You do what you have to do, even if it's not exactly what you thought you'd be doing. Also, 7 other things worth your time.
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Meet Matt Farley. He’s been working from home in Massachusetts for years (pre-pandemic), recording songs and releasing them on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon music.
You can find his work here. Pure hustle: more than 22,000 songs so far.
As you might imagine, he's discovered a trick or two that enables him to be so prolific. Among them, more than 72 different stage names, such as:
The Very Nice Interesting Singer Man
The Guy Who Sings Songs About Cities & Towns
The Strange Man Who Sings About Dead Animals
The Guy Who Sings Your Name Over and Over
Farley is in his early 40s, a husband and a dad; before he stumbled into this apparently lucrative side-hustle turned main-hustle, he pent 17 years working in a group home and performing on the side with a band.
The band didn’t have much professional success, but they wrote a funny song called "I Love Hugh Grant" about the British actor, and it started making money on iTunes and Spotify.
Well, comparatively speaking, anyway.
"We'd write these serious songs and sell nothing. And then, whoa, 'I Love Hugh Grant' made like 74 cents last month!" Farley told me in a phone interview. "Most people would quit, but I was like, if I can make 20,000 songs that are as successful as 'I Love Hugh Grant,' I'll be doing pretty well!"
So he set out to do just that, recording song after song after song after song after song—releasing 50 new titles every single week—most of them inspired by terms that people might search for on digital music platforms.
And, it worked.
Many of his creations are not exactly great art, he's the first to admit. For example, he's written and performed 1,800 songs that are literally him just singing people's names over and over, because people search for their own names.
And if they come across one of his name songs, they're likely to play others, too—just to marvel at the sheer number. He's also written more than 1,500 songs about different towns across the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
He's visited almost none of them; he just looks them up on Wikipedia. By the end of 2021, he says he’ll have songs about at least 50 cities in every state in the USA.
"They're funny. They make you laugh, and there's value to that," he said. "Part of the joke is that you're like, 'Wait a second, he did one about that town? There's only 6,000 people in that town.' Half the joke is people saying, why would he do that?"
Soon he was seeing some success with songs like
"A Song for Waterbury, Connecticut,"
"I Made This Song About Wollongong. What Do You Think of It?" (Australia), and
"Rock Out to This Song About Haverhill, Massachusetts, OK?"
But nothing—nothing—prepared him for what would happen when he came upon perhaps the most-successful musical search term of all time.
By far, Farley's most successful and lucrative songs are about poop, pee, and all the other gross stuff that our bodies produce. They're all really a search engine optimization play.
He has hundreds of these songs on the three big digital music services. Why? Because it occurred to him a few years ago that most little kids seem to go through a phase when they're obsessed with bodily functions.
So now, if your 3-year-old says something like, "Alexa play a song about poop!" it's Farley's work that comes up first.
He also combined his name songs with this new line, and now has 1,800 songs that are just him singing first names over and over, followed by the word, “poop.”
Apparently they’re very popular on TikTok.
He records this genre under two distinct band or artist names, both of which rank really well for search terms that probably nobody else will confess to trying rank for.
The two aliases: "The Toilet Bowl Cleaners" and "The Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke, and Pee."
"It's kind of like how a big company will have multiple brands," he said. "I just want to intimidate any potential competitors."
I originally thought his quote about intimidating the competition was at least partially a joke. But the revenue he's making from this each month isn't.
As of a couple years ago, he said he was bringing in about $65,000 a year from his kind of SEO-oriented music catalog. He told me that he’s no longer sharing his revenue publicly, but that it’s gone up since then.
"Part of what I like about this is there's this whole 'tortured artist creative person' myth," he told me. "My approach is it's just going to work every day. If you force yourself to just do the work, you're going to come across some really creative ideas."
7 other things worth your time
In its first big case related to guns in a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review how far states can go in regulating if people can legally carry guns outside their homes. (NPR)
The U.S. Census data is starting to come out, including the ramifications for which states lost Congressional seats, and which ones are gaining. The short version is that blue states lost some seats to red states, but not to the degree some people anticipated. Also, if just 89 more people had filled out census forms in New York, it would not have lost a seat. (AP, NBC4)
“Fueled by partisan fury and a backlash against pandemic shutdowns, a Republican-led campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California has officially qualified for the ballot, setting the stage for the second recall election in the state’s history.” (NYT)
In keeping with our rollout/“please sign up for a paid membership” theme this week, here’s very first edition of the Understandably.com newsletter prototype. This was quite a few pivots ago, and it went to an enormous test mailing list … consisting of six people. It’s a good story though, about how a prison inmate made a cold pitch to a writer for The Atlantic, and convinced her to feature him in a 5,800-word profile. (Understandably.com)
Interesting quick take here on how many sites are now allowing readers and viewers to “tip” content creators. “Our thought bubble: Digital tipping will differ fundamentally from tipping in the real-world services industry, like bartending or taxi cab driving, because digital tipping often accounts for the entire livelihood of online creators.” (I guess I’m trying to avoid that!) (Axios)
When I was in grade school, it used to be a lot of fun to have “class outside” on nice days. That’s actually a work trend now, gaining steam post-pandemic: “the future of the office is outdoors.” (Fast Company)
Finally, a colleague of mine from Inc.com named Stephanie Meyers passed away unexpectedly last week, at age 37, far too young. I know you would have liked her because everyone did. Her best friend Maria Aspan, also a former colleague, wrote a remembrance. I know you probably didn’t know Stephanie, but I wanted to share Maria’s essay. (Medium)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Matt Farley. I wrote about him once before at Inc.com. If you don’t already subscribe to Understandably, please sign up for the daily email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. And, please consider a paid membership. (Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.)
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