Image by Dennis Jarvis
Three years ago… I was trapped in a job I no longer loved, struggling to get by on a wage that could no longer support my family. With hindsight, I think I was on the verge of becoming clinically depressed.
Two years ago… everything had changed. I was running my own company and financially stable. But now I was stressed out of my mind, working every hour of the day on projects that that still weren’t where my true passion lies – and with no idea where the next job was coming from.
Just one year ago… even that work had dried up – I’d done almost nothing chargeable for months, and was starting to wonder if it was all a horrible mistake.
But I had a plan.
And plenty of hope.
Today it looks as if my hopes were justified, and the plan is working. I’m generating a healthy income from the Production Advice website I started over four years ago, I’m being well-paid for doing the work I really love, and I’m getting more and more enquiries every day.
And I owe it all to my iPod Touch.
No, really! Here’s why. And some suggestions for using pocket-sized technology, such as an iPod or smartphone, to reinvent your life or business…
Who am I?
I’m a Mastering Engineer. Which means, I take people’s music and prepare the final masters before release, and make the music sound the best it can be as part of the process.
But three years ago, I’d almost completely lost sight of that side of my career.
Somewhere along the way, the interesting side-project of setting up new CD-ROM and DVD authoring services for my employers had become all I ever did. And by the winter of 2009, it was a dead weight around my neck.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the company I’d worked for for over 15 years was sinking fast, and as the work dried up things became more and more polarised – I was stuck with the cookie-cutter corporate DVD work, while my colleagues scrabbled for the remaining music and audio crumbs.
Personal conflicts with the management finally brought things to a head, and I decided I had to leave. But how ?
Strangely enough, my iPod Touch provided the answer.
I’d already started my first blog a couple of years earlier, inspired by a post on Mark’s Wishful Thinking site, in fact. I soon got interested in the art of writing headlines that would draw readers to my posts, and somewhere along the way I signed up to Twitter – also at Mark’s suggestion. But it wasn’t till the iPod arrived that everything started to click.
Here are four crucial ways I’ve used it to build my new business and change my life for the better – and how you could use the same principles in your life and business.
1. Make valuable connections
I got the iPod Touch for the sexy new interface, for the web browser and of course for listening to music – but to my surprise, the thing I really ended up using most for was Twitter.
I’d never expected an iPod to be a communications device, but that’s exactly what it was. The ability to read and post anywhere – in an armchair, while eating breakfast, waiting for masters to run at work – without being stuck in front of a desk – transformed the way I used the new service, and that eventually transformed my life.
Through Twitter I discovered new sites like Copyblogger and Lateral Action. It would be so cool, I daydreamed, if I could make money from my website in the way they did – but, I thought, I was in completely the wrong field… (I was wrong !).
It was more than just casual contacts I made, though – the great thing about social networking is that anyone can talk to anyone, if they like.
I set up Dynamic Range Day in 2010, after reading blog posts by Derek Sivers and Seth Godin – both of whom I discovered through Twitter (of course). But when I announced the second event the following year, it was the managing director of Solid State Logic who contacted me via Twitter to offer support. In fact, they donated a mixing desk worth thousands of pounds as the first prize in a competition to help publicise it and we’ve never looked back.
I’ve been invited to write for magazines and do interviews via Twitter, and I meet new clients. Bizarrely, I even ended up in an Imogen Heap music video.
And most recently I’ve started running a regular live “Q&A” session answering people’s questions about mastering, using the #masteringQT hashtag. Every time I do it, a flurry of new enquiries always follows. The beauty of this strategy is that it’s simple and free – you could try it in your area of expertise.
Takeaway: Connecting and sharing via social media is far more than a simple distraction – never underestimate the opportunity it offers you, especially in a hand-held device that lets you reach the world wherever you are.
2. Listen and learn
If you’ve tried setting up on your own, or making your own art you’ll already how much there is to learn and how little time there is to learn it. Especially by reading. The iPod can help you overcome this challenge.
