feel as though I can push, and it’s interesting because I tell people not to push, but sometimes I feel myself pushing people too much into, “Register for this webinar, or enter my forum.” It’s only because I know that what I’m creating is what I wish had been around for me before I created it.
And I just know, and the goal that I am the caretaker of, I was going to say responsible for, but I’m not because I’ve got all these, like you, got these students and members and listeners who provide so much of what Small Business, Big Marketing is, and it’s about finding that balance between, “God I want the world of small business to know this,” like you want the world of drummers to know about Mike’s Lessons.
Mike Johnston: Right, and that’s, you know, you used two words that’s like; It’s funny because I’m always doing drumming podcasts and drumming interviews. This is so awesome, because I feel like, I can’t really, a lot of drummers are artists, so we’re not going to go down this road, and sometimes I just want to sit and talk about branding and it’s not going to happen. But two of the words that you used that really strike a chord with me, one, instead of you saying sale or selling them, you said solving. And that’s huge for me. I’m always thinking, “What is a drummer’s problem? Okay, speed. That’s one of the drummer’s problems. Well let me solve it. What’s another drummer’s problem? Independence or coordination. Let me try to solve it.” So that really strikes with me, and then the other thing, the other word you used is wish. And I have this like Mike Johnston personal business principal that I don’t really talk about very much, but it’s called the I wish principal, and it means that anytime I ever say the words “I wish” out loud, that’s my moment to act. If I wish for something and someone else wishes for it too, make it happen right now.
Don’t ask for permission, don’t do anything, don’t wonder if it’s possible. I remember saying, “Man, I wish there was a way I could learn from this drummer,” and I thought, “Okay, well I can’t, but the rest of the world can learn from me that way. I’m going to figure this out.” So anytime you say “I wish,” it’s like, that’s the moment. Act. If you wish for it, someone else wishes for it too, and they’ll probably purchase it from you. And I don’t meant to turn it as salesy as I just said it, but you know what I mean?
Timbo Reid: Yeah yeah, mate, I do, and that hit a nerve with me. Hopefully it hit a nerve with other listeners too about I wish, I wish, if only, if only.
Mike Johnston: Yeah, right when you say that, right when you’re about to complain, make it happen. Don’t keep wishing. Somebody said, “I wish there wasn’t a cord attached to my cell phone in my car,” and it’s like, “Well, get off your ass and do it.”
Timbo Reid: I want to explore, I’m not pushing, but I just want to explore more how you’ve got to the point, and I think it’s more the money. I think you were there, before you were financially free, I get the feeling that you were just creating content that was solving problems as opposed to going, “Right, how do we make the next $5,000.00?” And I think it’s just really fascinating because not every small business owner but so many small business owners are just looking to figure out how to make the next $5,000.00. Cash flow is an issue. Cash flow is a massive pressure, but gosh, how do you just go, “You know what? Stuff it, I’m jumping. I’m going for it.”
Mike Johnston: You know man, what I have with my business, my physical business of mikeslessons.com, I’m in kind of a center. We’re on the river in California, and we have probably seven other businesses in the actual building with us all spread out on the river, and every time a new business comes in to take the floor for somebody that went out of business, I desperately want to ask the person, “How much money do you have saved for your first two years? Because if you can’t make it on your own without an ounce of income, I don’t see how you’re going to do it, because your business will only succeed with trust and trust takes time.” And one thing that no one knows, or no one ever pays attention to, is the first three years that I was on YouTube, I wasn’t charging a dime, I didn’t have a website, I was building trust. I was just putting out content, and people saw me horrible with the camera, I didn’t know how to speak to a camera, I stuttered, I used the word um between every sentence, I said, “You know,” 40 times, you know, and um, and um all the time, and they got to watch me grow.
And they understood, “Okay, every time this guy puts out a little bit of content, it’s very useful, and I’m becoming a better drummer,” and it was all about building trust. And one day when I had about 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, that’s when I said, “I hope you guys trust me enough to follow me to a paid website where I will put way more effort into the educational content,” and that was in my mind, financially, I thought, “Okay, if I could just get 10 percent, 5,000 people, to move with me over to a paid site, you know, that would be it,” and that’s where it started. So a lot of times I’m seeing people that always start at the finish line, and they go, “Okay, I got your cameras, I got your building, I got your everything,” and I think, “You don’t have anyone to buy. You have no customers. You have nothing. Like oh man, I’m going to have to buy your stuff back from you on eBay two months from now when you go out of business.”
So yeah, so I think that that’s the biggest lesson I learned was building trust, not for financial gain but for trust sake. Like, “Look, I really do want to give you guys quality education, because you deserve it, and we have the technology to do it, so why not?”
Timbo Reid: Well we absolutely do, and what I think too is that with this kind of, the content marketing being the new black in marketing circles these days, and I know some people are getting sick of hearing it, but hey guys, it’s not going away, the first step with content marketing is to just solve problems, to share your knowledge, and at some point slowly kick it over to, “Hey, you like what I’m saying. Maybe consider buying this, joining this, coming to a camp,” or whatever it is that you’ve got, and it does happen.
Mike Johnston: It does, it does, and like I said, it’s just about putting value on things. And my content on my website is not a duplicate of my content on YouTube. YouTube is tips and tricks. Excuse the horrible reference, but it’s what I call drum porn. It’s shiny, it’s awesome, it’s neat, but there’s no content, there’s no real relationship there. It’s just fun. And I think, “Okay, that’s for YouTube.” Now when you get to my website, it’s straight up education. There might be a little bit of my humor in there, but for the most part it’s straight up education.
