Welcome to Vibrant Visionaries with Heidi Bennett. Today I’m going to start out by having a really good friend on, somebody I’ve known for a long time. I’ll let him tell you what it is he does, but his name is Donald Bell. Welcome, Donald.
I’m glad to be here.
Yay! Donald and I have been friends for oh so many years.
Yes, many lives.
Many lives. We used to both live in the Sacramento area, and we both found ourselves in the Bay area kind of around the same time. I think you showed up here a little bit before I did, and I followed suit. So, yeah, I thought Donald would be a great guest because I definitely think of him as a multi-creative person and also because it’s always nice to start off new projects with friends where you feel a little bit more comfortable to venture and do a new project. So now I’ll just ask Donald, how do you describe what it is you do?
It depends who I’m talking to, typically. I think right now my main thing that I’m engaged with is my YouTube channel for my Maker Projects and Maker Project weekly news show, which is called Maker Update. That’s the thing that I’m probably engaged with the most right now, in that I have some guilt around that too because there are a lot other projects that have fallen to the back burner that I wish were not so.
But right now I produce Maker Update weekly. I do other videos for a site called Cool Tools, where I’ll do a video review of different tools, or not just tools but appliances, gear, things that are recommended by other people, or things that I’ve found. And I send this off to Cool Tools, which is a site that’s run by Kevin Kelly from Wired and Mark Frauenfelder from Boing Boing. They pair up to do that site, and I’ve been a fan of that site and their podcasts for a while. So I do videos for them. I do videos for myself. When I’m not doing that, I am in a band called Aloha Screwdriver. And I practice with my friends in the band, it’s usually weekly, but recently it’s been we’ve been falling off schedule.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That happens.
That happens. But then something, we’ll all sync back up, and we’ll get back into gear, and a have shows to practice for, or something like that. But right now it’s this and the holidays. And with a new kid on the way from our bass player’s family, things have taken a bit of a lull. But that’s the other main thing that I do is the band.
Yeah, I think at that too: You guys have played together for quite a while is that it seems like there’s different eras of being in a band, and certainly when it’s over a span of time, you sort of get a, hopefully, a comfortable rhythm of knowing like, “We’re not falling apart, we’re just in a different phase.” Or like you said, “Right now we’re recording right at the end of 2017. So typically there’s going to be some travel, or people might be getting more head colds, or they’re just a little stretched thin for their scheduling and stuff.”
Yeah. I think at this point, we’re all in our late 30s, and we’re not trying to game it for MTV stardom. Right?
We’re casually in a band that releases music regularly, but still there’s nothing cutthroat about what we’re doing. We’re friends who are in a band that we’re both are not equally up there. I think our friendship is … I hope our friendship is the paramount concern there. But we’ve also, we’ve kept the band going through all of us having our kids and continuing to have our kids. If the kids can’t derail a band, I don’t know what will.
Or a move. But I think-
Yeah, or the girlfriend, or the …
Right. Most of the roadblocks have been already navigated. So we’ll hang in there. Also, it helps that we’re in like an instrumental surf rock band. We always talk about how we can age into this band as long as we need to.
[Laughing] Right. It’s already got a built in…
I see us still playing in the senior home. We have to actually find a way, as a practical concern right now for our drummer, Steve, he’s been having foot problems. How can we do this band all from wheelchairs or from sitting down? So how can we really turn that corner soon so that we can all of us be playing in chairs.
That sounds to me, too, like something that you could work on with your other project, with the Maker Project Lab, is like how you make this band a geriatric one? How do you jerry-rig everything so that you guys could make a robo-band if one of you loses a foot, or an arm, or something like that?
Yeah. You joke, but actually it is part of my task right now or my thinking right now around the band is how to integrate it more with the making side of things, the DIY electronics and technology side of things, to make it more of a show and as much as a band.
Well, yeah, I think that’s a great thing to talk about too. For multi-creatives, how do we … What’s the umbrella that you’re different creative pursuits kind of go under? I would definitely say having seen you perform, that there is a theatrical but also a bit of a light show and other things like that. So already that’s already there. But you’re saying you want to add more to that or-
Yeah, and I think it also gets to the fact that I know that most of my motivation right now is towards making, doing projects, and filming projects, and working with do-it-yourself technology. If I can harness that to kind of get my enthusiasm back up for the band too, it helps But it’s also, it’s just kind of like, and I don’t know if it’s just the Bay Area. But right now I don’t know if there’s anything quite as uncool as being in a rock and roll band in the Bay Area right now, maybe in the United States or the world, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s just been a bad stretch of shows, but I feel like we’ve been playing good venue, I mean, decent venues in the San Francisco Bay Area, Friday, Saturday night, and it’s just kind of like crickets.
And it’s either the world telling you, “Look, no one wants to see your band at all.” Or it’s like we’ll have a lot of the standing rock and roll venues and music nights have been turned into DJ nights, and I understand the appeal of that, especially for a young audience that’s now increasingly taking the reins in the Bay area. But it also is like, well, it’s maybe time to regroup and think about a different approach to the band.
