The F Word with Taylor Hanson, Hanson

August 21, 2019


With a special ability to connect with fans and build a global community, Hanson put themselves on the map long-term through their popular music and, in recent years, their craft beer. But the band had many near misses while building their careers, like almost signing sketchy record deals and running out of beer at their first Hop Jam festival. Listen as Taylor Hanson talks about what he learned through years of posturing himself both as a musician and as an entrepreneur.

The Hanson Brothers previously participated in a panel discussion at 36 Degrees North in Fall 2018
Watch: Hanson Brothers talk about disrupting the music industry


Taylor: But it starts on a napkin and it starts with a gut instinct and a desire to try.

Lauren: This week on The F Word.

Taylor: It's just a game of the manager saying, well, “I'm going to screw the label,” and the label's going, “We're going to screw the artist.” Because they know they're going to get screwed, they're just grabbing at how to screw the other person first.

Lauren: Taylor Hanson.

Taylor: Hop Jam number one, we ran out of beer in two hours.

Lauren: Today's guest doesn't really need an introduction. Taylor Hanson is one third of the band Hanson based right here in Tulsa. They're known around the world for their music, their own beer, and their wildly popular music festival. They're true entrepreneurs who have learned to take advantage of unique opportunities and evolve and learn as they grow. I'm excited about this one. Taylor, thanks for hanging with us today.

Taylor: Thanks for having me.

Lauren: Now, we hosted a panel discussion at 36 Degrees North with Taylor, Issac and Zac last fall. And during that we talked all about disrupting the music industry and distributing music and going on tour and building relationships in the music community. So if you're looking for specific advice for musicians, go check that out. We'll put the link to that video on our website in the post for this episode. Today we're going to be talking more about some high level business concepts and what Taylor has learned over the years building different businesses of his own. I think this is perfect. A few years ago you were actually on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine. And the headline for that article said this. It said, "Hanson could have disappeared, here's why they didn't." Let's dive into that. You didn't disappear and a big reason for that is early on you embraced the fact that musicians have to be entrepreneurs. 

Taylor: Right.

Lauren: When did you first realize that? That wow, I'm an artist and a businessman.

Taylor: Well, I mean a couple things. One, Hanson ... You're talking about entrepreneur and what their story was and that's story has now been sort of echoed a couple times is, in the music business especially, there's an expectation of things just coming and going and not having staying power. If you think about it, the music industry is ... I think literally it's 98% of the artists that are signed to major record companies don't recoup their costs.

Lauren: Really.

Taylor: 98%. So if you're an artist that is succeeding doing music even for a label where you've got a deal and they're backing you, most artists are being paid for by the 2% that are actually breaking out and recovering their costs and reaching fans. Now that does not mean there's only 2% of great artists, it just means that the economics of business around music and the music industry is really crappy. It's an industry that has a very, very small success rate. And so part of that whole industry is ... Part of the structure of the industry is the reason why the success rate's so low. Say, 98% of artists that are signed to major labels don't recover their costs. Well part of the answer is they spend too much in the first place and they also don't have a good strategy to commit to recovering their costs. And so the point about saying all that is, we learned very early on that we were going to care more than anybody else. And most artists don't learn what we were blessed to learn in our teens, they're still learning it in their 50s. And I think several reasons why, one, we did grow up with a great support system from our folks who were very much about, “You should know everything you're doing.” Despite all of this ... We were so young when I first broke out. I was signed when I was 13.

Lauren: Which is crazy, to expect a 13 year old to see all sides of a successful music business.

Taylor: But at the same time, I was 13 and I didn’t know what it was like. And I think that there's a ... People talk about racism and sexism, they don't talk about ageism. I think that there's a huge undervaluing of young people's ability to understand things. I think that there's a whole culture of delaying reality. If you look back in history, a 15 year old, especially in a more agricultural world led by physical labor, where especially the oldest son would really be like, you're going to run the farm. You literally have the back to stand behind a mule and the family's going to gather around and run this farm somehow. It was like, if you're big enough to do it, you are going to be responsible for it. Guys and girls. But just these basic things about humanity that we just forget because we're also separated from survival. So very long way of saying, for all of us, for young people especially, I think realizing that all of us are sort of our own brand manager. And whatever you're involved in ... Not to say that you need to micromanage everything. Meaning there are times where you really do need to learn to trust people. You need to learn to trust. Build people around you that can advocate for you and be your advisor. But you need to make it your business if it is your business.

Lauren: So it was your parents instilling that in you that made you take ownership in that way?

