How Billy Joel Started Writing Again (plus a major content fix)

Amazing Charity Concert

Hey there, music lovers. Get ready for an unforgettable experience at Vocal Chords – a live event in Lakewood, Ohio. Join us on March 9th at The Brothers Lounge for a collection of Cleveland’s most dynamic bands…all supporting the Orange Effect Foundation (dedicated to supporting families with kids that need speech therapy or devices).

Bands scheduled to perform include:

  • Faith & Whiskey
  • Lakeside Soul
  • Strobe Light Casualties
  • The Westies
  • Whiskey Throttle
  • Half Craic’d

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How Billy Joel Started Writing Again

Billy Joel has been in the news a lot recently.

Now I love all types of music, but I’ve probably listened to more Billy Joel than any other artist. I’ve seen him three times in concert, most recently at Madison Square Garden with my oldest. His album “Glass Houses” was instrumental in helping me get through junior high. And I believe that “The Stranger” is the best album of all time.

A few weeks ago, Billy released his first single in 30 years, called “Turn the Lights Back On.”

He has a new tour, with a new song, with new featured headliners including Sting and Rod Stewart.

Why the change Billy? What happened?

In a recent interview for the 2024 Grammy Awards, they asked Billy just that.

“Billy, why did you stop writing?”

Billy said, “I didn’t want to. I kind of suffer with songwriting.”

He didn’t enjoy the process anymore. And that was that.

A few years back, Grammy-nominated songwriter Freddy Wexler had the opportunity to meet Billy for a quick lunch. Billy actually took part of his meal to go because he wanted the meeting to be short.

The 10-minute lunch turned into two and a half hours.

The two became friends and began to talk more and more about song writing. Freddy gave Billy a new enthusiasm over writing. A different process. A new approach.

Billy said, “The whole point of doing what I was doing was because it was so much fun to do. I lost that after a while. Freddy got me to find the joy in it again.”

From myself and Billy Joel fans all over the world, thank you Freddy.

Here’s the learning —-> One of the greatest writers of our time began to hate the writing process.

It happens. We get into content ruts. We’re blocked. We lose the joy.

When this happens, we need to change the process. That process change almost always happens by interacting with other writers and creators.

I’ve found this myself. There was about a year when I stopped having meetings with other writers and creators. Over that period, the well dried up. I don’t know if there is a one-to-one correlation with that happening, but it happened. Obviously, that was the case for Billy Joel.

Like golfers need other golfers, physicists need to argue with other physicists, artists need to commune with other artists. Did you know that Ernest Hemingway regularly hung out with authors and artists like Gertrude Stein, Masson, Gris and Picasso?

🔶 Make it a point in 2024 to get a regular group of creatives like yourself together. If you podcast, meet with podcasters. Authors meet with authors. Bloggers with bloggers. (hint: CEX works as well)

It’s the human part of the process that we sometimes forget to nurture as content creators.

And if you didn’t see the 2024 Grammy Awards this year, they did a nice two-minute overview of Billy’s return (with Freddy). Take a look.

90 Percent of Creators Need This Fix

A few weeks back I gave a presentation on the origin story of Joe Pulizzi’s content business. It’s probably my favorite kind of talk to give because I just tell my story. I don’t have to share someone else’s examples or case studies, or share theories about marketing. I just state what is and what has been.

If you’d like to see the PowerPoint, here you go.

The Content Tilt

I spent a good amount of time during the presentation on the content tilt of Content Marketing Institute. This was back in 2011/2012. Content marketing was taking off and we were well positioned. But our audience were ALL marketers and a small company (at the time) called Hubspot was encroaching in on our space. Even though they called it inbound marketing, it was the same concept. Create consistently valuable information to a target audience over time, build an audience, and see that audience’s behavior change over time. Whala, business from content.

By the middle part of 2012, I couldn’t honestly answer affirmative to “Can we be the leading expert in our informational area to our target audience of marketers?” Hubspot was going to eat us for lunch. They had almost unlimited resources (as a growing SaaS business) to throw at content creation and content marketing education.

I remember many chats with Robert Rose, who was, and still is, chief strategist for CMI, about my concerns. He agreed with me. Then I talked to our chief editor Michele Linn. She agreed as well. We brainstormed.

We made the decision to change the target audience from all marketers to just enterprise marketers. Basically that meant targeting marketing professionals at mid-sized to large companies dealing with complex content issues, different political drivers, multiple buy-in issues and a bunch of other strategies that SMB marketers wouldn’t deal with. We believed we could serve THIS audience better than anyone else.

And it worked. It worked incredibly well. We let Hubspot and about 100 other companies take on the SMB marketer and content marketing. We wanted enterprise.

This meant more complex content for us to create. More challenging, higher-level research, and different kinds of workshops, but it also meant dealing with larger budgets and bigger teams, which fed perfectly into our key revenue driver, the Content Marketing World event.

The TLDR – my wife and I sold CMI for cash in 2016 and we found our FU position.

The 90 Percent

Now, back to my presentation. When I talked about making this move, I had to be honest with the audience present. I said that 90 percent of the people in the room did not have a content tilt that could be profitable for them. That 90 percent of them could not say, if they did the work consistently over time, that they could be the leading educational resource for that group of people.

They were living in a sea of similar content. Creating more and more content was ultimately, and sadly, a waste of time.

I don’t enjoy saying these things. It hurts my heart just a little bit to have to be so honest with content creators who I know are not going to make it unless they make a change with their content tilt.

If you are like the audience of content creators I just talked to, you most likely do not have a hook, a differentiation, that sets you a part to break through all that clutter out there and build an audience. It’s okay…you are not along, but you need to fix this.

If this is you, here are some questions to start with.

Of all the things you create content around, what resonates the most? Why does it? Where do you get the most feedback? What gets your audience excited?

Are people asking you for things that you aren’t providing? Why not? Is there an opportunity?

There are many areas that could use attention. It could be your core audience. Maybe it’s the wrong one, or not niche enough. Maybe it’s the topic. Could be the wrong one or not niche enough? It could be how you create and deliver the content? It could be the wrong platform? Maybe you are on too many platforms and not focusing enough one being great at one. My book Content Inc. goes into detail on all this.

Being a content entrepreneur is a huge opportunity. It’s also difficult as hell, so let’s work these things out.

Btw, at Content Entrepreneur Expo we’ll have multiple classes on fixing these issues. So if this is you, go sign up. If your content model needs fixing, don’t keep working a problem that can’t be fixed by just creating more content.

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