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One Choir Class Away from Becoming a Content Creator

American entrepreneur and educator Peter Hollens didn’t enter the entrepreneurial space the traditional way. A classically trained vocal artist, he’s always been more passionate about a cappella music than the standard topics you’d find in an MBA program. 

Between his web presence on YouTube and Facebook, Peter has over 5 million combined followers and subscribers. Since launching in 2011, his content has accrued more than a billion total views in less than 10 years. Over that time, he has released over 160+ digital singles and continues to drop new music biweekly.

Hollens has collaborated and performed with countless widely-renowned artists. Here is a sampling of the talent he’s worked with:

  • David Archuleta
  • Brian Wilson
  • Jason Mraz
  • Hunter Hayes
  • Gladys Knight
  • Lindsey Stirling
  • George Watsky
  • Jackie Evancho
  • ThePianoGuys

Now, Peter’s career centers on empowering and training the next generation of talent to hone their skills and let their creative careers take flight.

TAKING A PASSION FOR MUSIC ONLINE, AND EMPOWERING CREATORS TO DO THE SAME

Peter Hollens is more than just a content creator; he’s also a respected leader in his industry with a knack for genuine connection. A founding member of the YouTube creator advisory board, he also advises several prestigious companies, including just a few listed below:

  • Patreon 
  • Loudr
  • Tubular 

As a business leader, Peter is the founder of Creator Education, a digital education platform he launched in 2017. Creator Education features a digital series of robust education videos developed by leading media experts. The curriculum is designed to empower aspiring creators with the foundational entrepreneurship skills and strategies they need to turn their passion into a viable career in the digital age. 

AN UNEXPECTED ONE AWAY MOMENT THAT SPARKED A TRUE PASSION

Peter’s introduction to the music world was anything but expected. In fact, his gut reaction at first was to push back on the idea of being a singer, which is not exactly the number one after school curriculum option that came to mind for most teenage boys during his time in high school. 

Peter found encouragement to pursue music, which had always been a secret passion he nurtured in private, in an unlikely stroke of luck. After years of feeling lost and rejected by his peers, with sports being more of a mandatory activity than a genuine source of joy, Peter was in desperate need of some meaning and purpose in his life. One day, his mom caught him singing in the house and encouraged him to sign up for the school choir. 

“When I started singing, people finally saw me for who I later realized I really was. I was no longer just this kid who deserved to get picked on, and who didn’t understand how to really have a true friendship with people. I was very needy, and this gave me everything. It gave me a sense of worth.” 

Peter’s very first music teacher was such a formative influence in his life that he saw a whole new vision for his future: becoming the same kind of influential figure in the lives of other young musicians. He began to nurture a new dream: giving people the same courage he received from his mentors to take the leap and pursue their dreams. 

Today, Peter has made that vision for his future a reality – at scale. His business offers young creators a full suite of resources and training opportunities to segue their passion and talent for music, or any other creative medium, into a real and impactful business venture.

5 LESSONS TO LEARN FROM PETER HOLLENS

1. Stop caring if your passion is “cool” or not. As a teenage boy about to start high school, Peter felt the universal sense of peer pressure we all do that urges us to conform.  Even though he’d always treasured the moments with his family singing along to the radio, he never felt like he could truly dive into this passion until his mom gave him a much-needed push to pursue his dreams. 

2. That feeling you get from a life-changing mentor? Pay it forward! After a lifetime of feeling lost and alone, Peter found his voice and himself in the choral room in his high school. He didn’t do it alone; much of this transformative moment he credits to his first music teacher. If someone in your life believes in you when no one else has and empowers you to develop a skill set, think of how good it will feel to give a younger person in your old shoes that same sense of hope and belonging.

My choral director in high school provided so much, and really meant so much to me. That first music class was everything. I wanted to be able to give that back.”

3. Broaden your definition of what entrepreneurship can be. Even the most niche talents can probably fit within a business context, if you put in the effort to find a way.“Singing” probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of technology or a startup. If you want to merge your true passion and talent with the innovation or even business space, all it takes is an open mind.

4. Don’t let slim odds of success make you lose hope. Music is one of the rarest fields to make a sustainable living in, let alone monetize to such an impressive degree as Peter has. You can always fall back on the practical and “safe” options. For now, try to find – and hold onto ­– the courage to beat the odds.

