Keep Going

May 7, 2014 | By Nathan Heleine, Cofounder & Chief Creative Officer

One thousand people have seen Unsung, and this thrills me. I’m not naive. I understand how online traction is conventionally measured.

Consider this: our hunger for big, fast numbers has become the digital world’s number one killer, its heart attack. Why? Because every day, the plug is pulled on wonderful online experiences, either through a full shutdown (death) or acquisition (akin to death) when the people who created these experiences feel that they just don’t have the numbers to stay the course. You don’t always need numbers, though, not right away. What you need is patience and discipline by the mile. And yet, we seem to have taken to counting by the inch.

Our feeds are filled with the pleas of impatient makers of all shapes and sizes (from A to Zuckerberg) who over-promote and hack at the sky for numbers, when we might instead focus on more meaningful metrics, such as: did someone go out of their way this week to tell you that the thing you made has helped them, or even changed them? Or here’s another good metric: is your heart beating?

In some cases, admittedly, traction is a very real problem. Especially when the life of the thing and the life of its maker depend on financial transactions. Still though, I call bullshit on the pervasive frames of reference for lasting viability in the digital age – the ones that say go big or go home, right now! Their effect: we move too quickly, we lose true north, and we’re left standing in an enormously cold space, shouting to each other about ourselves. The loudest shouters might win the day, but the rest of us will have a heart attack someday soon.

So I’m thrilled by one thousand viewers. We’re promoting Unsung slowly and carefully to those who know us well. I don’t really even think there’s much to fuss about until we’ve assembled a significant collection of portraits and stories. My only metric now is a one-to-one metric: did the person featured in each episode share their story honestly? Were they moved by the experience? And did we do them justice by telling their story well?

After a decade spent self-publishing digital works and watching the numbers, I’m re-training myself towards some new & old frames of reference for success:

  • My maternal grandparents lived in the same farmhouse in Illinois for 58 years, putting five children through college at a time and place in which this was exceptional.
  • Some of the most productive and rewarding years of my life were spent creating strange, intricate music and then performing that music for rooms filled with a few dozen people, often less.
  • My favorite creations (across all mediums) are the quiet ones. And when they become too loud, the magic slips away through a window in the back of the house.
  • My heart rate goes through the roof when I screen new material for the girl I love, but only when I know that I put myself into the thing, fully.
  • Walt Whitman spent his entire life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass.
  • Life is too short to stop working on something that you believe in because warped market forces shaped by inhumane methodologies are telling you that it’s time to move on.

I hope you’ll keep working on the things that matter to you for as long as they take to fully bloom. Only you can decide when that moment comes. Meanwhile, thanks for watching Unsung.