Yeah. It’s so interesting because you know because you were there. You guested on my previous podcast about This is Spinal Tap, Spinal Tap Minute. And something that came up quite often, especially when we were talking with fellow musicians, is the changing landscape of music. So regardless of if the music itself is something that maybe is appealing to a, what is it, a narrow, a smaller audience? I can’t remember the spinal tap quote, but a more selective audience, or also just the nature of how we consume stuff. You know?
I used to go see bands all the time, and I saw you guys for the first time like earlier this year, which is ridiculous because there’s no barrier. I mean, the barrier of getting there’s so low, you guys are close by, low ticket price, there’s other good bands on the bill. The sound was good.
I understand. I find my own kind of resistance to it and cringe around it, and I just have to be honest with myself about that. And I think that it’s part of it … I don’t know. There’s a lot of different threads that you could pull on it for why it is. I think for me, the revelation that stood out for me, this was years ago, I did a … talk about multi-creative, but one of the little turns I made was into stand-up comedy and doing open mics in San Francisco, and then building it to a show. And it was a lot of fun. And I also knew that I just didn’t need one other thing for me to do, and that as fun as it was, it was also like this is one of those things I could come back to if I really want to. But the band where I have friends who are here, close by, who are actively wanting to be in a band, I don’t want to give up that for this.
There’s only so much time in a week. But the revelation was booking a Wednesday night comedy show in some theater in the mission in San Francisco, a place that would be hard to get to, no one’s ever been there before, probably, ticket prices were maybe like $20. Not like the $5 we’d usually do for a show, try to lure someone out to a show to see the band. $20 ticket price, venue no one had been to before, a bunch of comics no one’s ever heard before. But it just being the promise of comedy and not having to tolerate someone’s band that you may or may not enjoy, it was like a sold out show of like unknown comics that I was on the bill for. I was like, this is … It’s been so long since I’ve been doing shows, and trying to get people out to shows to see a band or see bands, that I had forgotten that sometimes if you’re offering something entirely different, the reaction to it is so different.
And so seeing that really opened my eyes to like, man, if I could make the band something that’s not like, “Oh my God, I’m going to have to go see this band that may or may not be great. Or maybe they’re a great band, but they may or may not have a good night,” whatever it is. I didn’t have to sell anybody coming out to an open mic comedy show. That was just like, “Of course I’ll go see that.”
And even if like half the comedians are awful, they’re all going to have 5- or 10-minutes sets that I can … There’s something about tolerating an awful band that’s different. It’s like it can be loud and obnoxious, and it can sour you to going out and see bands in a way that seeing awful stand-up comedy, a 5-, 10-minute awful comedian, it’s not going to turn you off to seeing comedies necessarily, you know?
Yeah. I’m listening and I’m kind of like thinking about, because what I was going to say is I’ve gone to seed live comedy a lot more over the last couple of years versus how much music, live music I’ve gone to see. But part of that is because I’ve been listening to so many podcasts. So it’s like, okay, I’ve been listening to Doug Benson for free for years. Now he’s playing at the Sacramento Punch Line. I’m going to go see him and pay for it. I know I’m going to enjoy it. And I also feel like not an obligation but kind of a like I want to give you some money because you’ve been giving me all this free content for so many years.
But also I feel like going to see you do stand-up I’d be like, “Wow, I’m going to see something different that I’ve never seen Donald do. I can hear him … I’ve heard him over the years play guitar. I know he’s talented, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I’m going to hear a part of you hopefully being revealed that I’ve never heard, something vulnerable, something different. So-
Yeah, I understand that too. They typically call them bringer shows, right?
It’s all the comedians are trying to get their own friends to show up and see them do something they’ve never seen their friend do before. But the analog to that, to music of like, “Come out and see me play on acoustic guitar. You’ve never seen me do that before,” it still is a harder sell.
Yeah, I get it. Hey, as a musician, I get it because. I played at Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden, people would come in. It was a suggested donation, and I have friends around town that were always like, “Oh yeah. Well, see you there.” I go back to Sacramento where I feel I have a “following,” and at least more people knew me, and knew my brother, and they knew the music was good. I have no problem saying the quality of music I was putting out, the quality of music you’re putting out is good quality music that people will enjoy. Be like, where are all my friends? What’s the deal? It’d be like early in the evening. So it wasn’t like, “Oh I’m sorry, I just can’t make it to 11:00 anymore,” or all those excuses, so I get it. So I’m curious-
I feel like we’re there right now. I think the band is being honest with the fact that as much shtick as we have and as much as we try to make it an interesting night for people, there’s more that could be done, possibly, and maybe even like a different way of booking the shows, giving people … If we make it more of an experience and less of a … There’s two openers. Then we’re somewhere in the lineup here …
Something different that people are … kind of like when I think about when I first moved to the Bay Area about 12 years ago, or whenever it was, that there was more burlesque or variety. So it was pretty exciting to go, “Oh, we’re going to go see … There’ll be some live music, but there’ll also be some aerialists, some burlesque performers, and some comedy.”