5. As a creator, never sign an exclusive deal with anyone, ever. In our modern digital landscape, the way we find and fall in love with creative content like music, video, and art is constantly changing. New platforms are invented every single year that make traditional media ever-more obsolete. As Peter notes, the current pandemic has created even more uncertainty. In the face of this instability, the only constant you can really depend on is believing in yourself and your own talent.

RESONATING WITH SIMILAR JOURNEYS ACROSS DIFFERENT VERTICALS

One of the main reasons I’m so inspired by Peter’s story is how similar it is to my own upbringing and path to belonging and standing out on my own terms. We both emerged from broken homes where we felt lost and unaccepted as kids just to come out stronger on the other side, equipped with a bulletproof foundation forged through our new sense of self.

Peter found his path through music, just like I found my own direction to orient my compass through entrepreneurship. Peter really strived to find his place even through the most painful moments of hardship during his childhood. After years of uncertainty, he finally began to find himself during college. Now, he helps others who feel lost accomplish the same journey of self-discovery.

After spending most of his childhood feeling lost and out of place, music gave Peter a unique way to work through, navigate, and process the world in a way that made him feel accepted, understood, and like he finally belonged. 

Everyone desires that sense of belonging in the world. Singing unlocked the door Peter needed to fearlessly walk through to find somewhere he truly belongs. Even more significantly, this is a space where he can make a real difference by helping other people like him find their voice and amplify it for all to hear.  

If you come away with one thing from my conversation with Peter, I hope it’s finding the courage to face this question head-on: 

Are you building your business the right way, like Peter did?

Beyond being just another inspiring story to learn from, Peter is one of my really good friends. I am so proud of how far he’s come, and beyond excited to watch him continue to grow. Check out this episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or follow along on YouTube up top. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I enjoyed hosting it! Remember to subscribe, share, and review!

Transcript

BRYAN WISH: Welcome to the show, Peter! What was your One Away moment?

PETER HOLLENS: My One Away moment was definitely when my mom heard me singing in the shower and forced me to join choir when I started in high school. I fought her tooth and nail. At the time, I definitely felt and believed that “guys didn’t sing,” or at least shouldn’t sing. I thought I would get picked on even further by doing so. 

We ended up making a very good bargain. She let me drop French class if I would take choir instead. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t taken that class. 

BRYAN WISH: What led you to singing in the shower in the first place? Was that a common thing you did? What was it like when you finally were heard?

PETER HOLLENS: As far back as I can remember, whether it was just with my mom in the car or with my grandma when I went to visit her, my family would always sing along with the radio. 

I’m a child of the 80s, and 80s music is pretty awesome. I always felt joyous singing along to the radio. As a teenager, and especially as a male teenager, I just didn’t know that it was something that you really “did.” It wasn’t like we had choir class in middle school or elementary school. It was always in me. I had never known there were opportunities to sing other than in those moments with my family members in the car. That has to be where it came from. 

BRYAN WISH: You said music gave you a sense of belonging. I’d be curious about what you meant. What was your life like before music?

PETER HOLLENS: My life growing up in the small town of Austin, Oregon was difficult for numerous reasons. At home, my father was fighting brain cancer. My mom was always trying to take care of him while also caring for my sister and I and trying to make the family work from a financial standpoint. 

In my family, we didn’t have a lot of humor. At school, when I was socializing with my peers, I think I was a really easy target. I looked funny and I didn’t really understand most peoples’ sense of humor. 

With the few friends that I did have growing up, I really smothered them because I needed them so much. I feel like I had a rough upbringing. I even picked my nose and ate it when I was a little kid, and the teachers and kids would all make fun of me. When you grow up with that type of stigma in a small town, it has a way of following you until you leave it.

It was rough. I remember being extraordinarily depressed. I was as suicidal as I think a little kid could be. I remember I purposely stopped eating, like I thought that would do something. 

Everybody has their own hardships. When I found music and discovered that bands of people sing together, it was like the first time in my life I didn’t feel like I was being judged. I finally had something to do that was more meaningful to me than just track and field or cross-country.

I never felt the way music immediately made me feel when I was doing sports. There’s something incredibly profound about singing with fellow singers who are as passionate about music as you are. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. In that room, I was safe. In that room, I could be myself. 