Taylor: Yeah. Our parents were extremely deferential in saying "Hey, you're here because you're interested and you're waking up and you have the drive to go sing and stand in front of people and write songs and work hard. Your name's on this." So absolutely them. And then also, just several different ... We had a young attorney that became our first manager who was also very much interested in empowering and not saying, “Well, here's the closed door, don't worry, I'll take care of it.” And then some of that honestly is just in DNA. I remember seeing a group of political leaders at a conference in New York. We were doing a music deal and I saw this group of really powerful folks were meeting. And you could smell in the air the sense of urgency and a sense of responsibility. I mean, I don't know how to say it, but it was like, I remember looking at this group of people and identifying something that I'd felt in my world in music in a different form. Which is, the sense of this is the time to take the room you're in seriously every day. And so much of what we grew up doing was work ethic. It started with mowing lawns and planting trees and not getting paid for it by my dad and uncles and then licking every stamp on a flyer when we were trying to build a little fan base in Tulsa. Literally sitting and building a mailing list before everything was digital. Doing cassette tapes and applying 1,000 cassette labels and packaging them and putting the in and sending them.

Lauren: Such tedious work.

Taylor: All that stuff. It's like if you respect the real work that is in anything that's good, then it gives you a sense of just how rare and lucky you are if you are able to succeed doing something. Because it's just extremely rare to get anything to work, let alone something that is recognized as being really special by lots of people.

Lauren: I want to talk about your record company. In 2003 you started your own label, 3 Car Garage, 3CG for short. Under that you're the artist, the manager, the publisher, the marketer. And I think entrepreneurs have to know when to outsource and when to bring things in house. When did you decide to draw that line and say like, “No, we're doing that ourselves.”?

Taylor: It's really important to keep in mind that business if fluid. It's not stagnant. And you respond to things. And so with starting a label, I would not recommend to all people to take on everything, otherwise ... You physically can't do everything. But what we saw was an industry that was no longer invested in an actual career plan. And so each step we really approached and said okay, we need to bring this in, we need to bring this in. And as it's appropriate, we'd bring in the next. The other thing, from the outside, music industry is not necessarily understood by everybody. Most of the times you'd have two sort of major sides and then you could apply a third. But most people, the industry's really recorded music and record companies, which traditionally own the masters and market your music. And a lot of times historically, they were the monolith. Because record sales was the thing. And record labels had the marketing power to pay for the reach and access radio, print and media, TV and distribution. To actually physically be able to make product. The capital to do that ... Even if you want to reach ton of fans and you don't have a label to bankroll that ... You could have the best song ever, it's successful in Memphis and everybody wants so buy it, but you need somebody that's going to get out there and front load the cost to print those copies, make them, put them into distribution and show up at a store.

Lauren: All those CDs and the cases and the art and yeah.

Taylor: Yeah. And so we're very distanced from that now as digital has transformed the way everything happens. But historically that was one side. But the label and the artist are not typically working together on live music, which seems totally strange. But the reason that's true is because the recorded music business and marketing was so big that live was actually a side hustle. It was almost a side bar. So labels is one sort of part of your business, the touring side, and your agent you're working with, the promoters that promote concerts is a part of business. There's a sidebar of that which is the merchandising industry, which is oftentimes a secondary deal. And maybe sometimes there's a label involved in that. But then you have the song writing side of things, which is the publishing world and ownership of copyright. Again, all these things typically, they're in these columns. And the whole industry was sort of setup to have all of these parties almost fight with each other. And the role of an artist oftentimes, like the common dynamic is, here's an artist that has deals with a label, deals with a publisher, deals with their agents-

Lauren: You're dividing yourself out to so many companies.

Taylor: Yeah. And you have a manager that is typically in business with the artist cutting all those deals, taking a percentage of every one of those pieces. But so much of the way that works is, oftentimes ... And good and bad mangers do this differently. But on the negative side of this or the toxic cultural side of it, which is more common than you wish it was, it's just a game of the manager saying, “I'm going to screw the label,” and the label's going, “We're going to screw the artist.” Everyone's going out for their little piece.

Lauren: Meanwhile, your percent of it is getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

Taylor: Yeah. And also meanwhile the end game, which should be the game is, to build a real career for an artist that is going to earn money and succeed for everybody. If you're Bruce Springsteen and you grow your audience, you're going to sell more records, you're going to sell more tickets, you're going to sell more merchandise, it's going to be a positive on the business side for everybody. And so it's such a strange dynamic that's so often, because they know they're going to get screwed, they're just grabbing at how to screw the other person first. Like that's the whole dynamic. Instead of build a team around an artist, figure out how to develop an artist, develop the brand value, grow an audience, and find ways for your touring and your label and your publisher and your agents and your merchandising, and maybe even develop some fan club community. That all those things are looking at each other, talking to each other, sharing resources, collaborating as much as they can-

Lauren: On the same team.