Yeah, and we played some of those shows too. Those have been some packed shows.
Yeah, it’s hard to resist that. And sure, some of the people would be duds or some of the performing wasn’t great, but you knew it was only going to be a few minutes. I’ve definitely toyed with the idea of putting together some sort of variety or cabaret type of thing where I’m the curator, I think. I definitely have a personal, like I like to curate experiences. Like managing coffee houses, I want to have the right music, and good quality food, and an environment that’s very welcoming, and conducive to conversation. And when I have booked shows or been the person that’s bringing in the bands, or bringing in the artwork, or bringing in whatever, I liked the idea of getting together a couple of interesting little things and putting them together. So I definitely get the … I’m curious what kind of stuff you’re thinking about doing.
I don’t know.
You don’t know?
It’s on my … I’ll usually on a day-to-day basis, if I have a day in front of me, I’ll put together lists of things I wanna accomplish that day. I’ve literally wrote “Save the band” on my list several days in a row.
[Laughing] That’s like, but “Save the Band” even.
Just today I put down instead of “Save the band,” well, I got to try to make it more granular if I can so I can more realistically cross something off the list. And then I think today I wrote like, “Make the minimum viable plot line for a show.” If you were going to write a 20 minute one-act play that also had the band in it somehow, what’s the least I could get away with and have it not be a band performance, but performance of some other kind of thing that you’d go out and see, to the point where you would book a theater for it, like a little tiny theater for it instead of booking a rock venue or a club?
So right away there’s one thing you’re thinking: The venue will be different. So it may bring a different crowd or bring the people who I’ve been wanting to bring, they might go, “Oh, you’re going to be at the such-and-such.”
Yeah. It’s not that we’re at the elbow room, it’s that it’s a performancy thing here. Yeah, I don’t know. That’s what we’re thinking right now. And, again, if I can fucking build some robots to make it work or do some different stage production or something like that. The other thing that I keep ruminating on, and this is happening for museums right now too, museums are having kind of like their competitive moment for a lot of the, like the Meow Wolf and the different art collectives. Like what was the Ice Cream, Museum of Ice Cream, whether there’s like the color. I haven’t gone to them, but I’ve seen all the Instagram photos because everyone’s gone nuts these different art experiences that they can Instagram every room on, right?
Right. I know The Crocker has regular art parties, but they’re a lot more than just show up and hear a DJ, or something. There’s like, yeah, there’s a whole experience and-
Yeah. And so I feel like that’s what I’ve been hearing about how museums have been trying to react to this, is kind of the same moment where there’s a certain predictability or stodginess you’re trying to break out of. But a lot of people are going out to experiences, and almost just as like an Instagram opportunity, right?
Or they see that someone else has Instagrammed a photo from the ball pit at the Color Museum, and they want to have that same type of thing. And that in itself snowballs a kind of a viralness of the experience, or people wanting to go out. You couldn’t just be like The Red Hot Chili Peppers on stage and be like, “This is amazing.” But if there was like a line for “The Red Hot Chili Peppers photo experience” after every show, people would line up for that, maybe even more now than they would line up to go to the show.
What are they really looking for, I guess is the question, for themselves? What are they getting out of that? I’m very curious.
That can go deep.
Yeah, I think there’s this, it’s this interesting shift, and it’s one that I am like growing up for me pre-Internet so much of like what made people cool in my eyes or like how I tried to cultivate my own coolness was like the secret shit. It was like you’d go to Berkeley and there’s a zine rack in Berkeley that had this particular … It had Factsheet Five or it had whatever the key was to the coolness, and you alone are able to kind of get it, and none of your friends were. There was like it was-
Or you’d have to be the first person to bring it to your friends or something, “Have you seen this?”
Right. Exactly. And it wasn’t necessarily something you shared. I don’t know. There’s still part of me that I feel like is … And it might just be my own messed up way of seeing the world, but it still feels like the coolness comes from me having the secret knowledge, not just sharing it to everybody, in some ways.
As opposed to the … [Distracted by the sound of a classic bike horn honking outside] [Laughing] The clown horn …
[Laughing] I know. In my neighborhood people just … I don’t know if it will pick up on the microphone. It might.
We have carts, like food carts and stuff.
Okay. I just figured that’s your neighborhood clown going by, squeezing his nose.
[Getting back on topic] Anyway, the Kardashian version where it’s just like, I want to just show you everything amazing that I’m doing with my life right now. And I want, as soon as I know the thing, I want to tell everybody about it, and whether it’s genuine or not, I want it. It’s like so much of it is like, “Look what I’m doing. Look what I’m doing. Look what I’m doing. Look at how awesome this is what I’m doing.”
