🦒 Brian Felsen has spent his career helping artists distribute, promote, and monetize their work. From 2014-2015, Felsen was President of AdRev, the leading YouTube music administration service and Content ID Network Partner. He was also President of CD Baby from 2008-14, the world's largest online distributor of independent music. He also founded BookBaby, which digitally distributes the works of authors and publishers to hundreds of digital retailers and libraries. Other previous activities include leading a web2 performance marketing agency, helping beauty and fashion brands, and founding and running one of the largest indie music conferences in the world.
Brian graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of Business and a B.A. in Communications from the Annenberg School of Communications. In addition to his business activities, he has composed several classical music works, choreographed dance performances, exhibited art photography, published two volumes of poetry, performed a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and produced an album of secular gospel music. He also directed two feature films: COUP (DARBE), an award-winning documentary about the Turkish military coups d’état; and The Oil Wrestler, a documentary about Turkish oil wrestling, available on Amazon Prime Video.
Photography - Brian Felsen
My photography explores the link between the way procedures jostle for attention in one's own consciousness and the way lovers compete to control each other's behavior.
Brian Felsen - Product Manager - Harmony | LinkedIn
I have 20 years of leadership experience in technology, digital entertainment, and media distribution. Former President of CD Baby, BookBaby, AdRev. MY EXPERTISE: - Executive Leadership and Turnaround Management- Business Development- Product Management- Digital Marketing EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP AND TURNAROUND MANAGEMENT: I was the President of CD Baby, the largest independent music distributor; I founded and ran the self-publishing and book printing company BookBaby; and was the President of AdRev, the leading YouTube monetization company.
2022 Q1: the overarching goal is to propose & develop a scalable solution for onboarding legacy artists to the NFT / metaverse space, en mass
TIMESHEETS AS FELLOW - 1/1/2022 (start) - 3/26/3022 (end)
|Cultural||Values||Read More||Self Assessment||Personal Story|
9 - I generally don’t feel the need just to impress anyone with my bon mots, and I already know my own story and ideas too well to have to hear it come out of my mouth. I like to learn about people's work and lives and interests and personalities, and allowing them the space to share gives me the opportunity to do that.
When I lived in Turkey, I got to teach English to a minister from the religious far right, and I learned so much about their perspectives on the future of the country, giving me window into what would come to pass.
8 - I often prefer to have my beliefs challenged, starting interactions with an open mind (but in the words of philosopher Daniel Dennett, "not so open that my brains leak out.") This allows meetings and conversations to be productive, and it allows me not only to learn and change, but to hear others' perspectives.
For years, I had viewed crypto as merely a space for anti-establishment types and speculators. Subsequent conversations with people in the field have changed my mind and showed me that web3 is the future of how people will work, organize, interact, and play.
8 - I feel like more than just "a pair of eyes" when I walk into a space, monitoring people's needs and feelings, and I endeavor to speak clearly and add to the "conversation in the room.”
Once at a previous company, some of the managers were developing a product, but progress was hampered by the fact that they wanted to kill each other. I researched the problem so I could speak to their issues with the code, so that I could empathize with them as project manager outside of my role as a "mere business product stakeholder.”
9 - While I enjoy but am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drink, I love to bond over food and experiences, as it lubricates communication, facilitates values-sharing, adds to the reserve of good-feeling, and reinforces that teammates are partners rather than utility-bearers.
I've had some difficult conversations with my teenage son, and the most productive have tended to happen when hiking or going to a diner after a midnight movie, rather than a "heart to heart talk" through a closed bedroom door.
6 - I'm not only driven by achievement, but I'm a bit of an ambivert. How this plays out is that while I absolutely cherish quality time spent in networking and friendship, I have to bunker down into work beforehand, and recharge my batteries afterwards.
In college, I my favorite dorm was a miniscule single room - not so I could hide in there, but so I was able to go downstairs to the quads, where I could gallivant in other people's rooms and then retreat to my own dorm to focus and relax.
9 - While I'm competitive by nature against other companies in the space with worse missions, attitudes, products, and cultures than mine, within my own, my favorite thing is to see people learn and grow into leaders themselves. Not only does teaching confer a sense of pride of mentorship, but it helps me organize, summarize and solidify my knowledge so can be more articulate myself.
Some of the biggest joys in my professional life are in seeing former customer service reps succeed in senior positions, seeing my son develop into a man with a solid ethical foundation, and seeing clients of my ad agency be able to take principles of search engine optimization I taught them and turn them into successful content marketing strategies on their own.
9 - I would prefer that my team win a baseball game than for me to hit three home runs and lose. Helping others shine in work and feeling is infectious has a multiplicative positive effect for any team, partnership, and family.