When I started singing, people finally saw me for who I later realized I really was. I was no longer just this kid who deserved to get picked on. I was more than that kid sitting alone on the quad who didn’t understand how to have true friendships with people. I was very needy, and music gave me everything I needed. It gave me a sense of worth. 

BRYAN WISH: I relate a lot with what you said. Growing up for me, I wouldn’t say it was as hard, but when you grow up with divorce and a broken family, you don’t walk the halls of school with the most confidence, with your chest the most upright because you’re trying to make sense of everything maybe at home. That has an impact on you until you kind of work through it. 

For you, I think music did give you a way to kind of work through, navigate, and maybe even process the world in a way that you felt understood. Everyone desires this sense of belonging in the world and at home. A door to walk into where they know they belong which is really special that you were able to find that after a rough upbringing. 

Let’s go back to that moment when your mom first heard you singing and you started to pursue music. What happened next?

PETER HOLLENS: I fell in love with choir. The competitive side of me, which I’ve always had, really started weaseling its way into the music. I wanted to be the best. For numerous reasons, I think I really needed that validation from my peers. 

In other contexts, outside of that music room, I was always that kid on the quad sitting by himself. I wanted to feel like I had something. I needed that confidence boost, and that feeling of validation from my peers. 

I begged my mom to sign me up for voice lessons so I could get better. It felt like this new skill could really be something If I actually practiced it. Instead of working on my homework, I put all my energy into music. I would just do the bare minimum to get through school. Music became the number one thing that I put my time and energy into. I wanted to get all the solos. I wanted the validation. I needed it. 

The harmony between the competitiveness of who I am and the true, raw emotion and feeling of self-worth and validity that the music gave me and how it made my soul feel, really was a beautiful hybrid. I really started improving. 

Thankfully, I was able to really work on the talent that I was given at birth. I pushed it to its furthest extent on the potential side. Ultimately, I was able to get a full ride to the University of Oregon as a voice performance major, choral music, and music educator. 

My choral director in high school provided so much, and really meant so much to me. That first music class was everything. I wanted to be able to give that back. That was my viewpoint as a 17- or 18-year-old. I wanted to go out and become what my teacher was to me, at the time.  

BRYAN WISH: Was your choir program in high school well known? Or, did you just have someone in that program who was very passionate about developing the members within it to create opportunities for themselves later? 

PETER HOLLENS: It wasn’t one of the top in the state competitively, by any means. There was a competition in chorale music in high school. Sometimes we’d make it state and do well at districts. It’s a little bit arbitrary how they do scores because music is so – it’s not like, “You just passed the finish line at 9.76. You win.” It goes back and forth. 

The one thing that really helped me, when I showed up as a freshman in the lowest choir that you don’t even have to audition for, was coming into the chorale and band room during lunch. It was like my solace from the storm of high school. I’d hear other people singing or I’d show up at the chamber choir, which was mostly juniors and seniors. That was an elite ensemble, and I was like, “I want to be in that.” 

The prospect of joining this more competitive group was always something to look forward to. There were always better singers in the program when I was younger. I looked up to those people, and I wanted to be them. Whether there was true mentorship or not, I knew I wanted to have that experience. I wanted to attain to that level of performance. 

We weren’t the best choral group, but we definitely weren’t the worst. As a 14- and 15-year-old, I thought were the best, though. I thought the world of the other upper classman, and of the other choirs that were more elite ensembles. 

As a chorale singer in high school, you have something called like solo and ensemble which is your chance to compete. I would compete and work on that with my voice teacher and then I’d work on solos in class. Later on, I started working towards the goal of auditioning for the School of Music at the University of Oregon. It was all something to reach for, push towards, and ideally attain. 

BRYAN WISH: You found out in high school that you might just have the knack for music. You could perform. You got a full ride to Oregon. Tell us about that experience performing in college. What were you thinking about then with your life of where you wanted it to take you versus the journey you have traversed down and where it’s led you today?

PETER HOLLENS: Subconsciously In the back of my mind, I always had my mother telling me over and over that I would graduate from college. She probably stood over me many nights for thousands of times telling me that I would someday. 

She and my father were both getting their doctorate when my father came down with brain cancer. They’re very well focused on education. I think I probably scared her to death that I was going to go to college for music. 

She definitely told me numerous times, “How in the world was I going to make a living doing that?” At the time, I was like, “Well, I’m going to be a teacher. Teachers get paid. That’s a real way to make a living.” 