And I feel like that’s more generally what people are looking for somehow, or at least I’m picking up on it now, that so much of what people are going … how they want to spend their money when they’re going out on a Friday night is some experience where they can report back on social media, “Look at this awesome thing I’m doing.” And if it’s hard to record or capture, if it’s just another blurry image from the back of a concert hall, whether it’s Spinal Tap or Weezer or Kanye, it’s like if you can’t adequately convey how awesome it is that you’re there experiencing this thing, it’s almost like it’s wasted money. If you can’t plant your little flag in the experience and for whatever your motivations are, be able to show people, like, “I was here experiencing this thing. I got to … This was …” you know?
I might have missed out on all these other things that all my awesome friends are doing, but here’s what I was doing, and I have the right photo op here to show that.
Capture that. Yeah. And, say, I feel like ultimately people … I think this is sort of an Oprah-ish type thing to say: I think it’s really a thing that most of us know already is that most people just want to be seen, or heard, or understood. And I think part of that is them just saying, “I am here too. I am here. I exist,” at the very base level. But as far as who we want to reach like as creative people, as you as a musician, as somebody that’s driven by creativity and collaborating with your buddies. You said, “Yes, we’re musicians in a band, but above and beyond we’re also friends. And to stay engaged and excited, doing a collaboration, how might we mix up this collaboration so that other people are excited about it, and see it, and want to come and hang out with us?”
And I feel like, I would venture to guess anyways, the people that you want to reach are people who like creative, interesting, cool stuff. So maybe for them ultimately it’s not going to be about them finding like, “Oh, we got to go to that thing because I’ll be able to take a great photo of myself inserted into it.” But how do you go beyond that? And I’m not saying I have the answer to this. But how do you go beyond that to give them … entice them to an experience where they feel part of it, truly a part of it or truly like, “I got to see a cool thing, and I want to share it with my friends because I’m not like stuck on that like, this is secret.” Or is it kind of a secret society or secret fun club, but then you do want to tell your friends so it’s less of a secret? I mean, I’m kind of talking circularly, but-
Yeah, I think anything to some degree you have to trick people to get in the door. No one starts a new thing if it’s genuinely kind of new and interesting and people already are a fan of that new thing, right?
You’ve got to somehow entice people.
And I just don’t feel like any rock band right now, even if you’re 19 years old and the new hotness being pushed by Warner Brothers or whoever it is, I think everyone in kind of conventional rock and roll is having a hard time selling conventional rock and roll right now.
I totally agree with you. The other thing, too, is we just saw a great movie the other day of which there are many out there. There’s so much stuff out there. Again, this isn’t something new that I’m just telling the world–we all know this. There’s so many television shows, so many movies, or so many home theater experiences if you’re lucky and able to have that in your home. That makes it harder. But it’s also like there’s so much stuff it’s hard to get locked into a band the way …
I still remember Penny, my long-time friend, bringing me Nirvana for the first time and that exciting discovery of Nirvana. But there was a lot less noise going on, so it was easy for that straight shot for her to like bring me an LP, but it on, and have us experience listening to that, and then just go, “This is one of my new favorite bands.” Whereas now there’s so many ways to consume music, whatever, however you’re getting it, and so many ways to have experiences of consuming media, whatever it is. For me it’s vital for a lot of things to be consumed in person when I think of music. Besides just listening and going, “Ah, I love this album,” or, “I love this song,” or whatever. But I mean I was like, to go see a band like you guys I feel like I’m going to get more out of … I’ve listened to you guys, and you guys are great. But I get a lot more out of it seeing you guys in person. So-
Yeah. I think that there’s also this larger thing of just like we’re at a saturation point with access to music now. When the Nirvana era was around, it was still like there was mainstream radio that you couldn’t avoid. There was mainstream MTV. There was mainstream radio. But getting music otherwise was like you’re going to Tower Records and finding the guy with the green hair to be able to give you the recommendations that were off the radar that could change your life. But otherwise there was no other easy way for that stuff to filter through.
Right? And now it’s flipped, and it’s like you could listen to the radio, but it’s the lowest common denominator. It’s never been more of a mainstream hit parade of the same 10 songs on radio. And so but you’ve got now you could cue up Spotify, and they’re going to recommend like 30 different things you’ve never heard of before that could be amazing. Now the struggle is just like with all this amazing music that you could possibly expose yourself to, how does any of it still surprise you? And then the experience, it comes back to the experience. And I think that’s what a lot of the music labels are trying to do too is trying to make bigger concerts, more Beyonce experiences, more things that you’re going to go out and see, because they’re not making the money off of the music anymore.
