Is ‘Our Brand’ getting in the way of ‘Our story’

personal-branding-photoI was recently in a meeting where the coordinator said “People judge you by what you look like and how you act. It is YOUR BRAND. It is what they see”.

The phrase took me off guard
.

I’ve heard people talk about ‘Your Brand’ before. It’s not a new concept and if we were to be honest we’ve all been doing something like it (regardless of if we knew we were doing it or not) for centuries. You may have heard phrases that came out of this line of thinking such as “Dress for the job you WANT, not the job you HAVE”.

This thinking is not wrong,
as it’s good to take pride in your work place and even more importantly yourself. The issue I have with this line of thinking is that it starts to get in the way of some important stories of the communities/team’s/families we are in and makes us focus on just the individual.

So let’s unpack this a bit further. Take the example of “Dress for the job you want…” idea (just because I bought it up earlier). The intention is for people to take pride in how they look and how they present themselves, so that when people meet you for the first time there is a good first impression made. Plus the added bonus is that it makes you feel better about yourself because you have taken time and effort in how you are presented.
Unfortunately sometimes it just becomes an ego driven self marketing tool that is all about who looks best and owns the appropriate fashion for a particular role. And it potentially leads to disappointment. It’s far too easy for people to think “I dressed for the role I want and I still didn’t get it, maybe I didn’t market myself well enough?”.
We start to base things on what we think we know and not on what we have actually discovered about someone. It’s almost as if we throw out their CV and reduce them to a kids picture book ‘This is John. See John work’ .  It’s like the old adage about books being made in to movies and puts it into the context of life.

“Is like taking your oxen and seeing it made into an OXO (bouillon)  cube”
– John le Carre’

Has this grown out of our own laziness? Instead of seeing the first impression as an indication of the substance that may be hidden in the pages of the book beneath the cover, are we actually taking time to read the story rather than just the basic synopsis or overview of what the person is about?

A good friend, pastor and musician Malcolm Gordon once said “We pretend we’re people without shadows” and while he was talking about people going to church, I think it’s a much bigger epidemic.

Some of  our greatest world changers – from Lincoln to Edison,  Churchill to Princess Diana – have fought hidden demons. While these world changers were ‘flawed’, their stories made their accomplishments even more impressive. Their hardships/demons/flaws gave them the push and drive to see the world differently. Our ‘self brand’ technique has just become a way to bypass the mundane, to leap frog the pain and to ‘become the people we were destined to be’ with all the fanfare and poise of a well executed marketing campaign.

It’s actually killing our work places. Imagine great self marketers gaining great positions without knowing what the hard times are like and without understanding the pain points that lead to growth and improvement. No wonder society is becoming less engaged, less empathetic and more reactive. Isn’t this just setting people up to fail?

In the age of Facebook and social media saturation are we becoming so trained at hiding our shadows, that we don’t see the bigger story?  We don’t see the story of our community and work place it’s in?  Or even worse don’t see the story of an individual more than just at synopsis level?

New Zealand journalist and news reporter Nadine Chalmers-Ross had that dilemma at a very real level. Making a name for herself under the name Chalmers-Ross she recently got married. Should she remain Chalmers-Ross or become Mrs Higgins? What does she do? Her name was her brand, what she was known as, part of her ‘News identity’ if you will.
I love the conclusion that Nadine came to:

“My name is my brand, sure, but my marriage isn’t about what’s commercially savvy.  It’s about forming a team and a name is the loudest way I can think of saying he’s my person. So, may I introduce you to Mrs Higgins?”

YES!
Nadine has certainly got it. It’s about so much more than ‘my own personal brand’
Our ‘Brand’ affects far more than just ourselves – it affects our families, our teams and our communities.
What if instead we started looking at ‘Our Brand’ as our way to be the superstar of our own story? What if we started to see our stories interweaving with others in our communities? What if we looked at ‘Our Brand’ as something that adds to not just our own story, but the stories of our community like our own entry into a section of the Iliad.