Later on, when I went to University of Oregon and started pursuing a double major, I learned very quickly that my ADHD and my inability to play the piano tremendously posed some limitations. As a chorale director, you basically have to accompany your choir and yourself. That’s almost a prerequisite  to even getting a job. I realized very quickly that the prospect of directing wasn’t necessarily in the cards for me. My left hand just wouldn’t do what I needed it to. 

Sometime around my junior year, I had to drop the double major and then just focus on vocal performance. At the University of Oregon, the School of Music is very classically oriented. All of those professors are highly regimented in the pedagogue of all these decades and centuries old ways of doing things; not necessarily in a way that set you up for success financially. 

When I dropped the major and it was like now I’m going to be an opera singer. I thought, “Dear Lord, help me.” It was very difficult from a passion side. It was difficult for me as an egotistical 19- or 20-year-old to see the validity of this professor teaching me how to do something. 

I always thought to myself, “But I don’t even like your voice. I don’t think you sing well. Why am I going to listen to the way you’re telling me to do this when I think I sound better doing it this way?” You think you know everything at that age. 

A lot of the things we were forced to learn, including many of the pre-reqs, doesn’t lend themselves to being an opera singer. Furthermore, these requirements didn’t even have the prospect to help me actually making a living as a musician in general.

I fought it tooth and nail, but in the back of my head, I always had my mom being like, “You are going to graduate from college.” I didn’t want to let her down or waste all the money she had saved for my college education. 

So, I started an acapella group. I had to start an acapella group. I always wanted to be in an acapella group. Close male harmony, growing up, I fell in love with it in high school. I heard all these college acapella groups from Ivy League Schools just didn’t exist. I needed to be able to balance this classical music that was driving the passion for life and music out of me. 

The music itself and some of the way the teaching I learned from some of the professors. I started this acapella group, and it allowed me to make these beautiful arrangements and orchestrations of pop music. 

I remember our first concert that we sang University of Oregon’s On the Rocks, I sang a solo of Dave Matthew’s Crash into Me which is a pop tune. The response that I got from my peers, at that choir concert that we were allowed to sing at, was so far and away the most addictive dopamine hit that I had ever had. I was like, I’m hooked. I am on this.

I spent most of my college time and education and effort building that acapella group and raising money for it, making albums, and practicing. I took six years to graduate. I changed my major numerous times. I dropped out once to go sing in a professional acapella group on the east coast.

Still, I always had that voice back of my mind of my mom being like, “You promised me, you were going to graduate.” Eventually, I ended up getting that degree. I’d say the degree did nothing for me in terms of getting me toward where I am today. 

The voice lessons from some of the professors, that I took – I went through a lot of professors. I just wanted to get as much as I could from all these different people. You were supposed to stick with one the whole time. I was not having that. That was valuable. The experience of being around other people that sang was the most valuable; like the social aspect of college. 

BRYAN WISH: I look at college in a similar way. I went more for the opportunities it would provide, the relationships. I haven’t seen my degree since I graduated. I think they mailed it home. It’s nowhere on my walls. I’m proud to have graduated from University of Georgia, no doubt, but that piece of paper means something but it’s not my badge of honor. I get it. Education is important. I think we just value education in different ways. We learn on our own on things that matter.

I think there’s a common thread tying everything you’re saying together. The more you tried to fit in, the less you could; in school growing up and you came to college and these choir groups. You had to constantly reinvent your own world. The acapella group was your own outlet for music. You had to create that because the classical instructors; the classical was not who you were. 

For you to kind of belong in the world and stand out, you couldn’t fit in to what was already there. You had to create a basis and ingredients of core skills to make something entirely new which says a lot about you. It’s clearly set the path for you today with all your own videos and musical talents. 

After you got your degree, what was next? Did you have any idea how you were going to monetize your career? Can you give us a time frame of this?

PETER HOLLENS: I attended the University of Oregon from ’99 until 2005. Like I said, there were a few patches where I took a break and changed majors and tried to find myself.

Along the way, the acapella group recorded our first album. I was just so enamored with the studio and the amps and the microphone and the computer. I remember sitting over this engineer who I was paying $85/hour because our first album, we didn’t have the money. We all took out loans. We all asked money from our grandparents. 

I remember sitting over this guy being like, “Man, you’re going too slow. I’m paying you $85-$90/hour, and you’re doing this so slow. Don’t talk to me. Click that button faster.” Not only was I upset about it, but I also had so much money to pay back my family and my grandma.