Right. They’re like I think of Outside Lands where you’re going to something. There’s lots of bands, but you can also see comedians. You can also see Skinner. At least I know in the past he’s done art installations or murals there. So you’re like going … You’re going to get all that stuff. You’re going to get murals from amazing artists and comedians and musicians and crowd. And that’s another thing for me too is that I know we’re talking about you doing something to mix things up and engage more people, and of course me being a person who likes to go hear music and wants to go see you guys, was thinking about how it’s changed for me is that I’m not as an ideal audience for people as much anymore because I also realize the older I get, the harder it is for me to be in loud or crowded environments. So-
Yeah, and that’s all the other rationale for making-
It’s part of the motivation for being in the band is that it’s a way for me to get off my own complacent ass and get out to be in San Francisco on a Friday night when I would not otherwise drag myself out there unless there’s something I really wanted to see. But I’m always glad that I’m there. And if it’s like a dingy show that no one shows up to, it’s like it’s so a part of my adolescence. I started playing teen centers with these same guys when I was like 15 years old. So it’s like the dingier and more poorly attended the show, the more it feels like home to me.
But I still don’t want to still be playing, at 39 years old be playing to the other bands essentially, those shows. We just had one of those recently. It was like, why is it still like this? How is after being in this band for so long, how can we still have nights like this? Yeah, I think the other thing I did recently is I saw the artist Tom Sachs have a, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, he had this thing called Space Program, where he and his kind of crew of minions reenact this fake space trip to … and in this case it was the Europa. And it’s like this multi-hour-long thing, and you sit in a audience of folding chairs, and you watch him go through the motions of pretending like he’s like he and his crew are going to Europa, and it’s really …
But it’s all tongue in cheek, and you see them like actually taking like a drill out to like a frozen block of ice back behind the museum. And it’s all done over like a closed circuit TV. But it was like, aside from the fact that I needed a bathroom break halfway through or just I was out past my bedtime, I just wanted to stay around for the whole thing because it was like this shared experience. And it was silly, and it was fun. It was so much more memorable than turning on Spotify or seeing a band on a Friday night. It was weird and makery. And it had all those things. I’m like, “Ah.” It was like the other band that we’ve always kind of aspired to be like is Man or Astro-man?
I was just thinking about that because I remember seeing them.
To me this was almost like the logical extension of the Man or Astro-man? like shticky NASA-tinged retro astronaut stuff but without the music, but with the stage show completely replacing the music.
And I wouldn’t want to go there necessarily. But I feel like there’s some extra room in between there. And-
Well, and I think just the idea of experimenting with what you guys … Who knows? I could check back in with you in a year, and you could be like, “Aloha Screwdriver is now this, this, and this.”
Personnel in all acoustic outfits.
Playing to senior homes.
I would venture to guess the three of you are all quite multi-creative people and that you don’t know what’s around the corner, but being open to experimenting.
Yeah. Steve is making … Our drummer is having a tremendous success as the lead singer and ukulele player of a children’s band that he’s devised. He’s now on his second album, and I would have never guessed, sorry, Steve, that three years ago when he had put this together that he’d be making a lot more money and booking a lot more gigs playing children’s music than he would be with Aloha Screwdriver.
But, again, I feel like it comes back to that stand-up comedy moment for me, which is like if you entirely change what you’re selling and what the audience might be for it, you can hit upon something that is not a … you don’t have to work so hard to sell, that people are actually eager to have this new thing.
Eager or grateful.
Yeah. It’s interesting because my brother is in a kirtan group now, so he performs regularly with a variety of instrumentalists performing to people who are doing like chanting with it. And so among other things, he’s said it’s this incredible symbiosis that you have with the audience. So, again, here’s this participation. They’re going back and forth, and it’s collaborative and-
Yeah. So it’s collaborative, improvisational, and he gets paid more than any other job, music job he’s ever had. And he’s like, “People appreciate what we’re doing, and we are within a group of kind of the mindfulness sort of spiritually kind of people who are like, “Hey, we want to pay you for this. We recognize what you’re doing has value. And we want to pay you.”
“We’re going to pay you the bare minimum. We would have doubled the amount you got if you had sold more beer, but you didn’t, so, yeah, just book something else next time.”
Yeah. I think that is interesting to check out and play around with if there’s just an easier like fun, and creative, and different, and something that like spices up things but might also even like easier in a way in that you’re not working so hard trying to get people.
Yeah, and we’re not a conventional band anyway, so it’s like having us be unconventional in a different way is not a-
It’s not a-
… weirder departure.
… big switch, yeah. So the other thing that you do that you kind of started out talking about, I met up with you a little over a year ago when you were first kind of laying out the plans for … I just thought maybe we could talk a little bit about how that-
… came about. And then what I really enjoyed was that you had a clear idea I think of what I’d call like your values or like the things that you wanted to make sure were important parts of how you presented what you were going to present and how that may have shifted or how you’ve anchored to those values over the last year or so.