One company I was previously at had all of the heads of their portfolio firms take a leadership personality assessment, and I was alone to score higher on "desire to help teammates shine" than others yet slightly lower on "personal competitiveness." Instead of fostering a gladiatorial culture where sales people competed against each other, I encouraged them hit metrics and support each other and help them uncover blockers.
5 - I believe that the foundation of a company is in good hiring for a team where everyone works together and feels good about the mission and each other. BUT I also believe that it is process that makes so much of the positive, productive, creative teamwork happen.
A former company was more process-forward, but I believed in a perfect balance of people and process. One of our top performers excelled at executing the company playbook - but by turning off employees and partners, he actually probably cost the company more than he created.
8 - I often will speak an unpopular opinion, even to a person who holds the power of the purse. (But I recall that this was less easy when I was younger and in a lower position on the corporate "totem pole.") Still, even after constructive conflict, once consensus is determined, I will unreservedly adopt the resolved policy and strive to make it work.
At a former company we had a competitor that had a then-novel pricing model which got a ton of buzz in the press. I ran the numbers and surveyed clients, and determined that our structure was superior both for our clientele as well as our bottom line. It was extremely difficult to convince private equity of my position given the business press coverage, but ours proved to be the winning formula.
9 - I credit deposits to my skillset account to being able to deliver not only initial minimum viable products, but ones that last, often in unexpected ways once they evolve past their initial purpose.
Thousands of hours honing musical skills in my formative years in piano and trombone have led me not only to perform competitively at the time, but to be able to use the skills in unlikely places to this day, and to be able to compose works with others that have led to new connections and even careers.
7 - In many mission-critical situations, I will obsess over details as if I were building parts for a commercial airliner. However, I'm content to let some "inconsequential" balls drop if I must, in favor of achieving larger initiatives. The problem is that while I have a pretty good ratio, I can't claim to a 100% track record in always knowing what someone else might find mission-critical while I might see it as "polishing the underside of the banister.”
I once ran a music conference. We had problems with on-site registration the first year, and one of my staff members responded by having a meltdown that we had run out of paper clips. I used them as an example of the problem of obsessing over “minor details” for the entire next year - until we then printed something in the directory without a tiny logo for the next year's conference, and we had to refund the client thousands of dollars.
9 - I subscribe to the notion that nothing meaningful can be accomplished without risking failure, and that every company whose employees are afraid to adapt or act like they're on a cruise ships will soon find themselves superannuated.
At my age, I still find myself passionate about the mission, eagerly taking on a new position, learning a new language, and entering a new marriage, and pulling all-nighters to launch a new DAO.
9 - I've always found in business and parenting that people are more motivated and perform better when I share the "why" and not just the what - and not just the money.
When I was protesting the religious authoritarian government in another country with my family, I saw how people working together in incredibly difficult circumstances created a community, fed and supported each other (emotionally and medically) through a shared mission - despite opposing a much stronger and militarized police force.
7 - While I am thrilled and delighted to cliff-jump, and find myself doing it time and time again, I do prefer to do my research beforehand on how best to jump, how best to land, and above all, to choose my cliffs wisely.
I was once given the opportunity to help my son organize a 5-minute standup slot at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest, the 3rd-largest ticketed event in the world. I got so “sucked in” that I decided to mount my own full one-man performance at the festival, despite never having done anything like it before in my life.
8 - I hope to build things that can last or make a lasting change in others, to improve the lives of others long after I'm gone. This has been my focus all through my personal life, in the time and values I share with my family, and in the products I've created at previous companies.
I feel myself continually in change, having gone from (at 20) wanting to leave a lasting influence to (at 30) wanting to have a grab bag of experiences to (at 40) wanting to leave a lasting influence... and (at 50) still wanting to leave that influence, while also wanting actually to be around to experience this 50-year vision in 50 years!
7 - Authenticity is a core value, even if I'm going against the grain of public sentiment. Feeling that my internal self is consistent with my own actions is crucial to me and has led me to change careers and countries to live in a way more true to my values and passions.
I feel so strongly about this value that I have ended relationships where I thought being in them was not being true to my own values, and I’m happy to be true to myself in life or in art or in business even if I’m “different.” But I sometimes fall short of my higher standards: I’ll occasionally succumb to "benign peer pressure" (getting COVID after not masking up in close quarters at a conference); I'm against animal cruelty, but I'm not presently vegan, because I'm a foodie.
9 - I'm willing to make decisions that are uncomfortable and will cause short-term pain, in the longer-term interests of the group or the individual.