I was also so enamored with program, how it worked, and the fact we were recording music in my group. All the money that I had saved to go to graduate school to become this teacher. 

Without telling my parents, I took it out. I did a ton of research. I purchased my own recording equipment and I started teaching myself recording engineering. That started working out great.

The transition from where I was then to how I could make a living as an opera singer that would have been nearly impossible otherwise. Basically, I was like, “I love acapella music. I love the studio. Wait, this guy is going too slow. I can do this way better. I’m going to eat my own words and prove it.” And, I did! I started recording acapella groups. The first groups I recorded, I basically did it for free. I taught myself how to do it. Ruined a couple albums.

Later on, from 2004-2009, I was basically recording acapella groups all over the nation. I remember telling you on the phone that one of my favorite colleges I visited was in Athens, Georgia. It was such a cool place. 

I remember spending 10 very hot, moist days in that city in a bedroom that I had turned into a studio for a male acapella groups. We recorded an entire album. They were really nice guys. I fell in love with that downtown area. It was just so cool. 

I flew all over the nation, even to Yale, recording these acapella groups. When I was two years out of college, I was getting paid $50/hour to do something that I loved. I was like, “Wow, I can make a living recording acapella. I love acapella. This is great.” I started my own business and worked as a contractor. I was learning the ropes of how to do so as a sole proprietor. 

I hated trying to make a business off of college kids, who weren’t the most dependable about paying for my services. However, it was a great experience. Along the way, I fell in love with my wife. She also is a professional singer. She actually got a gig while I was out at Yale recording another acapella group that was singing on a cruise ship.

Right before she left on her 8-month cruise – oh my gosh. I was like, “I’m going to lose this woman” – I asked her to marry me. I was like, I’ve got to put a ring on it. This woman has made my life much better. Meeting her accelerated my entire romantic life. At the time, I was like, “guys don’t get married this early.”

BRYAN WISH: How old were you?

PETER HOLLENS: I asked her to marry me when I was 27 and we got married when I was 28. I followed her back on the cruise ships. She was like a triple threat. She does the acting, dancing, singing thing. I went and visited her on the cruise ships. I was like, “I can do this. I can sing like that guy.” I auditioned as well, and they set us up for numerous contracts for the next four years and on and off. 

When I was off the ship, I would record acapella groups. When I was on the ships, I travelled the world singing with my wife and doing Broadway shows. That led me up until 2010. Basically, I’m 30 years old and the producers of The Sing-Off called me to say, “We want you to put some acapella groups together for this TV show.”

At the time, I was like, “That sounds great. Awesome. I’ll totally help you.” My wife put a group together. I put a group together. It was my old group. They didn’t want to do it, but they were coming into the studio one at a time to record and I was very persuasive. I might have persuaded them to also put me in the group and let me come down and audition with them. 

I had this experience on national television singing about four solos as though I was this fraternity singer. They painted us in the strangest light on these reality TV shows. They’re such a joke. They manipulate everything. Hopefully that doesn’t break any contracts, but it’s all fake. 

It was really interesting ,because the entire experience was so great for reasons I would never have assumed going into it.  The comradery was one of the reasons that I loved choir so much in high school was actually the same reason why I loved The Sing-Off. You’re surrounded by all these people that are so passionate and so talented. It really gave me the impetus to turn the mic on myself. I would have never done that otherwise. 

Prior to that experience, making a living as an artist, didn’t seem attainable. To me, it pretty much felt stupid to even hope for. Growing up, I lived with a family that was like, “You’re going to get a normal job and it’s going to be from 9-5 like everyone else.”

Even though I was a sole proprietor and I had created it myself, you’re brainwashed that the only way you can make a living as a musician or as a creator in general, is because someone else tells you that you’re good enough or they open the door where you get your manager, you get the label, and you get the publisher. It’s all a bunch of crap. That gave me the reason to start recording myself. 

I saw these kids doing this music video singing on YouTube. I was like, “This really looks like something here.” If I get these people following me and I make music, this is a real business. Just like I taught myself recording engineering, I started teaching myself video editing. Even though I had four solos on national television, that did nothing to my social presence other than give me the reason to do it in general. It also gave me the inspiration to record myself. 