For 2015 I took a job, my dream job, at Make Magazine as their projects editor, where it was my role to every day find new people who’d come up with cool do-it-yourself projects, and work with them to get their projects and their instructions for them published in the magazine and published up on the website. It was great because we had the clout with Make Magazine. Again, it was one of those changes where before that I’d worked at CNET for eight years, and every time I’d try to talk to somebody or whatever as like a kind of tech reporter person, it was always like pulling teeth where it’s like, “I’m trying to get something out of you.” And people would be resistant. They’re going to wait. “I’m going to wait for Engadget to contact me,” whatever it is. But to be with Make and to contact Makers was like I was delivering like the lottery check to them. And it wasn’t. There was no money in that part. But it was just like they were so excited to have Make contact with them. I was that face of it, and worked with them to get their projects published and more attention on what they do and what’s creative about them.
It was really fulfilling work, and I did that for a year, and then Make just shed a bunch of employees, including me. And I just didn’t want to stop doing that. I loved it too much, and I felt like even though my time at Make I liked working to get the projects in the magazine, it was so focused on the magazine that there was no time to put it on video or take it a different direction that was more timely so that when the projects went up, we could talk about them right then and not wait the month and a half for them to come out in the magazine, at what point you are so sick of editing that piece, and looking at it, and proofreading it, and all that stuff, but to hit it while the iron’s hot and be able to be enthusiastic about the project as soon as it’s out there was a big part of the appeal for me.
So I was hoping that by doing the same thing, rounding up my favorite projects for the week, and talking about them on a weekly show, and also in that curate and explain what’s great about the projects, just hopefully the audience would be there, the same audience that would be there for a Maker Faire or a Maker Magazine that would come around the show and be excited with me for these new projects. So that’s what Maker Update is.
I think when I first started doing my own YouTube channel, my hope was that I’d have more time in the day to do my own projects too and publish reviews of like kits and other projects and have it be a mix. But it was one of those things where the enthusiasm for the weekly Maker Update roundup was just so much proportionally or disproportionately there. The audience is there for that compared to what I was doing otherwise. There’s still some of the projects I’ve published have been well received. And this is more hit or miss compared to what the Maker Updates.
So initially if I’m hearing you and understanding you is that you planned on doing the updates, the Maker Updates weekly, which is you on YouTube every Wednesday, and then also you sharing projects that you’d be working on yourself.
But over time the updates just became the thing that was much popular, most well received, most shared, most-
And I think getting to the point we were talking about there’s nothing, there wasn’t anything else out there like it. There are dozens of amazing makers who are creating projects and publishing project videos that are beautiful and amazing work. And I love covering them. But there’s not … There had not yet been a YouTube show that really tried to corral all of that into a digest experience. You know?
Right. Yeah, so the thing that became the different thing was you spotlighting just a few things, like you said “digest,” and I would say, “Oh, every week I can sit down and go, ‘Oh, check out what Donald found.'” And maybe I saw … talk about the music analogy–or not analogy, but we were talking about the music earlier. There’s so much out there. And, yes, there’s so many people out there sharing what their projects are. But it’s nice to be able to sit down and go, “Huh, let me just look the … Oh, wow. These are really cool.”
Or one thing that I remember you said was very important when I talked about you just before you were launching all this was that you would be pointing to a couple of things that may have more skill involved or maybe that you might need to spend a little bit more money, but that you really wanted to highlight beginner entry, entry level-type of things that people could do fairly easily or just do on a weekend or that kind of stuff.
Yeah. There is, I do feel like in this Pinteresty Reddit time we live in, there are a lot of do-it-yourself projects that are beautiful, and the outcome is amazing. And often times people will share the outcome, and you’ll see that. And that’s a DIY project. But there’s no documentation. There’s no … If you really want to make the thing, not all projects really will step you through the process from knowing nothing to like coming out the other side with that same object. Right? There’s a lot of pictures of beautiful meals, but the recipe isn’t complete. Right?
And so there’s a lot of that in the maker world, and it bugs me. Especially when it’s a great project. Actually, one of the best projects I’ve done is there was a maker who I later met who hacked a Billy Bass talking fish to have an Alexa, like an Echo interface so that you could talk to the fish and the fish would speak back to you like Alexa would. And it was amazing. And it went viral. His video went viral for that thing, but he didn’t show you how he did it.
I know that this guy is like a teacher at like a tech institute, where he could tell you how he did it, and he didn’t, and it bugged me so much to the point where I needed to go and do it. I needed to figure out maybe not how he did it but how I would do it knowing what I know. And so I did my own hack of it. I published it up on Instructables and did a very short, crude video for it. But it’s been one of my best received projects. And I still get emails on that weekly on like people who are trying to remake it.
It’s great, but it’s, again, it’s one of those things where I was like, there’s a lot of projects out there that are amazing, but there’s not a lot of documentation for it. And then the other thing is true, which I think I’m trying to help with is that there’s so many shitty projects out there that no one would want to do that are amazingly documented. But there’s still so much in that with DIY technology space that harkens back to like the ’70s RadioShack. Make your own capacitor. And you’re like, “I don’t want to. Why would I want to do that?” Why would I want to make my own battery tester? I can order … Amazon can deliver me a battery tester for $2 free shipping right now.
