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Derek Sivers

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That’s version infinity. First launch version 0.1.

I hear lots of business plans. Most of them are trying to do a ton of things. For example: “It’s a social networking e-commerce portal for live music, where everyone creates a profile to enter all their dates, if they’re a musician or venue, or their available dates if they’re a music fan. Then we connect the fans with artists’ dates. Then we can sell the tickets for the events, and give a digital download preview of the music. After the show, the artist uploads the video from the night,...


Is there such a thing as too much freedom?

I’ve always used freedom as the compass to guide my decisions. We moved a lot when I was a kid. I lived in five states and countries by the time I was 5. I left home at 17 and went off to college as far away as I could. I joined a circus for 10 years. Then I quit my last job in 1992, vowing to make a living making music and never have a job again. A few years after I started my company, I delegated all of my responsibilities, making myself unnecessary to the operations of my company, so...



Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s great TED talk called “Your elusive creative genius”. Absolutely amazing speech. Emotional, universal, insightful, educational, and funny. She comes across so nonchalant, light, and conversational. Effortless. I was there at the conference, and saw it in person. It was the hit of the conference. When the conference was over, she asked me to walk with her back to her hotel, so we had a good 15 minutes to chat. She told me she had finished her new book on New...


How to take a compliment

You would think this would be a basic life skill, but it seems almost nobody knows it, so please spread the word. When someone gives you a compliment, what should you do? Do you say, “What? No! Not at all. That’s ridiculous.” Do you give details of why you disagree? That’s what most people do. They refuse it. They deny it. But think of how inconsiderate that is. It takes courage to give you a compliment. It’s a little vulnerable for someone to admit they like something about you, and...


And if only 1% of those people…

A musician had manufactured 10,000 copies of his CD in anticipation of 10,000 orders that were sure to come through that week. He had bought a quarter-page advertisement in the back of a magazine with a circulation of one million people. He kept saying, “If only one percent of the people reading this magazine buy my CD, that’ll be 10,000 copies! And that’s only one percent!” He bought 10,000 padded mailers and mailing labels. He converted his garage into a big mailing center. He kept...


How I became Ryuichi Sakamoto’s guitarist

In 1991 I was 22 years old, and had moved to New York City to be a professional musician. I had a little home studio, and was doing some random gigs around town. My roommate, Hoover Li, was an assistant engineer at a huge recording studio in midtown. Ryuichi Sakamoto was there recording his new album “Heartbeat”. Ryuichi mentioned to Hoover that he was looking for a guitarist for his next tour of Japan. Manu Katché on drums and Victor Bailey on bass. But no guitarist chosen yet. Hoover...


Sammy Cahn said thank you

In 1990, at the age of 20, I moved to New York City and got a job as the tape room guy for Warner/Chappell Music Publishing. It was a small office, about 12 people, but the door to one room was always closed. I assumed it was unused. One day, after a few months, I hear an old man yelling, “Goddamn it! What’s wrong with this typewriter? Can’t someone make a simple goddamn typewriter work?! What the hell?” He was in the previously-closed room, door open, fighting with the typewriter. I went...


Human Intervention as a Competitive Advantage

The listening algorithm A year after I started CD Baby, when it was still just me in my bedroom, the CEO and VP of a hugely-funded Silicon Valley online music company contacted me, saying they wanted to fly out to New York to meet me. I said OK, and we met a week later for dinner. Dinner was a lot of blah blah blah smalltalk, and I wondered what they really wanted. Then they finally got to the real point: “The reason we flew out to meet you is because we’ve been looking at many music...


Experiments in music and life

One approach to music is to do whatever you want. Absolutely anything goes. But to me, that’s too free. It’s anti-inspiring because having infinite options is overwhelming. Another approach to music is to follow tradition. You stay within the guidelines of a genre or style. But to me, that’s too strict and sad. It was someone else’s innovation. To imitate it now with rules and recipes is just nostalgia. It’s uninspired and dishonest. So my favorite approach to music is in-between. You...


Cross the world four times

Cross the world four times. First, in your teens or 20s, to take it all in. See it all, do it all, and learn. Get involved. Stay up all night talking with strangers, everywhere. Kiss and fall and promise to them all. Make lots of mistakes. Cross the world the first time to fall in love. The second time, in your 30s, to tell everyone what you’ve learned. You’re full of answers, since you’ve done so much. You know how things should be, since you’ve made all your mistakes. You can see the...