At the time, my father was on his death bed. He was also asking me to record music. The combination of my dad asking me to do this and having the inspiration from all of my peers on the show gave me the reason to be like, “Okay, maybe I don’t need to make as much money. I can move into the smaller apartment and I’m going to start doing this YouTube thing and we’ll see what happens.” 

I never really thought about it harder than that. I just decided I was going to do it. Luckily, It ended up working. I started releasing music videos and content on the internet in January 2011. I was able to go full-time, and by May of 2012, most of the revenue I was getting was from selling the songs. At the time, this was something that was just being able to be done independently without having to sign a deal with anybody.

 I started slowly learning how to run my own business and how create this digital media company that I now find myself running with 10 employees now. It wasn’t like I was a viral hit. I really am thankful that never happened to me. 

I just started releasing content consistently, creating deadlines for myself, and always pushing the envelope both in terms of how I created it and the value I gave back to my community. 

There’s so much you could ask within that time frame. From about 2012 to gosh, I don’t know when, I can’t even tell you what significant things happened. Oh yeah, made a huge mistake and signed a major record deal when I was three years in. That almost destroyed my life. I’m not going to say which of the major companies, but you can easily Google it. 

The only thing that really did save my life was a website called Patreon, which is a membership site that you get to have this financial stable income and it’s a relationship and a community that you have with your most inner circle. That was the one thing that really made it so that when I had to start all over, even after having a million followers.

BRYAN WISH: It sounds like there’s something here. You built this platform that you were able to monetize off of your work for the first time as an independent artist. Then you signed a record deal which they might have acquired all of the rights. When all of that happened, you lost the ability to monetize on your platform. It sounds like joining Patreon kind of rebirthed your career. Maybe explain that transition?

PETER HOLLENS: To the best of my ability, I don’t necessarily. Once I finally did get out of the deal, thank the Lord, what I’m allowed to and not allowed to say. Let’s just say when I made the decision to sign, I pulled a complete 180.

I was such a supporter of independent music. This was the second major record deal that came along. This time it came along much more aggressively and while we were in the midst of our first pregnancy and my wife was eight months pregnant, and here I am, this father-to-be, asking myself this question night after night.

I thought to myself, “Who am I to turn down this opportunity and this money with a kid on the way?” My entire life, I’ve been taught and brainwashed, truthfully, that the only way to make it in the industry is to do it with a label, with a manager, and all of this was just basically being handed to me and being handed to me in a contract.

At the time, I was also advising Silicon Valley companies. I got advice from people that I trusted and admired who told me they had never seen a deal like this. That this was very progressive.

Even though I was able to negotiate, because I had a lot of power going into the deal due to my fan base and the fact that I already had a revenue stream, I still had  live within the confines of their rules, their infrastructure, and yes, some licensing, it decimated my trajectory. My broomstick was no longer a broomstick. It was an immediate plateau. That was due to the control that these labels have over their artists unfortunately.

I’d like to add, for any creator, or anyone starting off and doing it yourself, please don’t sign an exclusive deal with anyone, ever. It’s never worth it. Like lighting in a bottle. Especially now, within our new world that we’re looking out from this pandemic and everything else that’s happening.

You are the only one to create your own destiny and please, everything that you’ve been taught and brainwashed about, whether you’re a writer and you need a publishing deal, the new world order is one in which the creator of evolution allows you to do what you love for a living and you have the ability to control. 

Don’t give a manager 10-15%. Don’t sign a record deal. You bring on contractors and you get employees and you W-2 them and you give them a salary and let them buy into your dreams and your vision. You lead. I just felt so wronged, so manipulated, and so upset at myself for doing something that my heart told me not to.

I always listen to my gut, but my head was telling me, “You can’t turn this down. This baby is on the way.” It was the biggest mistake of my life and one I would never take back from what I learned and what I now get to teach back to hopefully as many people that will listen. 

BRYAN WISH: Talk to us about this progression. You met Jack, saw Patreon, and then things took off from there or what was next?

PETER HOLLENS: The timeframe of this is interesting. The beginning of Jack Conte entering my life was actually right before I had signed the deal and went through two years of that. I had established that relationship with my audience and my community on Patreon. prior to the deal and also my relationship with Jack and the mentorship that he’s been able to provide to me as a leader, as a human being, and as an entrepreneur and the guidance he’s given me.