I've had to make many retention decisions at previous companies and let go of people whom I was genuinely fond of, in the greater interests of everyone. Oddly, I find that the toughest decisions to make are ones that to others are less “important” - not about people or product or lifestyle, but about shopping for clothes.
8 - I'm glad to admit to mistakes when there's a moral imperative to do so, when it would help others to know and learn from, when I feel guilty, and when it would be consistent with my actions.
At a former company, I watched a coder tell a supervisor about his coding error that led to a major security vulnerability. A week later, he got fired under dubious circumstances, and since then, I vowed to foster a climate where others would feel safe to admit mistakes.
7 - My superstar-edness lies, I think, not in being top-1% in my field in any one particular common "trick" such as sales or coding. Instead, I feel I can combine a few skills into a bundle that transcends each part and can be more of a "rounded" and unique asset to the team.
I've been taken by Scott Adams' advice to combine skills and found that is has resonated with me, and I see this playing out in product development for companies, and even artistically (as I've merged artistic genres like avant garde philosophy oratorios, and secular gospel music).
7 - Systematizing has been a blessing, if a mixed one: sometimes tools, playbooks and procedures have saved me and others incredible amounts of time, but other times it has been unnecessary to think of scaling when the project later proved to be a one-off.
When minting social tokens for ript.io or airdropping tokens for Blu3DAO, I took notes to leave breadcrumbs on how we did it, so others could follow. This was extremely helpful to train the team for airdropping, but ript.io ended up sunsetting their product, so the training for using it proved not to be needed.
8 - I will only take on activities and positions where I can be a genuine help, and not ones where I can add less value than another candidate.
I've joined organizations (the LA Stage Alliance is one) where I've seen that my combination of vision, expertise, and leadership skills would be a bundle that is lacking - but I've stepped away from others (such as college sports teams and musical ensembles) where I could not add real value.
8 - For projects important to me and others, I desire to continually grow in all areas and to have my values and ideals made manifest in the world and writ large.
In the music industry, I've seen how major record labels will shoot for the moon, since they need to sign 20 rock bands to have one hit. (On the other hand, I've spent hundreds of hours on some passion projects, such as a documentary film about Turkish oil wrestling, where I knew it wouldn't 10x anyone's life, but felt that it would be a unique and interesting contribution to the vast canon of, well, Turkish oil wresting films.)
8 - I love doing research, whether it's for a new career or for my own enjoyment. I attribute this to making me a more creative, well-rounded person, and to enabling me to better express myself and make better discriminations among what I perceive in the environment.
In college, I often crashed classes outside of my major just to attend talks on other interesting subjects. In so doing, I happened upon a class in philosophy of mind - which led to me meeting and collaborating on artistic works with philosophers, to a passion which continues to this day, and to this very career in web3.
9 - I often look at a problem and posit the opposite not just to play "devil's advocate" but to challenge assumptions, searching for ways of removing blockers, improving processes, and creating products.
When Apple launched the iBookstore, I was told that it was impossible for us at my company to develop the functionality to be on there at launch. I challenged this assumption and found ways to create an uploader and front end and on the side of our systems, to "mechanical Turk" the project in order to be on time for Apple's big launch.
9 - I don't take pride merely in pure work for work's sake - but in accomplishing important work, whether on my own back or by inspiring or strategizing or leading a team. I've taken this mentality into every endeavor and consider it a core strength.
I joined a music distribution company in a challenging situation (recession plus declining global sales of physical media) and a hostile competitive environment with a commodified music distribution space. I was able to pivot the company away from physical media and create new products to enable the company back to rapid growth so we could continue to help artists in the the streaming era.
7 - I have been quite productive, but I've been quite active as well; I'll often lie to myself that moving a mountain is easy, to inspire myself to start moving it. If I could always get better alignment with teammates on objectives, I could get more resources and then I would feel that the ratio were even higher.
When I performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, many people thought it was crazy to do 21 shows in 14 days and absurd amounts of street promotion at what would be not only my first-ever solo performance, but my first Fringe. While it was turned into a critical and audience success, I worked far too hard to make it happen, and reflect that perhaps I would have still been happy accomplishing something only slightly less ambitious if I had put in much less effort more strategically.
7 - I thrive in chaos - whether it's facing the constant slings and arrows of running a company, or being in the three-ring circus of running a music festival. But my preference is not just to be the calm in the eye in the storm, but perhaps to make the storm less stormy.
When I started working at Baskin Robbins Ice Cream as a teenager, I was known as the "Master of Disaster" for my initial habit of dropping ice cream everywhere. But after a summer of scooping, I learned not only to control my body, but also how to manage multiple simultaneous tasks - orders! shakes! cones! custom cakes! - whenever I found myself working alone in the store on a sweltery summer night.