Taylor: Promoting the growth of their brand. You would think, of course that happens. That totally makes total sense. But it very rarely does. We were represented, now we work with lots of major companies. But the ownership and the structure is in our hands. The direction, the conducting is coming from our seat. And that's really what independence is about. It's about having the power structure be around your core business and making deals and working with people that are supporting your team as opposed to you simply being attached to somebody else and hoping that their priority happens to be yours. We had the gift and the curse of, it is year 2000, and we're on our second record. We just sold eight million records of one deal and toured the world and suddenly you're 16 years old and you can go to Tokyo and Buenos Aires and Chicago and any of those places and your name is recognized and your face is recognized. Like that's a huge value. If you look at Coca-Cola spent 100 years to have a brand be known. So you all of a sudden have this huge asset and you're just now ... But now a parent company comes in and buys your record company that owns your masters. And you're just an asset trade. You're not really an artist with a career. You're just, hey this thing sold a bunch and it has this asset that we want to leverage.

Lauren: You're a commodity.

Taylor: Yeah, you're a commodity. And so we were in this great position where we'd had success enough to have some sway, but we could also see-

Lauren: Because MMMBop came out three years before this, right?

Taylor: Yeah.

Lauren: Yeah.

Taylor: So we came out in '97 and then we're releasing our second record. But by our second record we were already upside down because our label had been bought by now a hip-hop label. They were sort of, we should keep Hanson, because they're a commodity, they're an asset, but we don't know what the heck to do with this group of young guys that are writing soulful pop songs and are a garage band really. Like we're a hip-hop, we represent Jay-Z and all of these other artists. Which is perfectly great, but not at all what we're about. And so we were in this holding pattern where all of the sudden we were there just because we were a commodity. We were an asset and not a career artist.

Lauren: I just want to go off on a quick tangent. When you were working with all these big labels and promoters and all that, did you ever trust people that you shouldn't have trusted?

Taylor: Yeah. This is supposed to be about failure, isn't it?

Lauren: Yeah.

Taylor: Well, near misses, there's a lot of near misses. One of the first guys we met in the music industry is a guy named Kim Fowley. And he was actually in Tulsa. He's a legendary guy. He would discover The Runaways. He's a writer, a producer, kind of a legend. But also sort of a legend for doing shady deals. And we're looking to meet anybody that could get us to the next place. There's still a video we did with his guidance at this point, where we pitched ourselves to labels. I mean it's really, really cheesy but it's kind of amazing because it was fully committed to. We're sitting there, we literally sang clips on video, VHS. We've written 30 songs, we can do this, we can do this, we can do this, we want to make a partnership with your company. A self pitch video. And it's amazing it hasn't shown up more places.

Lauren: Now I want to go look for it.

Taylor: It's really pretty legendary. And that was with his counsel and that was one of the first waves of pitching labels to get to sign us and nobody responded to it. The one opportunity that we almost went for, which was a deal with a record company called Curb. And Curb is known also for being very successful, but cutting not especially artist friendly deals. And that's me being kind. And we had an offer on that first ... Before we ever ... This would have been the first deal. And this is a label that signed LeAnn Rimes, The Monkeys, lots of pop and successful artists from the '60s on. And we were lucky that we had an attorney that we'd met early on that was very experienced and the deal that was offered, would have owned, not only the masters but majority stake in all of our song writing. And it would have completely locked us in to a point that we would have been in servitude to this label and probably would have prevented us from having a career. You can always say, we would have figured it out and kind of hustled and gotten over the challenges. But this was a really, really bad deal. We came within inches of signing that. And at this point I would have been 11. We're in California, we're meeting with labels, we're pitching ourselves. We're in the shiny LA studios and meeting people and we've done this, we've done that. You could so in many cases that sounds like the dream. But that deal would have been a career ender. The thing about it is, there's certainly some good people in any of those teams, any of those labels. There's people that are quality. But you have to look at the actual deal and the actual how you're being valued and the structure. Because sometimes, especially as an artist, if you're starting from an artist point of view, not just a business point of view, you're leading with your intuitive creative energies. And so it's hard sometimes to also be black and white and also sort of, it feels like you're being hard edge or you're being harsh to say, “Well, what's the contract really look like?”

Lauren: To dig in to the fine print.

Taylor: So I think especially for young creative people ... And I'd say this is true with a lot of entrepreneurs as well which are inherently creative. It's important to realize that one, if you don't feel like you can be black and white about something, have somebody in the room with you that can be. That can just be really detached from the emotional, I want this thing to happen, feeling. And then also, to recognize, it's okay to be arms length and to look at things black and white. Even if you're looking across the room about somebody you say wow, I like this person, I think that they're an advocate for me, but they put a deal in front of you that says, actually I don't really value you and I'm going to take advantage of you and I'm going to ... You have to see that and it's very, very hard to do. It's very hard to do. It's like you want to buy the house and you want to buy the house so much that you're willing to pay way more than it's worth and you get all emotionally attached to it. It's all said and done and you're like, what did I just do? It's a very tricky line to walk.

