Career TOOLBOX #38: A Local Band’s Record Deal Tipping Point – Kiss Me Deadly, Part Two

“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference


In the previous CareerTOOLBOX: Music Edition, I shared the story of how Kiss Me Deadly, the local band to get signed by Cleveland’s Kingswood Records, came together, including how the decades of music training, playing and influence drove the three members — Jen Poland, Evan Lieberman and Madelyn Hayes — to form the trio.


In part two of our interview we go deep and discuss what changed as well as what happens now. Because as anyone who’s reached success knows, you never quite reach a destination, exhale and let it all come to you. Instead, when the right door opens, it simply means that the stakes are higher. Which is why so few are willing to do the work, push down that door and do whatever it takes to reach the next one.



Between writing the songs, attending rehearsals, time in the recording studio and performing, how many average hours per week does driving this band require?


Jen: At one point, Madelyn and I were doing two nights in the studio rehearsing, two nights playing and film. A night at the studio would be…6 – 11, twice a week. Then we practice …


Evan: … another 4 – 6 hours per week…


Jen: …and then we had a show that weekend that’s another 6 hours. But then if I was doing social promotion for the show, which I would be doing, that would be another couple of hours. So yeah, it takes a lot of time. 20+ for sure.


Evan: Yeah, 20+ hours a week. That’s a general week. On a week that’s intense, it’s a lot more than that.


Jen: Right. If we have a couple of shows, if we have to double practice, if we have to haul gear or store gear or whatever we’re doing…


Evan: If we’re shooting a video, that’s 10 – 12 hours at a scratch. So it’s so hard to say but I would say average in the 20s, high a lot more than that.


What role does marketing and, specifically social media, play in your recent and ongoing success?


Jen: So, marketing. One of the first things we did (was) we changed our band name to be something that we felt represented us more and was easier to say and be…


Evan: …And that would look good on a t-shirt.


Jen: …And what would look good on a t-shirt. We also made an icon, a kind of a logo, to go with that name so that there was a little image you could put with us. Maybe in an app or whatever is it you have, you have an image that goes along with the name. So that was the marketing. Also, we picked a color pallet…which is red, white, black and purple as an accent color. So that was the general marketing attempts to get a brand, to get a name.


And then, after that, comes the social media. How to you take all that marketing and all that brand and get it to connect with the people? We have MySpace, ReverbNation, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all of those types of platforms that would help facilitate our band to get it out there and reach people.


On top of that, if it’s a large show, I’ll actually buy Facebook promotion time. ReverbNation has promotion. We asked our friends to like our (FB) page, to like our record label’s page. We text people when big shows are coming up and basically really just get the word out there as best we can. With our really big shows, we’ll take an ad out. After we play a show, we post pictures of the show and tag everyone we can see so that they can connect with their pages. We (also) get third party people to review us.


Evan: Social media is not enough. It really isn’t. Nothing beats face to face. Woody Allen always said this thing, “Half of success in life is showing up.” And what he meant by that is he tells this story. When he was a teenager he saw this ad that said, “Can you write jokes?” And it was a joke writing contest. And he wrote a bunch of jokes for the joke contest and won and then he got jobs from that. And that started his career as a comedian. But if he had never entered it he would have never gotten anywhere.


For us that translates in many ways. But one of which is (to) go (out). We spend a lot of times at open mics. Still do. And we still will. Even as a signed band, which isn’t what open mics are supposed to be about, we’ll still go to open mics and the reason we do is because at open mic you build a sense of community. You build a connection to the other musicians, to people that they know, to people that come to see them — their friends, their family. They get to know you a little bit.


And it’s basically one person at a time. And in person the connection that you make is stronger. And the connection that you make is ephemeral on social media, which is easy to say you like, it’s easy to say you’re coming to a show and (then) not show up, and whenever you see people that are coming to a show, that’s a 50/50, giving them the benefit of a doubt, that they will show up. And some people will do. But there’s nothing like meeting people face to face and forming a genuine community, not a virtual community, but a real community of people who will stand next to each other in a real setting.


Jen: There’s also one more thing, as far as the social promotion goes. In the virtual community, one of the things that helps is I make a flyer for every show and include every band on the bill and have one Facebook invite so that everyone is pulling together instead of independently.


Evan: A thing we should mention here is that one of the things that has been really important in terms of our growth has been Jen’s graphic design skills. It’s not just the video, it’s the fact that she makes these really interesting looking and fun to look at posters for the shows. And it’s not like these posters always have to exist in actual space.


Jen: But I do print them up every show.


Evan: We do print them. But I think what really works in social media is the image. Not just words that say here’s what’s going on, but there’s a picture that goes with it that really captures your attention and tells a bit of a story. As we know every picture tells a story. Which I think predates Rod Stewart and The Faces.


What was your tipping point to go from hard-working musicians with a dream to being discovered?


Jen: I like this question. That tipping point was basically accidental. Todd (Kwait), who is a filmmaker, he found (one of) Evan’s films and really, really liked it. Called Stomp! Shout! Scream!, written and directed by Jay Edwards, but was produced and shot by by Evan.


And so (Todd) was in town and he found that Evan was also in town and he said, “Hey, I’m going to show your movie at the Atlas Lakeshore Theater,” which is a great theater. So we go to the theater and I get there and I really didn’t understand what was going on and so I didn’t promote. Sure enough, there’s nobody there. So I thought, Oh, my god, I went up to Todd and said, “I’m so sorry, I usually promote, we can bring people, I swear to god, I bring people to my shows.” And he said, “Oh, you have a band?” I said, “Yes, I do, we just had our CD release party, I have a CD in my purse.” And I gave him the single that we had just created. He said, “Oh, ok.”