We don’t just have one story. We have our own starring role in a story of our life- the fears, the failures, the wins, the loses and the mountains we have conquered. However we’re also playing a supporting role in many other individual’s stories, many other team’s stories, and many other community’s stories.

In these stories we’re not the superstar, we’re not the white knight, or the cowboy with the white hat. We’re the neighbour who said “Hi” every morning, the guy or girl who took time to notice the lack of smile, and the person who let you into the queue of traffic during rush hour. These stories are the mundane, but these stories are the brands that reverberate throughout the world we live.

So let’s talk brands… but let’s tell our stories.

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Album Review: Switchfoot ‘Where the Light Shines Through’

switchfoot-where-the-light-shines-through-compressed“Because Hope deserves an anthem” echoes through the U2esque intro that builds into the first track of the latest album ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ (WTLST) by Californian group Switchfoot.
Imagine creating an album with this at the heart! Would the task almost feel so overwhelming that it would cripple you with fear? Switchfoot have climbed into the challenge like a surfer floating into a crushing barrel wave for the first time.They have respected the power of the wave and the result is the most personal group of songs about hope and struggle that the band have brought us.

This is the first focused album since 2011’s ‘Vice Verses’ album. In between was the soundtrack to 2014’s surf rockumentary ‘Fading West’ and while this was released as an album it couldn’t really be taken in context without the accompanying movie.

WTLST builds on the Switchfoot sound that the band has developed since leaving their major label and going on their own, and honestly, this is great. The band has merged into one body that would sound odd without the other components, as we start to hear more of the influences of Jerome and his library of sound that he brings and Drew’s colour that is added to each song. This is a band that has found it’s voice, and in the process has found it’s soul.

The album is scattered with songs that are filled with lyrical hope. They easily connect to the heart and settle in your mind as a reminder of a renewed way of thinking about the situation you’re in. The title track ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ has a chorus that has a sentiment that echoes throughout the album – “Because your scars, Shine light night stars, Yeah your wounds are where the light shines through.”  It is raw in it’s emotion but honest in it’s approach.

Some of the most beautiful moments are raised up from confronting the realness and the pain that the open wound may feel like for some people. Lyrics like “Pain gives birth to the promised land” from ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ or “I hear the shame of my accuser, but it ain’t you” from ‘The Day that I found God’ confront realness and pain and there is beauty in that. Then album turns from the hurt and only seeing the light from a distance, to a journey of chasing it and healing from it. “I want to start healing healing“.

One of the highlights of the album is the track ‘Live it Well,’ a real anthem and a song that will be a stadium hit this summer. This track throws back a level of responsibility onto us. How are we going to live this life knowing that every breath that you take is a miracle?

While we’re on the subject of tours: This year Switchfoot will tour with international rap and hip-hop sensation and billboard chart topper Lecrae. Lecrae makes a guest appearance on the track ‘Looking for America’ as the discussion turns to a nation that has been crippled by fear and entitlement.

As a bonus track it’s wonderful to hear ‘Light and Heavy,’ a song that was written 7 years ago for the annual Heavy and Light event held by To Write Love on Her Arms .This organisation exists to bring to light the often forgotten or hidden topic of depression and self harm , and although the track is a different feel to the rest of the album (as it’s a bonus track) it’s certainly a worthy track considering the theme flowing through this album.

The world is in need of Hope. It seems to be getting darker and while there are many aspects of life that make the world seem a smaller place, there are places where the light doesn’t shine and they seem separated from the rest of the world; This is where the broken live and as these areas hear albums like this, a new hope is birthed and this is where the light shines through.
The world certainly needs more albums like this.

I’ll leave the final words to Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s lead singer:

We sing because we’re alive. We sing because we’re broken. We sing because we refuse to believe that hatred is stronger than love. We sing because melodies begin where words fail. We sing because the wound is where the light shines through. We sing because hope deserves an anthem. – Jon

 

 

Peace, Love and Mung beans.

r1145162_14302576So yesterday was Earth day… and it all came and went with all but a whimper and slight fizzle.
And it all got me thinking, why has it all become so ho-hum if the Earth and creation is such a important issue?
As a Christian I believe that we are called to protect the creation that God has given us to look after. Our church in New Zealand would call that “Caring for Gods creation”.
I also believe this is a social issue as it affects all of humanity, and I also believe that our consumer lifestyle isn’t helping the issue.