Lauren: Going back to having your own label, when you did bring all the pieces in house, what are the pros and cons of that? Obviously we know the pros of like you have more control. But what are the downsides? I know that you said that for you personally, thinking at both a macro and a micro level can be hard, but that's very important when you're running your own label. So what have been the hard things that come from having that control?

Taylor: Well I mean one of them is a quiet sort of building danger. Which is that you stop being able to direct your frustration outward and it can go inward. It's important, especially when you're in a really high performance game, winning and having a team and succeeding, selling art. Creating music and making that your career. Like I said earlier, a tiny percentage of the world gets to actually do that and so it's very competitive. And so when you're in that, in many cases you're in battle mode. And so it's important to be able to say hey, keep the fight outward. We're up against the challenge.

Taylor: So one of the challenges that when you do take on, we're going to run the label, we're going to back this, we're going to hire the publicist, we're going to hire the marketing director, we're going to hire a radio promotions person, we're going to sign a deal with a distribution company, but they're a services company. They're not giving you the plan, you're giving them the plan. It can be difficult to not have somebody to blame. To not be able to say, well if they didn't pick the wrong single this would have worked. You're like, well we picked the single.

Lauren: It's on you.

Taylor: And also, recognizing being your own editor. Again, nobody got this perfect. But being your own editor. A great example is you're working a record at radio and radio takes money to get stuff done. And so to succeed at radio and especially at a pop radio station, traditionally take things up to Top 40, you're spending half a million to a million bucks if you want to get something to succeed, most cases.

Lauren: Oh wow.

Taylor: And the reason that's true is because, you're going up against everybody that wants every program director to pay attention and listen. So how do you get that done? You might have the greatest song in the world, but you have to have ... Every city, every market has secondary independent consultants that give thoughts to the program directors and the music directors and say, "Hey, this is worth your time and by the way this song has support and this band is going to get out there and promote and you should get behind them." Well, at every step everyone of those program directors is looking at market research, and they're just saying, "How many people walked in and told me about this thing?" And so if you're working a Beyonce record and you're Jimmy Iovine running Interscope Records, he literally just says, "I'm going to hire every independent consultant that exists in the entire country and that program director's going to hear six times today about how important this record is." And that is where the dollars ... And then by the way, the next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to agree to a free show for the radio station that I'm not going to be paid for and it's going to be money in the bank to that radio station in Des Moines and the independent artist is going to say, "I'd love to do that show, I just need you to cover these costs." Well, take a wild guess at which artist the radio station's going to be likely to go with. The artist that says yeah, we'll give this to you for free. So that's why marketing and success at radio stations costs. But as a label, when you're presented with that campaign issue, it's pretty painful to say, we have spent all we can to make this song that we believe in keep going up the chart. And the last three records we've put out, I've had to say, “Man, number 25, that's pretty great. That's pretty awesome. We've gotten to that point. But we literally cannot budget to survive Katy Perry and these five other artists that are going to outspend to get attention.” Like we can't survive ... We might have a better record, we might have a better mission, we might have a more dynamic fan base in that market. We might even have a program director that loves your song. But if you can't sustain the survival-

Lauren: The spending power.

Taylor: Yeah, the spending power. And that's business. So that's business. And that's what's interesting. That was a very long answer. That challenge, that's a perfect example of how to balance the creative versus the business. Is the business is trying to succeed with the art because that's the product. If it's successful ... So you want to care about the art, but you also have a pragmatic reality which is, this is how much capital we have to spend. We have a team of 10 or 15 people that have to eat. We have a tour that's going out. We have a whole group of artists, our team, our band. And we have to stop at some point if we don't reach a certain point with success on this platform. Our budget's $150,000.

Lauren: And this is true of all business owners.

Taylor: It's true of all business owners, yeah.

Lauren: You have to know your limits. You have to know when you're done and it's hard because you can feel married to an idea or married to a concept and you have to be able to step back and take that pragmatic look at it and say, okay enough's enough, we're going to stop pushing.

Taylor: The other thing, maybe this is not ... I don't want to not speak on failure, because failure is really critical to the process. But responding to success is part of overcoming where you've failed in one area. And sometimes things come out of nowhere and ... Starting the beer company for instance. We started a craft beer company in 2013.

Lauren: That's where I was going next so I love it.

Taylor: Is it? Well.

Lauren: Yeah.