Timbo Reid: So for the people listening to this, it’s audio, if we go to a YouTube, one of the YouTube clips, is it you going nuts on the drums, is it, for example?
Mike Johnston: It’s mostly lessons. I would say I rarely perform. There are some new videos of me performing just because I did this huge drum festival thing, but it’s always lessons, but it’s the show off stuff that would get you fired in a real gig. It’s what drummers think is cool, going flashy all over the drum set, but that’s not real education. That’s kind of like, “Ah, these are tips and tricks.” It’d be the same thing as you on YouTube showing somebody how to get a crowd to be quiet with one sentence. Okay cool, that’s a trick, but what’s your next 60 minutes going to be? We’re going to have to pay for that. That’s legitimate content.
Timbo Reid: So what’s the call to action at the end of the YouTube video?
Mike Johnston: Honestly it can be as simple – There are a couple of things I do. One would be, “Hey, I hope you guys enjoyed that. For more, go to mikeslessons.com.” That simple. Like, keep it, it’s like, “Ah, I don’t want to be in your face.” The other is, when I do packs. So okay, this is part one of eight videos. I never do the bait and switch fade out crap where right when it gets good it just fades to black, because that just angers people. They just get mad. And I don’t want to cause that. So it’ll be like, “Okay, I just gave you a fully legitimate lesson. If you want the next seven videos that are in this same subject matter, they’re at mikeslessons.com.” So it would be that, and then it’s pretty simple. Like I said, I like organic marketing. I’ll throw out some stuff. I’m waiting for you to say, “Oh, I wish you had more lessons,” and I go, “Oh, I do. I have 734 of them over at mikeslessons.com.” Rather than saying, “Hey everybody, I have 734 lessons. You should go buy them right now.” I don’t ever want to do that. It’s like, “Oh you like that? Cool man. Well, you know where to go. My logo is at the bottom.”
Timbo Reid: John O, being the artist and the brave person that you are, how much time do you spend analyzing the data?
Mike Johnston: Very little.
Timbo Reid: Oh I love that. I was hoping you’d say that.
Mike Johnston: I really don’t care. I can tell you this, when I get home from film, because my day of work is just filming video content and uploading and whatnot, you know, if the wife is in this happy mood and she’s talking about getting a new dining room table, I know that things are good. If she’s like, “Hey, we should go, there’s a sale on towels. We should go to the sale,” then I go, “So I should make more content?” And that’s about all I know. I can tell you something a little personal but I don’t care who knows, I don’t want to know how much money we have, I don’t want to know how much we make, so my wife puts a very small amount in my account on the first and a very small amount in my checking account on the 15th, and that’s my money, and that’s it. And I’ve been a drummer my whole life and I’m used to being broke, and if you give me $1 million I will spend it down to zero because I’m comfortable at zero. I’m not comfortable having savings accounts and 401Ks. So that’s my wife. She does that, and I have my little chunk of money, and it’s surprisingly little, but I don’t ever think about bills, I don’t think about anything like that.
And then sure enough on the 14th I have $.87 in my checking account, I’m swiping my card at the deli praying that it’ll go through, and you know, and like, some of my buddies would be like, “Dude, don’t you drive a Tesla?” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I don’t have any money in my checking account,” because I don’t even get gas money anymore. I have an electric car. So yeah, so that’s kind of how we’ve done it and kept that financial stress off of me so that I can just create good content and is trying to solve problems just like you stated.
Timbo Reid: Love it. Hey Mike, Mike Johnson from mikeslessons.com, John O as he prefers to be known, mate, it’s been a pleasure to have this chat, and I’m really glad you enjoyed it too. No music discussion, just good old branding and marketing.
Mike Johnston: This was an absolute blast. I can’t even tell. I’m kind of sweating right now because I’m so excited and amped up. I feel like you and I need to go find a theater and give a talk to a crowd right now.
Timbo Reid: Yes. That is so interesting. I’m not suggesting we do that anytime soon, but again, we’ve always got to be looking for opportunities, and the idea of bringing like, the obvious thing for me, or the obvious thing for you, I go and find a whole lot of marketing specialists and we find the theater, you go and find a whole lot of drummers and find another theater, and you share the knowledge, but it makes much more sense to kind of integrate completely different skillsets into that one theater.
Mike Johnston: I think so, and especially when you get two people that were totally unrelated, came from different worlds, and then you find those common threads and you go, “Wow, that’s weird. These people don’t know each other, yet these principals always show up in successful people, and especially people who have started small businesses and grown them into larger things.” But I know that I’ll be in Australia sometime in 2014, so if I am, we’ll set it up buddy.
Timbo Reid: Mate, tap me on the shoulder. I would love to. Give me some warning and we’ll do that, and what I think too, and I have this feeling that there’s going to be a whole lot of stuff that we could have spoken about that we just don’t have the time for now, but I’m going to tap you on the shoulder real soon and get you inside the Small Business, Big Marketing forum, and get a bit rationale and cover some questions that members have and we can do it that way.
Mike Johnston: Count me in man. I would love to.
Timbo Reid: Love it buddy. Thanks John O.
Mike Johnston: Thank you.
[End of Audio]
Duration: 43 minutes