And it’s like I understand the thrill of making your own stuff just for the sake of making your own things and it being satisfying, or exploring the technology. But for me at the end of the day, I mostly make things because I selfishly want the cool thing that comes out of me making it or that I can’t get it any other way, or-
So, yeah, to me it seems like when I look at what you’re highlighting, there are things that you’re excited about, so they’re fun, or they’re just neat and quirky and a little different, or somebody’s done something. Like you said, it’s where there’s a really good step by step. So you feel like you want to point people to that and kind of highlight this person’s really good at showing … And it is kind of like rewarding good behavior too. Like you’re saying, “Hey, this person’s great.”
And you put in the work to document it well and-
… great photos and explain it.
I feel you on that because I think it, and I think that sharing, sharing your process is so beneficial and that more people just want to be around you and get excited about what you do. And so when I think of that, the two different things that you’re talking about, the band and the Maker Update and kind of melding those more as that I think I would be excited as a fan of both of those is to see you doing behind the scenes stuff of you and the band working on robot-type of things and kind of seeing like what worked, what didn’t work, blooper reels, if you will, but the idea of getting to know the three of you better through you working on projects that share the process of what it’s like to be in a good band that already does fun, quirky things and is really exciting to see how you’re going to try to mix it up and do something in a theater, whatever that ends up being or work with some other artists on doing something that’s not, like you said, not a traditional three-band in a nightclub setup. It’d be really fun to kind of see where you go through updates, band updates.
Yeah. That’s part of the motivations for mixing it up too is that I’m kind of over tweeting and Instagramming about my band doing shows. If I’m not interested enough about the show to be excited enough to blast it out and share my excitement around it, then what is that saying? You know? And-
Yeah, and there’s an energy to it too. When you, I don’t know about you, but any time I have posted something just because I feel like I should share what this is, but I’m not really feeling excited about it, nobody likes it. Nobody cares about it. But …
Right. It comes through, somehow. When I’m genuinely excited about something, and even if it’s silly or it’s a crappy photo, it comes through. So it’s not so much that I … Because we’ve done it before where it’s like, “Okay, this, we need to be better about Instagramming. We need to like, for this next show we need to get like three Instagram posts up just to really try to get the audience out to the show.” It’s like I don’t know what the formula is, and I don’t know how to game it. And even if I have the instruction book on how to game it, when it gets to that point, you’ve lost me.
But if the game is how do we make this so much interesting, more interesting for us to be a part of that we just naturally want to share it because we’re excited about it, right, it’s like how I always, my Instagram posts go up dramatically when I’m on vacation because I’m excited to like see new things. It’s not just that I’m trying to brag to somebody that I’m at a beach or that I’m some exotic destination. It’s just I’m out of my usual routines. And it’s the dust is kind of blown off of my day-to-day life. And it makes me excited to post that, “Oh, I went to this cool bakery,” or whatever the dumb thing is. And it’s genuine that I’m excited about it.
Well, cool. Well, I think we’ll probably wrap things up here. So before we wrap up, I would like to try to make it a habit of asking folks to share things that they’re just inspiring them or things that they’re into. And for me a podcast called The Director’s Cut, a DGA podcast, so Director’s Cut is a podcast by The Director’s Guild of America, and they’re just these, talk about digestible or digest. They’re just a half hour usually. It’s one director interviewing another director about the most recent film.
So it’s totally shop talk, which I love. I love listening to people talk about process, so every single time it’s a director talking with somebody, maybe another director they know really well or even not that well, but you get to hear, “Oh, did you use this? Did you use that? What kind of lens did you use? How did you get these, this kind of performance?” I mean, all that kind of stuff.
I don’t know about you, but I just love that kind of behind-the-scenes thing talking about not just collaboration, which I’m kind of obsessed with. I realize I’m really, really interested in hearing how different people creatively collaborate, but also that there’s just no wrong way. So each one of these people, so I listened to episode 81, which is Edgar Wright talking with Christopher Nolan about Baby Driver, The Shape of Water one with Guillermo del Toro and Baz Luhrmann. I mean, these are …
Wow. Yeah. Wow.
… just a sampling of these episodes. So I highly recommend this podcast. Two awesome directors talk about one of their films called The Director’s Cut. I especially enjoyed the Wonder Woman one. That one was really good about Wonder Woman. That one made me cry. And I love listening to things that make me cry. I just get emotional. I just get emotionally moved by collaborations and behind-the-scene stuff so much that I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes extras on Lord of the Rings more than I’ve seen The Lord of the Rings.
When they start talking about working with like this local sword maker or bringing in the guys that did a lot of the artwork in the ’70s for different versions of The Lord of the Ring books, or the calendars, or the tones of artwork. They brought in those, a couple of those guys, and then they’re collaborating with by sitting out there in New Zealand and sketching.