My old clothes don’t fit

I was uncomfortable, unhappy, and restless. I didn’t want to meet new people, because I felt I was giving the wrong impression. Something wasn’t right. It took me months to figure out the real problem: My clothes don’t fit anymore! Once I realized this, I had to decide what new clothes would fit the new me. Like many of us, I looked to the style of glamorous and successful people. I should wear what they wear since it works so well for them. I tried on many of their outfits, but nothing...


The art of selfishness

David grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, with five brothers and sisters. When he was 18, he got accepted to a very prestigious art school in Vienna. Vienna! This was his dream come true! He had wanted this so badly, but never thought he’d actually get accepted. This was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But his mother was on her death bed. An undiagnosable illness seemed like it was going to take her at any time. All of her children were visiting her every day. When he...


Doors and windows and what’s real

Like everyone, I live in a little house with many doors and windows. One door goes out to my neighborhood. The local kids come to play with my dog. The elderly neighbors take so long to tell me their stories. I slow down my inner clock to listen. One window looks out at the nature around me. I’m getting to know this one tree really well. I toss a little dog food out there each day, and watch the local birds and rodents come by to eat it. One door is just for my son. This door goes...


Benefits of a daily diary and topic journals

You know those people whose lives are transformed by meditation or yoga or something like that? For me, it’s writing in my diary and journals. It’s made all the difference in the world for my learning, reflecting, and peace of mind. After 20+ years of doing this, here’s what I do and recommend: A daily diary If digital, use only plain text. It’s a standard format not owned by any company. It will be readable in 50 years on devices we haven’t even imagined yet. Don’t use formats that can...


How I got rich on the other hand

I don’t usually talk about money, but a friend asked me what it was like to get rich, and he wanted to know specifics, so I told him my story. I had a day job in midtown Manhattan paying $20K per year — about minimum wage. On weekends I would earn $150 per day performing circus shows for kids, though I’d spend about $50 in bus fare to get to the gigs. I was sharing a three-bedroom apartment with two other roommates in Queens, so our rent was $333 per month each. I made peanut butter...


When in doubt, try the difference

If you’re in doubt about something that’s not in your life, try it. Things are so different in practice versus in theory. The only way to know is to experience it yourself. Try it examples: Err on the side of yes. Try it. If it was a mistake, at least you’ll know first-hand, instead of always wondering. … If you’re in doubt about something that’s in your life already, get rid of it. Not just things, this goes for identities, habits, goals, relationships, technology, and anything else....


Why experts are annoying

When someone becomes an expert at something, you know what else they become? Annoying. At a restaurant, your designer friend complains about the font on the menu, your musician friend complains about the background music, and your manager friend complains about the service. Why? The problem is that their expertise makes them annoyed. They’re trained to spot errors. They’re so aware of what’s wrong. Even worse, they know exactly how to fix it. They learned the techniques to make things...


What you learn by travelling

I wanted to learn about the world, so I went travelling. People in the east are so graceful, I felt like an inconsiderate pig. People up north are so serious, I felt like a lightweight clown. People down south are so laid-back, I had to escape north again. The way we define ourself is all relative to our surroundings, right? However we differ from the people in our home town is how we define ourself. That’s where we shape our self-identity, growing up. Those are our defining traits. But...


PostgreSQL example of self-contained stored procedures

First, see my previous article about PostgreSQL functions at That article gave tiny examples, but no finished working code. This week, I wrote a shopping cart to sell my books directly from my own site. So I took a couple extra hours today to put my code into public view, so anyone can play around with it. See, to browse, download, and try it. It’s a working self-contained shopping cart / store. It’s a very concrete example of using stored procedures...


Mastery school

Here’s an idea: Create a little school somewhere remote. School of what? School of mastery. A place for anyone who wants go focus on a skill of their choice, surrounded by other people doing the same, and a few coaches — experts on the craft of mastery — to offer help and guidance. This uses Salman Khan’s proposal to “flip the classroom” so that the core of learning is done in independent study, using online materials. Since the teachers are all online, the local coaches just help guide...