I’ve always been good at mentally processing audio, including speech as well as music. So while I don’t have time to sit down and read much these days, I listen to books constantly – while I Photoshop, while I cook, while I drive, walk the dog…
Not just books, either. The Third Tribe website has been an important part of building my online business, and all their teaching materials are all available in downloadable audio form.
And of course there are great apps on the iPod for reading and research too – the Kindle and iBook apps but more importantly the wonderful Instapaper, creating an instant archive of useful and interesting articles, saved for offline reading with a single finger-tap.
Takeaway: Figure out how you learn best – text, audio or video – and take advantage of 21st Century tech to use that method – when it fits best into your schedule.
3. Spark your imagination
They say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and it’s true. Mark is right – a key element to creating great work is being open to a wide range of inspiring influences. Luckily the iPod can provide that, too.
In fact I almost get more entertainment and inspiration than I can handle, from a combination of social media, blog posts and radio shows like Front Row or the Infinite Monkey Cage. Spotify feeds my desire for new music, or I can listen to iPlayer Radio. There’s even an app for Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies!
Best of all is a superb free application called Flipboard. It pulls all kinds of information together in an easy-to-use, great-looking interface – magazines, newspapers, Google Reader and Twitter, all jumbled up into a fascinating, personalised flow of information.
Takeaway: Be open to serendipity and new ideas. Allow a little time every day for simply playing with your expensive, geeky toys – look for connections and take note of the good stuff you find.
4. Make things on the move
You might think an iPod is too small to use for actually doing work on – but you’d be wrong.
The key weapon in my own arsenal is a mind-mapping app called iThoughts HD – I use it to brainstorm, plan blog posts, structure courses and plan new products. The touch-screen interface is perfect for mind-mapping, I actually prefer to use it this way than on a desktop with a mouse !
Another workhorse is Evernote – a kind of auto-syncing notepad on steroids, which stops you ever forgoting a great idea, and even allows you to do some quick writing work, at a pinch.
Crucially, both these apps automatically sync via the cloud, meaning everything is always up-to-date, even when moving from one device to another.
Takeaway: Even a device you can keep in your pocket can be used for serious on-the-go productivity.
Last night an iPod changed my life
So why did I write this post ?
There’s a quote doing the rounds on Twitter in the last week that goes something like this:
Imagine talking to someone form the 1950s. How would they react if you told them you had a device in your pocket that could instantly connect you with almost anyone, and access the sum total of all human knowledge ? But that you use it to look at pictures of cats, and argue with people you don’t know ?
I bought my first iPod Touch using money my grandfather left me when he died – and I don’t think my parents really approved of that choice. But the truth is that without it, I might not be where I am today. This tiny little device has been both a tool and a catalyst for the move into a whole new life for me and my family – and that they really do approve of, I’m sure. And I know my grandfather would have, too.
The same could be true for you.
If you’re stuck in a dead-end job, or struggling with a new venture you’re trying to get off the ground, or just need some fun, new connections and inspiration – maybe all you need to do is get an iPod!
I’m joking. Of course it doesn’t really have to be an Apple device – any modern smart-phone can do everything I’ve mentioned in this post, these days.
When I first got into blogging and Twitter I was convinced I was too late, that I’d missed the boat, that it was all over… but it’s still only just beginning. We’re right at the start of a modern equivalent of the industrial revolution, or the invention of the printing press – and devices like the iPod are just the tip of the iceberg.
An iceberg we can hold in the palm of our hand.
Use it – start connecting, now.
Over to you
How are you using an iPod or smartphone as a creative or business tool?
Do you find it a benefit, or yet another distraction?
Have you made any powerful or inspiring connections via social media?
About the author: Ian Shepherd is a mastering engineer, Blu-ray/DVD author and musician. He runs Mastering Media, dedicated to making things look and sound great, and the Production Advice website where he helps people unlock the potential of their music. He is passionately opposed to the so-called CD ‘Loudness Wars’, and in 2010 founded Dynamic Range Day to help raise awareness of the issue.