So why so ho-hum?

For me it’s just too  much noise!

Environmentalists are  increasingly becoming more and more extreme to make a point, and we have message after message of what is becoming Green propaganda. .
The problem is that BOTH sides of the discussion are trying to out do each other with power play, shocking examples of something that will prove their point, and stats that show how the other side of the conversation is wrong.
They are both extremely right in a lot of cases and both extremely wrong.
The result from it all is that it’s just noise.

They have taken the conversation out of the conversation, because now  it’s about who is the loudest. The politicians have a big meeting of World powers… and the environmentalists sit outside creating chaos. While the rest of the world sits through another bout of deja vu.

We all seem have one of those friends who just posts the same stuff over and over on social media… be it political, about music, their kids, chocolate (me) or the environment.
Does it get to the point where you just stop reading because it just becomes another blog of something different but totally the same as everything else they have posted? The same broken record, the same agenda, the same push with out any reason for a discussion.
This is just point taking and point making but nothing more.
Sure the intention is to create discussion… but does it when the discussion is always the same?

Christian environmentalists (or activists) can be even worse!!!
They break the law to prove a point, they talk about community and then cause divisions within that community based on politics and then to top it all off they claim that God would approve because they have the right intention about saving the planet.  They hold picket signs that say “Cherish the Earth” while on a march that is intended to put pressure on political leaders (local or National) to make changes.Seems a bit hypocritical doesn’t it???
Part of the Earth is the people who live in it… the politicians and the marchers, and both are trying to do the best by the information that they have (in a democratic society).
What happened to love thy enemies?
Or have we created another loophole that allows us to treat politicians differently to the rest of us?
It’s here that we realise that being socially active, doesn’t actually equal being a social activist.

Sometimes I wonder if God agrees with our intentions.

It seems to me that Jesus didn’t spend too much time ‘playing politics’ – in fact he pretty much kept away from it.
Why?
Because Jesus was more concerned about the human heart… the other stuff flowed from that.
In fact when asked the famous political question in relation to taxes in Luke 20:25 that the Pharisees devised to trick Jesus with, He said “Who’s face/image is on the coin?”  It was that of the Caesar at the time, so he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesars”
By saying this he was implying who’s image are you made in?
The coin had the image of Caesar, but you are made in the image of God

He took it right back to the human heart.

Jesus was disciplining, not a talking about the ways to coerce a  government into getting what you think you want based on a few snippets from news papers or reports that you found to prove your argument.
Jesus prayed, and when the disciples saw what he was doing they asked “teach us to pray”. They knew how to pray before that, but it wasn’t the way that Jesus prayed… something was different.
The disciples said “Help how can we feed all these people???” and Jesus let a miracle happen in their own hands with 5 loaves and 2 small fish, and there were left overs!!!
This was a revolution of the human heart and mind and soul.

I think we’re spending so much energy making sides, and proving points that we aren’t actually doing much? Imagine if every church planted fruit trees in every community as part of school projects so that fruit and veges could be given for FREE to those in the community that can’t afford it, paid to have bee hives looked after for pollination and honey, had regular teams that went round the community picking up rubbish? What if we were the importer of good quality coffee that comes from sustainable and fair trade farms that we partner with and sold them to our local cafes at a price that everyday people could buy a decent coffee and create watering wells within our community?

We can actually find examples where this IS happening and how successful the outcome is! Let’s do more of that!

Sometimes we’re really good at making a point, but we haven’t the guts, stamina, forethought or time to start to do these things that could be easy to arrange if we could be bothered.
And so here we are adding to the noise with our signs and our marches when the community we live in are craving for something a bit more personal.
They want to look after the planet and community but they don’t know how to be connected.