Taylor: And so we developed our business around our brand, which is very much focused on sort of the micro economy of engaged fans that really want to do tons of stuff. Buy merchandise, go to shows, go to special events, be a part of the fan club, the paid membership fan clubs, that says I'm always in. Like all those things. And then as a part of that process we've developed, well who are we, what are we into, what are the things we care about? And I am a huge foodie, love to travel. Started to get into craft beer.

Lauren: Yeah, I was going to ask you, why beer? That seems so out of your wheelhouse to go from having this successful music business to okay, we're starting a new business and we're making beer. Did that surprise people?

Taylor: It did surprise people and that's part of what I was going to point out. Sense of self and brand identity is good business. And so it's not just for artists, but it's for businesses. So who are you? What are you about? What are your core principles? That has to be understood in order to guide your core business decisions because there's lots of businesses out there that are successful and make money. But I'm not going to be in the business of bending industrial pipe and sending it to oil refineries. That's not what I do. No idea about any of that. There's a billion different industries that you could choose. So knowing who you are. So the craft beer started with a passion. Started with knowing that our fans in a core micro economy would respond to something we're passionate about. We started talking about that we were interested in it and we were on sort of a medium track. And once we said, we're kind of thinking about making beer, it was on Saturday Night Live the next day as a reference. It was like Hanson's doing a beer. And you're thinking ... You're fighting right, you're fighting the battle I was describing before. To push that song up the charts and pay for it and you care about it, you're passionate about it and you bleed for it and you do all this stuff. And it does well and you do some TV and you do some good stuff around it and it's successful to your core fans. But you're not cracking through. And all of the sudden you just say, Hanson's doing beer, and all of the sudden it's picked up globally. And you're like, what the heck? Why does that matter? Well yeah, it's interesting, it's funny, people are curious. But my point is, that was a story and so we said okay, well this has more to it than just us doing something that we know our core fans will be pumped about and it'll be kind of a ... And so we fast tracked it and still it took a while. It still took the better part of a year until we were able to actually pull together, we're going to produce. This is the brand, this is the kind of approach. And a year plus later we were selling beer and presenting it for the first time at a movie premiere for The Hangover Two. And that was our whole marketing plan, was to start with ... Our band's 21 and so we're going to be at this ... It's time to make beer. So our band was officially 21 that year.

Lauren: Your band came of age.

Taylor: Yeah. And so here we are at The Hangover movie premier where they have one of our songs in the soundtrack and it's like, okay this is the moment. So you had to seize this moment. But along the way there were beer recipes ... That particular beer for instance, really I wasn't fully satisfied with what we were making.

Lauren: For those who don't know, the first beer was a pale ale-

Taylor: It was called Mmmhops.

Lauren: Yeah, called Mmmhops.

Taylor: Yeah.

Lauren: Right on the nose.

Taylor: Yeah, Mmmhops. And that was one of those, like almost a joke, and then we said, "Well, actually that's so ridiculous that we have to do it."

Lauren: It worked.

Taylor: Yeah. It worked and that was what was on Saturday Night Live, was immediately, Hanson's doing a beer it's called Mmmhops. No seriously, they really are. So the beer had to be really good to me to want to do it, like anything you do. But when we got that first release out, you know really we were still working on the recipe and it was in bottles and it was packaged and we'd done the COLA for it, which is the certificate of label approval that you have to do, federal label. You've made a beer and put it into production and it's real. But you know that, man you're not really happy with exactly what that recipe is and this stuff may seem micro to one person, but that's your art, that's your brand. And you go well, we don't have enough ... We're hustling to get a distribution deal to bring into this market so we can do a marketing rollout of it, the recipe's imperfect, do we have all of our other distributors in place to actually build on this story? All these things are ... It's like, every one of those categories, every category that you're thinking about that's important to something, has some degree of imperfection in it of not getting all the way there.

Lauren: And you seem a little bit like you're a perfectionist. So how do you-

Taylor: Unfortunately.

Lauren: Yeah. How do you get to the point where you say, okay, this is good enough? Like we just need to go.

Taylor: High pain threshold. It's painful. For me, you picture real failure and it wakes you up. Deciding to get over your desire to get something really, really right where you're like yes, this is exactly right. The only thing that allows you get over that is, seeing the asteroid coming for the planet and realizing that it's going to hit. And so it's survival. Because otherwise as an artist you just keep perfecting and perfecting and perfecting. Because that's where you get this quiet joy from, is no one else knows but it's perfect to me. So that is the yin and the yang of artist versus business that is so, so challenging.

Lauren: So following launching your beer you decided to put the two things together, the music and the beer and you created Hop Jam. This past year was the sixth year of The Hop Jam. Huge success, people love it. I think it's a great case study for how a product evolves over time. Can you talk about the evolution of Hop Jam over the years?