And I’m like crying just at watching the art happen, and the creativity, and people expressing themselves creatively. So anyways a little … And I love it. It’s like happy cry. So anyways not that you need to share something that makes you cry, but is there anything you’d like to share that you have been enjoying?
I know I mentioned this earlier, the Tom Sachs piece that I saw in real life. But I’ve also been enjoying his short films on YouTube. He has a new one called The Hero’s Journey. It’s all about one minion coming up in the ranks in his art workshop, but it’s like this tough love how to get through my studio. And it’s worth watching. A lot of his short films, I really enjoy. But they’re kind of my soul food that I go back to.
He’s got one that’s like a love story of plywood, and it’s just about how he handles plywood in his shop, like exactly the number of plys to get, what grain, what rating to get on the plywood, when you paint it, before you cut it, and just like it’s … But it’s not like woodsmith type stuff. It’s like a very practical artist take on working with this stuff. But he’s also … And once you see enough of his stuff, you know that some of it his kind of macho, no-nonsense demeanor is just all tongue in cheek stuff, because his whole thing is really about how there’s just mistakes in all of his work, that one of his quotes is like, “Aye, I realize that Apple could make the most perfect device, most beautiful object, perfect object in every way, not flaws or anything, but like apple can’t make something as shitty as I can make this chair.” Right?
I love that. Yeah.
And so, “And in that shittiness I have this power, and the more I kind of acknowledge it and exploit the defects in the stuff that I make, the more human it becomes, and the more me it is.” And just that kind of stuff like doesn’t make me cry, but it does … I love going back and filling myself up with that again; and then Austin Kleon, who you turned me on to, his newsletter, just following him and his works and the different directions he points me to in terms of books to take on and things to think about; and the guys from Cool Tools, they do another newsletter called Recommendo, which is just usually like five recommendations sent out to you weekly. And it could be like a cheap deal on kitchen towels that Mark Frauenfelder has used for the past month and was like, “These are great, and they also make great shop towels,” or like a hack on how to book international travel in China and get to figure out the train station times or whatever some other thing, but just like five is very digestible. But there’s usually like one nugget in there that kind of steers me towards something interesting.
So I can recommend Recommendo.
Awesome. I love that. Yeah, I like getting … I love getting newsletters that just give you the gist of a couple of things. And what I realized for me is that I realized, oh yeah, that’s how I like to share information is just like quick little squirts and spurts of things. I did my end-of-the-year thing, and I just said the incomplete list of things I’m viewing and listening to. And I just quickly squirted out 10 or so things. And I knew if I sat down and wrote it all out and tried to think of every single thing I could-
It’s not going to be comprehensive.
… never … Yeah. And some people are built for kind of doing those comprehensive huge lists, and I’m definitely not, which is also I realized I like to share through conversation and that writing a newsletter to me was feeling very cold and distant and one-sided. So I do have a thing to sign up for newsletters, and I thought I was going to send one out monthly. And I realize, “Oh, I really don’t like to do that. I’d rather throw something out on Twitter or get on the mic,” which really led me to doing this podcast after doing the couple other ones that I did. So that’s another thing I like doing too is just for every creative person, we all have our different ways that we like to share information. I like to remind people of that, as that if one way isn’t really jiving for you, you might just need to find your way.
So speaking of find your way, how can people best find all the things you want to make sure you point people to?
Makerprojectlab.com is where all the Makery stuff have been talking about lives, including the weekly Maker Update YouTube show and the different projects I’ve done, and my newsletter, my weekly newsletter, which is basically a newsletter version of the Maker Update video but just for people who don’t want to watch the video, and they want the links to click, it’s all there. Cool-tools.org is the company that sponsors my Maker Update videos, but I also just love those guys, and I’m a fan, and they enable me to buy all the tools on my Amazon wish list so that I can get them, and review them, and talk about them.
Yeah, we’ve gotten a couple of tools that you’ve recommended.
And we gave out … For the holidays we gifted everyone that cardboard, that yellow cardboard cutter.
Yeah! The Dan Chan Cardboard Cutter. I love that thing. That’s one of my sleeper hits. I had no idea people were going to be so freaked out by it.
Dude, we got it for everybody on our Christmas list and even people that don’t celebrate Christmas. And everybody was so excited. We didn’t have to wrap it, we just stuck a bow on it and said, “Here you go.” We gave it out to everybody before they opened their other gifts, so it was easier of them to open up the boxes.
To open up the boxes. Yeah, that’s the Amazon box opener. They just really just … Amazon should like just give that away with Prime just to get everyone to be able to get into their boxes easier.
Well, cool. Yeah. So there’s that. I think those are the two things, and alohascrewdriver.com if you want to check out the band we’ve been talking about.
That’s where you can hear the sounds.
Cool. Sounds good. So, yeah, we’ll wrap that up today. Thank you so much for being my official numero uno. And, yeah, thanks again, Donald.
We’ll see you later. Bye, everybody.