So lets just shut up for a while and show the world that we are more than just talk, that we are looking for something bigger than just putting out our own recycling bins and buying fair trade coffee, buying from shops with ethical values or buying local.
It has to be bigger than that… we have the means and connections to do this.
Love your local and watch the love spread form there.
Christianity started with just 12.

Or are you more interested in making a point?

Album Review: Sacha Vee ‘Rising One E.P.’

Don’t you love it when you’re chilling out in a cafe or bar and the conversation lulls, and instead of sitting in that ‘awkward silence’ you find your head bouncing to the great tunes that are playing in the background? And better still, when you realise that it’s an artist that you have never heard before.
Now you have a problem – you have been bitten by the new tunes bug.

When I first heard Sacha Vee I really wanted to hear more.

The Rising One E.P. is a great snapshot of Sasha’s range and talent and almost a perfect sample of what she has to offer.
Sacha Vee isn’t just some flash in the pan type of Jazz inspired vocalist. She has the melodies, the right tone, and the soul funk sensitivity of greater and more well known artists. In fact Sacha could easily handle any tunes of artists such as N’dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Sacha’s style sits somewhere between Erykah Badu’s breakthrough album ‘Baduizm‘ and Jill Scott’s ‘Who is Jill Scott‘. The fact that Sacha is able to be compared favorably to two of Soul/Funk/Jazz greatest albums and artists should be something that excites the listener. You’re not  listening to some second rate vocal here. This is quality.

‘Hey Sugar‘ is a perfect example of how Sacha is able to draw upon a musical knowledge filled with great artists and make it hers. This song is just one of those songs that just grabs your attention. It has it all – it’s laid back, it’s soulful, it’s funky and it’s well crafted. What makes this even better is that ‘GING’, the following track, gives you a more upbeat version of the same. It’s almost a bit of old acid jazz styled sounds reminiscent of the classics including The Brand New Heavies, Cloud 9 and Jessica Lauren.

‘Heavy Load’ brings Sacha into a heavy beat influenced R&B track that cruises and flows on a solid beat. It’s very mainstream in it’s approach and I can’t help but think of artist like Aaliyah, Moloko and TLC with it’s ‘a little bit retro’ sound over the top of a modern R&B infected beat.

Sacha Vee is your next cafe or chill album.

The equation is quite simple.
If you have a upmarket cafe…. buy this EP
If you have a chilled out bar or cool restaurant… buy this EP
If you want something to just have a few cocktails with… buy this EP
If you just like to chill out and relax… buy this EP.

When the pop world is getting more and more about antics than artistry, it’s good to hear we have the option of quality in what we choose to listen too in our down time.

This is certainly a ‘Rising One’ to watch

Album Review – Corban Samuels ‘Resonate’

Some song writers are poets that tell stories to a musicial back drop.
Some song writers are musicians who’s only aim is to get you to dance or to rock or to sway.
Sam Reed, the creator of the enigmatic ‘Corban Samuels’, isn’t really either. Sam should be considered a cinematic songwriter.
Sam’s off centre songwriting flair was highlighted with his Death to Birth (I & II) EP’s . Through music Corban Samuels made you feel uneasy, almost even scared at the darkness… Almost like when you had seen your first horror or thriller movie and you had to force yourself to say ‘Candyman’ three times into the mirror. In your head you knew you would be okay, but for some reason everything in your body told you not to!!!

Corban Samuels is going a different direction with this album. Those familiar with his work will still recognise his Indie style which brings in new sounds and textures that you weren’t expecting to hear in an electronic genre.
Resonate is certainly a ‘happier’ album than what Death to Birth gave us, but be warned this doesn’t mean that it’s going to be comfortable.
Corban Samuels becomes an old gypsy storyteller as he weaves you into the story that he begins to slowly unwind using only music. There are clashes in chords and odd piano tinges and motifs that run through the album that often make you wince and move uncomfortably in your seat. You don’t need to wait long for the uneasiness of the album to land. In the first track you are welcomed with a bright sunrise pad that is warm and beckoning, followed by some chords that float harmoniously underneath before the quirkiness of a busy piano that is a bit off the flow of the rest of the track. It was almost like a bumblebee frantically trying to collect pollen over the sound of the sun rising over a flower bed or someone viewing the awakening farm and the busy-ness start to happen as people get about the day… all the while the sun and nature do their job and slowly come to life.
It’s natural once you translate it into a cinematic world, but without such a picture you are left wondering.
Corban Samuels forces you to translate music into pictures, and in a way you kind of have to to make it all make sense.