Taylor: Yeah. And there's actually a great failure story in there too. Success and failure and how they go together. Well, Hop Jam... we decided consciously to be in downtown Tulsa several years after starting the label. And this is where it goes back to the festival. And part of that decision was ... I learned to drive in LA. We started our offices in New York and downtown Tribeca when we started the label. And so I love all these places, but the takeaway was, we're always guests in these towns. I'm never going to be a "New Yorker". I'm never going to really be a Los Angelean. As much as I love those places and I appreciate what's happening in those places. And so with an independent label we also have more overhead, we also have more resources, we want to bring in house. So let's be downtown. Starting the festival was one of the early things. We said if we're going to be here having a big event, something that we could really bring to Tulsa, draw in eyes and ears that aren't here, and begin to create a sense that this is a cool place, this is place where young businesses can start, where artists can live, where you can have great quality of life in the midwest and also have food and art and all this stuff that we're seeing things that have unfolded over the last decade. So the idea of a festival was something that was on our mind. And so I think as far as the evolution, this is where, as we started the beer company, what we saw was there was a market gap. You have all these craft beer lovers that you become one of and you become that guy that's at the table that starts lecturing people on what's in the beer and then you go, “Oh my God, that's me.” But when you get to become that, you recognize that you're talking to a small room. They call it terms like inside baseball. What's inside baseball mean? Well it's people talking about details that only a small group of people that really know baseball care about.

Lauren: All the jargon and the details, yeah.

Taylor: Yeah. I love baseball as a pastime but I am not the baseball guy and I very quickly become the guy that's like going, I'm glazing over. I don't know anything about your stats. And so the trick with craft beer was, as we started getting into it, we realized that we were talking to a small room but there's this revival happening in craft beer. It's clearly taking a huge leap where people are moving away from Miller, this and all the kind of Bud Light and just non-flavorful beer that's massed produced. And so how do we tap into for Tulsa to become more of a leader in it versus just growing at the very, very slow rate of beer nerd?

Lauren: Which it already kind of was starting to become. I mean with Eric Marshall, doing micro brewing and all the micro breweries that have popped up since then.

Taylor: Yeah. It was a huge wave, but there was still kind of a gap between the craft beer movement and the real broader opportunity to have people really embrace it and really see the tap handles change across not just the craft beer bar, but all of the beer bars in general. So to see more craft beer. And so with our love of music and our history in music, desire to do an event, just really saw the picture of that one plus one equals three event. The one plus one equals three is, you have your live music event, you have this downtown revival that's occurred, we've chosen to be downtown. We've been very quiet about it in many respects, but people know we're here. We were keeping Chimera in business across the street when they started. We were literally across the street. And then Antoinette's next to us. All of the different downtown business that have come since we've been there as well. But we can be louder about our presence in the neighborhood. And we can bring music and event experience. And we have understanding of the craft beer festival and craft beer world and an understanding of music and events. And to also have a love of Tulsa and a commitment to our city and our state, you're in a position that's unique. So hence Hop Jam. Hop, reference to beer. For the people that aren't beer nerds, hops are one of the critical components to the flavor of beer and obviously jam refers to music. But it starts on a napkin and it starts with a gut instinct and a desire to try. And one of the first calls I made was to Elliot Nelson, who's a friend of ours who's done a great deal of work to revive downtown with his restaurant group.

Lauren: He actually is on this season of the podcast.