His platform alone, from a strictly financial perspective, was the one that gave me the courage to fight my way out of the deal under the terms that I had to agree on and all of that. The thing that has allowed me to blossom and grow outside of that mistake.

For a large part of that, this is because of what he’s been able to provide users. It’s not only from me watching how he runs his company and the ethos that he applies to that, but it’s also the heart that he leads with and the way that he speaks to his employees.

His mentorship that he’s been able to provide me and my career on telling me. He was the reason why I hired my first full-time W-2’d employee and went that direction. His company and his vision for creating it is also the reason why I was able to support paying that person.

The few times that he’s traveled up to Eugene and stayed at my house, given me the mentorship on how to run my business, and provided feedback has been quintessential to the success of where I am today. He has been a huge part of my ability to be running this music accelerator simultaneously to running a small education company that I’m the most passionate about.

I’m more passionate about educating than I am even more so than a singer. I do truly get very tired of my own face and my own voice. The way I create my music is just with my voice. It’s many tracks of me. It’s a lot to deal with. If people think they get tired of looking at themselves in the mirror, gosh, if you just checkout how I run my career and my content, I look at myself more than pretty much anybody. A lot of video creators do but especially in the fact that some of my videos have like 100 versions of my face on there. 

As an advisor to Patreon, I’ve been able to see how he’s grown his company and the way he’s treated his employees and the way that he onboards his employees. No matter how you look at it, the mentorship you get from people you look up to in your life is the most beneficial thing that you can possibly have in the business world. I have been able to have other terrific mentors as well. 

Being in a small city, it’s like the one thing that gives me that incredible energy and excitement on the business side. I’m a creator. I live and breathe, especially now in a bedroom, recording music and you don’t get a lot of chance to get out there and learn. 

If for some reason, I was already on the walk of joining choir and being the singer and so on, my answer would be meeting Jack and everything that he’s given to me whether it’s the friendship, the mentorship, or the company he’s made. 

I joined Patreon the week after they started. I think it was like the 11th creator. I think there’s 75,000 now that they’ve paid out over $1.5 billion to. Maybe I’m inflating it a little. I forget what they just released to the news. I’ve made $1.6 million on that platform since June 2013.

That is the only thing if I were to show you my PNL that has been able to consistently grow. As a creator, it’s the only thing in the totality of Hollens Inc. or One Voice Productions or whatever I call myself that has been able to always be there and consistent. 

As a musician and a creator, in general, you are at the altar of these distribution internet sites. One decision that YouTube makes can erase my entire following on there that can get rid of all my ad revenue; same with Facebook and Twitter and TikTok. You do not own it. 

We own our relationship with our patrons on Patreon and that is his ethos and that is the most important. That’s why it’s so important for any creator to be able to make those relationships happen and those individual relationships happen in as close of a way as possible. 

The relationships, whether it happens through Messenger or Facebook or SMS or actual phone, you need to be able to own those relationships and treat them with such tender white gloved care. That is your entire business. That’s the one thing that Patreon does. It provides the infrastructure for the creator revolution that we find ourselves in. 

My life almost ended emotionally and physically and break down. All of a sudden, I became a father and got squashed creatively and all of my mojo because of the label deal, and then all of a sudden it was like I was given this pillow to land on and then grow from by Patreon and obviously my community; what I call my Hollens Family. 

I do believe that there’s going to be countless companies that are going to be coming up in the same vein as Patreon to support creators like myself. These small businesses that are being created on the backs of the creator revolution is the future and is the one thing that you can count on that you can’t be copied by Amazon and Apple. 

My opinion, it behooves every single person that came to learn how to become a digital entrepreneur because it’s the one thing you can count on. You can count on yourself. You can count on the way that you interact with your audience and the value you provide to them. 

BRYAN WISH: Usually I ask a lot of questions. I’m finding myself enthralled just listening to you and not processing my next question. It’s beautiful what you’re saying. How much of this do you think is luck of these events happening versus you putting yourself in the right place at the right time and threading the needle through the doors that you could kind of bing open?

As nice of a guy that you seem like you are, you seem like you’re ferocious, in a beautiful way, when you want something and you’re going to just do it. It’s that tenacity and belief in yourself that allows you to create your own luck. The fact that Patreon came into your life at the time it did, it seems like this beautiful blessing. How would you look back on that?