Evan: We (later) got a Facebook message from him saying, “Did you know I have a record label? I’m interested in releasing your record. In signing you.”


Jen: We were like, “What?” We thought it was a joke. I (then) called Cindy Barber and asked her, “Could this possibly be real? It’s too good to be true.” And she was like, “Oh, yeah.”


Evan: And then Todd kind of pursued us as we thought this wasn’t real. Because you think this just doesn’t happen that way. But it does. That’s the way it happens. It just is a set of circumstances. But we were out there in the community, we showed up.


Todd said that he put the CD into his car stereo, listened to it, played it again and he found that he listened to it all the way home, over and over and over again. And then sat in the car for a little bit and listened to it more and then brought it in and played it for his seventeen year old daughter and said, “What do you think?” And she was like, “I love it. I would buy it.” And in certain ways that was the tipping point. His daughter said she really liked it.


Jen: But then he went to his partners and and looked us up and found our “Shallow Focus” video and his buddy who apparently is extremely critical on videos looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh, that’s a great video.” (Todd) showed us off to his friends and family members around him and all those people supported what he saw in us. I guess that was it.


Evan: I just think we need to add Madelyn to this. When you ask what the Tipping Point was, the change in the band was when Madelyn joined. That changed everything. Before that we were just another band, really. It was when we got the right chemistry. And the chemistry was so much a product of Madelyn’s joining.


Cleveland is a rock’n’roll town, but few know how to get from having the dream to one day having a real shot of being a Rock Hall legend. What advice would you give to those starting out?


Jen: The first thing I would say is that there’s an infrastructure. And there’s people like Gary Hall and Jim Snidely who are running opening mics around town who are the starting point for a lot of bands I see. Like Samantha Fitzpatrick, Shawn Brewster (and others). I saw all these people start at open mic. A lot of people who are playing in venues around town and elsewhere/outside, they started in the open mics when I was going there. And everybody has gotten bands or progressed with their career and so it is an awesome platform.


It’s a good ground base to start from when you’re trying to build a music community. When you’re trying to reach out and meet people and support each other. The number one thing is to get out there and open mics is a great place to start. And it naturally grows. This town does grow musicians. I personally grew from an open mic and I am here because I kept going and kept playing and gathered people. Even when people were not accepting my music and not liking what I did and not supportive I just kept going.


And that’s really all there is. You just have to keep going and find people that will support you.


Evan: The thing that I would say in terms of starting out is you gotta play a lot. You gotta play a lot. And by that I mean you gotta play at home a lot, you gotta work on your craft, your songwriting craft, your playing, your skills as a player, you’ve gotta play as a band together. One time a week is generally not enough. You have to practice at least twice a week, you have to go out and play shows.


Too many people practice and practice and practice and don’t get out and play. You practice two, three, four weeks you should be going out and playing. Once you have three songs, you should be at open mics. Once you have ten songs you should be trying to play. You should be out there in the community playing all over the place.


One of the things that brought me to Cleveland when I had the opportunity to move pretty much anywhere in the country I wanted, is that there are so many venues for live music here. More perhaps than in some place like Los Angeles. There are so many places (here to play). There’s no excuse for anyone not to be out there, honing their craft, you know, getting better.


You get better, really, not just by playing at home and practicing. You get better by playing for people. And having to make it work under stressful conditions. Because when you go out and play, like when you’re playing in your practice space — unless your neighbors are calling the cops on you — it’s pretty easy.


When you got out to play, every single damn time it’s a challenge. The monitors don’t work, the other band won’t stop playing, the other band won’t start playing, the other band didn’t show up, you know, whatever it might be. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff that you have to learn to deal with. And the only way to do it is to go out there every day and deal with it on a regular basis.


That’s what’s most important: persistence. We see the people who have done well and…


Jen: They just keep doing it.


Evan: They just keep doing it. I mean yeah, there’s the situation where every now and again there’s a kid in his bedroom making his own stuff and he’s a great songwriter and you know, somebody finds him. That definitely does happen.


Jen: Most importantly, too, we didn’t make it, anyway. This is just the beginning. We lucked out beyond all luck. And someone is supporting us. But we just bumped the workload up to… if it was at five, we just bumped it up to 9.9. We now have to work harder. We now have someone investing in us and we now need to make that money back and we now need to get this CD out and we now need to continue to work harder and to promote this community around here and to promote anybody new that wants to play with us. If anybody’s looking up to us we need to be better.


Evan: No matter how hard we have worked, it is nothing compared with how hard we’re getting ready to work.


Jen: We have to start touring, we have to start selling merchandise and we’re going to tour the coasts. We’re going to go on short tours that will stem out from Cleveland. So this is just the beginning. We’re going to be filling up our weekends and all of our vacations with promoting and working harder than than we ever have before.


Evan: Some people are like, “Don’t you have a life? … Are you guys kidding? You can’t live like this.” And on some level we can’t live any other way. Like this is what we do. And the only hope we have is to take the small amount of success and that we’ve gotten so far and parley that into larger success, which is of course what we want, of course what everybody’s goal is, is to go out there and work ever harder. And be more focused… more song writing… on more recording and playing and on building the community. And building the community is number one. It really is.


For band performances and news, you can follow Kiss Me Deadly on the band’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.


Reprinted with permission and gratitude from


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