Taylor: Awesome. And Elliot's a great entrepreneur. Called him and originally said, "Hey, we're thinking about growing this big show plus craft beer. Obviously you guys are the big craft beer guys, we know you well through that. We have our own beer, you know that as well of course. But what about a big event? Would you guys help us deal with the beer side of things?" Anyways, it was originally going to be just us developing something and sort of collaborating with the Blue Dome Festival actually. Because we were just going to try and do a show. That was the first step. And we thought well, we already have an anniversary for our band every year where we have fans coming from our core fan club community and they're coming to Tulsa. There's several thousand of them. And we can just extend that and then talk about craft beer, grow that. Before you know it we're going to have this growing kind of interaction. But let's just say Blue Dome didn't see that. And so it was funny because in a way, we were about to hand a really great vision to another event and just say, "Hey, we're going to put on a big show, we'll bring the things together, it'll grow downtown, it'll be great." It was seen as competitive as opposed to complementary. And so, I very quickly was like, "Okay. fine. We're doing this thing from the ground up. Elliot are you still in?" McNellie's... Brian Fontaine who's one of their senior guys. I love Brian. He was real passionate early on among other guys in the team. And we just begin to say well hey, over here is really more of our neighborhood, this is our street. Main street, Cain's Ballroom downtown. We're not waiting for some other blocked off already set aside section of a property. Let's just block off a certain amount of streets and let's do this on Main street. So that first year we went from zero to 60. It was, I want to say late January. And we went from nothing. This time I was calling every craft beer guy. Joke is, anybody spitting in a glass calling it beer, I was like you're in. Just because we needed to be able to start strong, and it was all about Oklahoma at first. Just because we knew we could get Oklahoma and we knew most everybody at that point. Many of those guys didn't even have their own brewery. I mean a lot of breweries are three different breweries sharing space. Which is true still of a lot of breweries. Anyway, we ramped it up. And I think when the festival happened I think a lot of people, even the team members ... Because you had kind of the beer team and then the music team. And then Rebecca and myself are really sort of at the helm of the overall deal. Like I said, she's my jam and she's amazing. She's really a production background events person. Everybody working on the beer team, I don't think realized what a big who we were going to do and everybody working on the show side, I don't think realized what a big beer fest we were going to do. And that first event, our distributors even ... LDF, who we worked with as our core beer supplier for that first couple years. We still work with those guys, but they were kind of the primary then. They didn't actually ... I don't want to dump on them. But let's just say people didn't anticipate how much beer we were going to need. We tried to set the bar but it we were under supplied. At Hop Jam number one, we ran out of beer in two hours.

Lauren: And it's an all day festival.

Taylor: Yeah. And it was a six hour session. It was supposed to be. So that first event was a complete mix of ... We almost had some guests picking fights with brewers because brewers were like once they sold out of beer, they were like, they want to take their tent down, they want to move on because they didn't want to be standing there for the rest of the time and be like yeah, we don't have any beer. And so we were pulling kegs off of Drillers, BOK. We were taking stuff off of restaurant lines just to keep up with supply. And so that story could have been a total fail. Launch a beer festival, you make it happen. You pull it together in a short period of time. It easily could have been the other end of the spectrum. When you talk about a festival environment, there are a million things to go right or go wrong. And so we didn't have enough beer. And so thankfully, there was such a good feeling about the experience of those that did have beer and then there was beer in the general market around all the music so that it wasn't ... Literally there was zero beer period. But all of it, like the festival portion was essentially done within a short period. But the feeling was so positive, that most people took away wow, this was awesome. And we got one pass on running out of beer. We could have that good, bad story one time and the story could be, which what it was. Which is hey, a lot of people want to come down to an event like this. I mean a ton of people, tens of thousands of people. And so we promised ourselves that after that first year we could ... All the other things could happen. But we would definitely never run out of beer.

Lauren: And you haven't I'm guessing.

Taylor: We have not. Now there are certain times where one particular style may run out because people bring limited runs of three or four beers. Everybody brings three of four beers to a festival.

Lauren: Understandable.

Taylor: So just for official statement, we are not promising that no beer of any kind will run out at Hop Jam. But here we are six years later and the first three years we doubled in size every year. Proactively said we want more breweries. The first we had 13 breweries, which is all the Oklahoma breweries. This last year we had 108. And they're from all over the world and from all over the country. Hop Jam has been a success. But it certainly, absolutely could have been the opposite end.

Lauren: Yeah. So I have a few more questions. And I know we're almost out of time, so let's go rapid fire with these. The haters might call you a one hit wonder, but you have a seriously faithful following. You have fans who travel from the other side of the world to come to Hanson Days, to come to Hop Jam. I've seen them lined up around the arts district when you're doing that. I'm sure many business owners want to build their own cult following. What advice would you give to build a strong long lasting fan base?

Taylor: Well, two things. One I'd say, anything to do with perception of being a "one hit wonder" is all about what audience you're talking to. There are many people that will never know us for more than one or two songs. I mean how many Bruce Springsteen songs do you know? Bruce Springsteen is like the icon of ... Even the greatest icons ever, there's usually two or three key things. So one thing is to recognize is if you reach a certain amount of success you're always going to be known for one or two things by the general everybody. The question is, who's your real audience? So that's ... The second answer is, your business is really who's your real audience? Who's your fan base? Those are the people that cared early and became fans. They didn't think of you that way maybe ever. And so for anybody that wants to build a devout base, first of all, nobody knows the answer to that completely. But the things that I feel confident in are, you do have to be able to look in the mirror and answer the questions about who you are to yourself. And emphasize those things. Are you about bling and drama and an attitude that is hiphop culture type of a deal? Are you about craftsmanship? Are about positive messages of motivation and inspiration? Are you about hits? Are you just about winning at all costs in the marketplace? What are the things that make you who you are?

Lauren: Know your niche.