So what do you call this style of music?
It’s been likened to Trip-hop but it doesn’t really fit neatly into that genre as it’s too clean to sit besides the likes of Portishead, Bjork, Tricky and DJ shadow… It’s either not enough ‘trip’ or not enough ‘hop’.
I would call it Cinematic trip-pop.
I think the market here would be to create Cinematic soundscapes with everyday things happening as the music tells the story of what is happening… the narrator is the music.
It’s a nice change of pace for Corban Samuels and it was great to be able to hear music I felt I could listen to in the dark or with people around without fear of being stabbed by my own dread.
I would like to see a bit more of a departure from the moody and cinematic and really just let the music be there to create an environment for people to relax to and just nod their heads to the beat of some chilled out tunes. I wonder if Corban Samuels knows how to relax and have fun, or does he need more of Sam Reed in his head?
There are glimpses of what could be a start of this with ‘Bells at Midnight’ (featuring soulUnite) – a nicely laid beat with a hip hop sensitive bell tone over top. There just needs to be a bit more of a chance for the listener to relax and let the music resonate rather than have the music prod them for attention.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see where Corban Samuels will take us to next…
I guess that will be the next chapter of the Corban Samuels story, stay tuned!

Album Review: Joseph & Maia ‘Sorrento’

Sometimes magic just happens.

At the height of the folk-indie movement of the early 90s there were bands that became legends within the the genre. These bands, including The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog, created the Americana or Alt-country movement. These were artists that paved the way for the likes of Counting Crows, The Gin Blossoms and Blues Traveller. It was an era of great music with great melody, great heart and singability without the cheesy sub-pop that often ruins a good tune.

I have been listening to ‘Sorrento’ by Joseph and Maia, and these songs could have been a part of this great music era in the indie scene. This duo have a freedom in their music that could turn into something big. They have split from their label and are now doing it as independents.

‘Sorrento’ starts off with the title track and you’re immediately confronted with the beat up front before a dirty guitar strums over top. It gives no clue to the wonderful harmonies that introduce the lyrics to us. It’s a perfect alt-folk pop tune that builds nicely into the chorus, and leads nicely to the next track ‘On my way.’ This picks up on the Alt-country vein and it’s done with near perfection.

Part of the new found freedom is a real sincere honesty. This is shown as ‘Will I Ever’ begins with a solitary single acoustic guitar before Joseph sings “I don’t know what I believe in, no not anymore”. This beautiful song starts off tenderly before the full band come in with a great organ pad underneath and a slide guitar adding colour over top. Often with songs like this the artist is tempted to keep it low and slow and I’m glad this duo didn’t with this song.

“Sleep while you can babe… it’s cold outside and I can hear the rain”  could be the perfect start to a night in with someone you love by a warm open fire. It’s when your mind wanders to places like this it makes you realise that this is no longer about just a song but how the song has connected with a time and place. The music has connected with you and ironically ‘Sleep’ is the perfect way to finish off a busy day. It’s a beautiful song with a lullaby quality that just works well.

I love it when independent albums punch above their weight. There is no marketing and fanfare… only good music and good performance to draw you in. It’s the word of mouth that draws the crowd.
‘Sorrento’ is a beautifully crafted album that is well thought out. It’s Alt-country that is perfectly packaged in a way that highlights the song as something that fits in with life. It fills the gaps in our lives like a warm coffee, you realise how much you need it when you smell the wonderful scent wafting through the house.

Music has a way of connecting and ‘Sorrento’ does this is a wonderfully refreshing way.