PETER HOLLENS: No matter what, I look at that as a sliding scale. My mixing board, I can go from 0 to 100 in regards to reverb or compression. I feel both of those things go hand-in-hand regardless. I would even almost argue anybody’s story and anybody’s journey.

I could give you multiple, specific cases in which technology and timing was quintessential to where I am today and the success that I’ve gotten. One could be the fact that the internet existed. Two could be the fact that I was able to purchase recording equipment at a cost that was just tens of thousands versus hundreds of thousands or millions just a couple decades ago. 

Even to the extent of being able to distribute my own music and create a revenue stream for myself in 2011, right when that first started. This was a few years after Napster basically decimated the entire music industry and now iTunes was coming along and allowing you to purchase digital songs. 

iTunes, for a long time, didn’t allow anyone to do that; like these small companies, they just wouldn’t strike these deals. I found a company by the name of Louder in San Francisco that had just begam distributing content onto the iTunes store. 

This coincided exactly with the same timeline of me releasing my first YouTube videos; within months. You could call that a very similar type of use case for that technology timing, luck side as what Patreon was. 

Truthfully, I was also an advisor of Louder because once I find something that I believe in, I’m so passionately engaged that it’s almost as though these smaller companies would be crazy  not to take me on as an advisor because I believe so much in them and what they provide.

I want to be able to give them the artistic, the creator side of my angle, and then also the business side because I care so deeply about their success. That’s a really cool hybrid. 

Louder, for instance, was able to move forward and actually be acquired my Spotify a year and a half ago and my relationship with the CEO now is he’s like one of my best friends. He showed up at my 40 year old birthday in March. Actually, Jack did too and that like… I was like, oh my God. You’re like the CEO of a billion dollar company or whatever they’re valued at.

I was like, “What are you doing here at my birthday?” There’s all these different use cases that I could say that luck was paramount to my success. I put myself into that scenario by working tirelessly at what I believed in and what I love doing. I’ve never completely overthought where I was heading. 

I just always believed in doing the thing I was doing and I’d see it happening either somebody would be doing something and I wouldn’t be the first at it necessarily, but I’d be immediately second. I’d be like, “That is something that I can do. I’m going to reverse engineer it. I’m going to do it my own way. I’m going to put my own unique spin on it. I’m going to copy this and copy that but then I’m going to put my own content into this way and I’m going to be me.” 

I have been told numerous times that you can’t say no to me. You can, but then you’ll see me do everything in my power, in as nice of way as possible, of breaking down that door. I don’t take no for an answer especially when I truly believe in my heart that it’s the right thing. 

If it isn’t the right thing, then I learn. I fail, and I get better, and I adjust. I feel like growing up in a household where I saw my dad fighting brain cancer and I saw my mom pushing so hard to survive, I feel like I subconsciously picked up on some of these stubborn nuances and this way of living life and being like, “No, that’s not how that’s happening. I will survive.” 

My dad was told three different times that he had six months to live. I was literally conceived because my father was told that this tennis ball size tumor in his head was going to kill him. He said,, “I want to have a son before I die.”

I think growing up, you can’t help but learn from the way that your own parents and your own environment – it shapes you whether you believe it or not. 

I don’t really focus on that, but I know that has to be a huge part of what created me. I truly believe in doing the right thing and learning from those around me and I’ve learned a lot. I believe in bettering myself as much as possible. 

I went into this early on in my career and I thought I had to be some attractive so-n-so and because that’s what I thought I had to be. The more I learned and felt that I needed to be who I am.

I learned from other creators that I should treat one another like collaborators and peers and not competition, the more I just grew into currently what I am. I put myself into position to succeed. I’d be lying if I said there isn’t an incredible amount of luck in the equation. 

BRYAN WISH: There’s no doubt that you’ve reached the accomplishments you have because you’ve been fearless in your approach. That’s beautiful. It says a lot and can inspire so many creators. You care so much about educating people that do the same. You want other people to have a similar journey because you care so much for the creator himself or herself. Where can people find you and follow your music?

PETER HOLLENS: Only become a patron of mine if you want to learn how to steal all my workflow and ideas and make them your own. I am Peter Hollens – my great-grandfather changed our name; so, it’s a weird spelling – on every social media site, there really is even on TikTok. I finally jumped on board about a month ago and I’m already up some followers. I have so much to learn on that platform but most of my content immediately goes to YouTube and it meanders around the internet. 

One Away Podcast
Catherine Kushan

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