Taylor: Yeah, know your niche. And then once you have a follower, keep them. And how do you keep them? Well, you build trust. And you keep the trust by not letting people down, by following through. Right, it's kind of a basic idea. But once someone says, I'm into you, I'm committed, they're there for a reason and so as long as you give that same quality that brought them there, I think you have a chance of someone becoming a real ambassador for you, not just a fan.

Lauren: So consistency and consistency of your quality.

Taylor: Sense of self and consistency and I would say the other thing is, embrace community. Community means that you see that people are actually a part of something, not just because of you but because of an idea that they share commonly in. And so like, I see Bob Dylan on the wall. The folk movement. The idea of folk music is bigger than Dylan, but he's seen as one of the gods of this wave. You know, obviously, we're in this building with the Guthrie Center. Woody Guthrie represented something bigger. I mentioned Bruce Springsteen, he represented something bigger. Artists like the Grateful Dead, they represented something bigger. And then any great business, heroes of entrepreneurship like Richard Branson. These guys, all artists, entrepreneurs, recognized sort of what their cult was. And embodied that and recognized that there's community and confidence around this sense of self that is bigger than them.

Lauren: The human element of it.

Taylor: Yeah. And connection between people. Because they're going to gather in line and most of people's experience to see an event or to buy a product, is going to be with their peers. And you're just the excuse to show up.

Lauren: You're the thing that brings people together.

Taylor: You're the thing that brings people together, but their experiences are going to be between one another. So recognize that and say, man, if I were the fan, what would I want to seeing happen? And listening.

Lauren: And that can be true of any entrepreneur. I mean you're a great bookkeeper and other business owners are bonding over the fact that oh, I have the best bookkeeper, he takes such great care of me, he does X, Y and Z or you have a widget that makes a mom's life easier and-

Taylor: Oh yeah. Oh, dude, the mom community is like one of the great stories of our modern times as to community building. I mean it's incredible. The power of that peer relationship where people can share in confidence with each other. Like wow, I'm experiencing this insane day and then like oh, you are too. End of story, you know.

Lauren: You guys have used your fame a lot to give back and serve others. You've organized walks to raise awareness for HIV and a portion of your beer profits go to build clean water wells in Africa and you raise money for the food bank during Hop Jam. And I think it's funny because last season we were talking with Libby Billings who owns Elote and The Vault downtown. And she was saying, as a entrepreneur, people approach her all the time and are asking for things. Asking to support different causes. And she had to learn what her limit was and what she was willing to give to. For y'all, how do you decide which causes to support and how can you create a rubric for yourself, to say yes, we will give to this or no we won't give to that?

Taylor: Well, really good question. And I would just say ... This was a funny thing. When we were kids, we would joke that we'd be doing ... We're old enough to lift and build muscle. I'd be around with my brothers and somebody would say well, "You know I don't want to get too bulky, like to be awkwardly muscley." But among young boys that sort of obviously, “Ha-ha,” everybody's focused on trying to be a tough guy. But it's sort of like, look, that's a good problem way down the line. Begin too successful at something like muscle building, which is going to take a long time. I think giving is similar in the sense that start with what you want to do and then as far as being able to say no to things, that's going to come from success in being out and engaged. And then that's where you defer back to the first thing. Who are you? What are you about? At that point, you're going to have a much easier time recognizing what you can and cannot give your attention to. So I wouldn't start with, here's my plan of how to say no to causes, because if you know who you are, if you know what you're about, you know what your priorities are, you're going to be invested in things that you do care about and that are your lead. And it's going to be an organic balance to say, "Hey, you know, I love my dog but I'm not an animal right activist. But I'm passionate about poverty and I'm giving a lot energy to my..." For instance, specifically. We started this deal called Food on the Move five years ago that I have an incredible group of partners focused on food deserts and food insecurity in Tulsa. And I'm so passionate about that, I have zero trouble making time for it as far as my passion. But that in and of itself takes a priority and so it answers the question of how many hours are left in the day?

Lauren: As an entrepreneur, I'm sure your wheels are always turning. As of right now with your business-

Taylor: Unfortunately.

Lauren: What keeps you up at night?

Taylor: Keeping the trust of people that I work with. I would say I'm more worried about ... The thing that wakes me up in a cold sweat is wow, I told that person I would and I didn't, or I want to fulfill what I set out. I've seen the ability to call somebody and say I need you and they're with me. And that capital, that relationship capital is what it takes to get things done. And so maintaining that quality of trust. Do people believe you when you say you're going to do something? And so I think that relationship building and keeping that is really, really important. And important enough that it's probably the overarching thing that I go wow, I don't want to screw that one up. All the other things, you can recover from it.

Lauren: So good. Taylor, thank you so much for coming in to share your story and what you've learned over the years.

Taylor: Yeah, very welcome.

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