This was originally written as a talk I did for M for Montreal last year that I’ve now adapted in to a blog post!
A familiar old tune has been repeating in my head lately… one that I’m sure we’ve all been trying to forget…”What’s the Difference Between Me and You?” Dr. Dre feat. Eminem & XZibit. Ya, we’re going to go there.
I’ve been channelling Eminem lately, while running, working, chilling, you know just truly embracing Marshall Mathers, maybe he’s become my spirit animal?
If you know me, which lots of you do, you know how relentless I can be… and while many people create reasons not to be happy, not to take a huge risk, not to shake things up if they are already going ok, not to disrupt or change things, I refuse to acknowledge those road blocks. All it takes is one good reason to try something new, mess everything up in a good way, and find yourself on a whole new plain of success and happiness.
Of course the key element here is figuring out what you want out of life. Now, that’s a bit of a bitch isn’t it? The only real way around that one is good old trial and error, in my experience.
When I was 12 years old I knew I wanted to work in the music industry. I wanted to do whatever it took to be closer to artists creating art. And so at the time the easiest entry point I saw was to start freelance writing. Something a 13-year-old with an obsession to emo probably had no right doing. But hey, no one knew how old I was and I was persistent as heck. My first writing job was for Bedlam Society (an earlier carnation of Dine Alone) and my first interviews were with Bedouin Soundclash and Motion City Soundtrack. The latter one my parents had to drive me from the suburbs in Barrie, Ontario to Toronto to attend and they wouldn’t leave me in the room alone to do the interview. So cool, right?
By the time I was 17 I had gotten somewhat ok at writing reviews and interviewing bands. I was now freelance writing for Exclaim! and Clash Magazine. I moved to Toronto and started a degree in journalism at Ryerson University, and started an internship at Wind-Up Records Canada where I soon landed a job.
Around this time I started a zine called Audio Blood, named after my favourite song by Oakland, California pop punk band The Matches. When the internet became a thing, I had my friend Maria develop a website for me with $200 dollars from the money I made working part time at Subway Sandwiches in high school.
Audioblood.com was launched. The premise was easy – community first. We built a community that extended far past my small roots in Barrie and then Toronto. We had people sending in reviews and pictures, poetry, and essays from around North America. We had 100 contributors and these people became my dearest friends, mentors, many of them who I still work with today.
After my short-lived tenure at Ryerson, a stint at a music PR company, a merch company, and a jaunt across the country in a tour van – I found myself back on home soil and feeling like I needed a new challenge. So here’s where things get a bit 8 Mile so to speak or was Dre would say, “I act on what I feel and never deal wit emotions… I’m used to livin’ big dog style and straight coastin'”
I was 18. I had $500 dollars in my bank account. Why not start my own company? Why not be my own boss? So there I was drafting a business plan, and by that I mean, staying up all night every night scribbling all my wild ideas in a notebook.
January 2009, Audio Blood was reborn as a music PR and marketing company. To say I’ve grown up with this company is an understatement. Running this baby has been the hardest thing I’ve ever committed to. But it’s also been the only thing I’ve truly committed to on this level and for it I would do anything.
In year one we sold out the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern for our anniversary party. In year 2 we threw parties at the CN Tower with Joel Plaskett and Hollerado. In Year 3 we landed some significant contracts with PledgeMusic, Google Play, Canadian Music Week, M for MTL and more. Year 4 I got to travel the world speaking at conferences, we expanded our team to 12 staff members and moved our office into a beautiful loft space. Year 5 the Globe and Mail called me a “music mogul” – very weird. In Year 6, we rebranded the company from Audio Blood to AB Co., we redefined our services to be focused on digital, lifestyle, and communications marketing! And I moved to NYC to open our US offices. Oh and I get to sit here and lament about Eminem and doing whatever you truly want to in your life cause I am living proof that if you fight like hell, find balance, are a good and honest business person – you can probably have it all.
And I’ll fill you in on another little secret, having it all, or whatever that means, is truly a state of mind not a destination. So you might very well already be there. It sometimes is just hard to let ourselves notice.
Sure, there are concessions and as the company grows larger I can’t just wake up every day, blast some Dre, and tell everyone to get outta’ my way. You have to be strategic, you have to consider all the angles, and then you can proceed with caution. But always with a strong sense of purpose and leadership. Always guided by what is best for my clients and my team.
This year the move to NYC was prompted by a trip I took to Iceland in February with my best friend. It was my first true vacation as an adult. As I stood on the black sand beach and looked down at glaciers the size of small cities – I saw things in perspective. It occurred to me how very small I am in a world of places I want to go and see. And if I wanted to do that I would have to work even harder and with more focus than I had been up to this point. And I’ve been working pretty damn hard.
I realized I was truly at the start of my long career in music. It became very clear that the worst thing I could do is get comfortable. We need to grow bigger and stronger, the company, and myself as an individual. So I dreamt up the rebrand and I committed to myself that last year was going to be there year that I change everything for the better. I pushed past comfort zones and I waltzed in to new terrain.
In NY they make decisions with their wallets, the music industry resembles the stock market more than anywhere I’ve ever seen. It’s much more cut throat. That’s a change for me, one who has made most decisions with my heart and likely always will. But I’ve learned there needs to be a balance. If I want to grow and make a larger impact for artists and the music community I need my reach to be wider. Money and success will afford me such privileges. So I’ve started to find balance between being a cut throat business lady and a big hearted hippy looking out for the community. I’ll be honest it’s tricky. Every day there are decisions that push me to dig deep within myself and question how I will approach and resolve them. But I continue to fight through and not let up.
So whats the difference between me and you? Nothing! I have insecurities, I have bad days, I have stresses and responsibilities. I choose to fight through them and find a way despite all odds to do what it is that makes me happy every day and what brings good to the community. There is literally zero difference between me and you. As you would have learned if you watched 8 Mile the whole way through … It’s your choice. Are you going to be the Eminem in this situation or make like XZibit and fade away? Whatever happened to that guy?
Haters are gonna hate of course. That’s what they do. They told me I was too young, inexperienced, and in retrospect they were pretty on point in some ways. So I put my head down. I worked my butt off. Every day I learnt something new. I read, I found new mentors, I asked a million questions. I didn’t get discouraged and I stayed focused on the long game. I slowly won over new clients and the industry one by one. I learned how to make mistakes. I slowly learned how to manage a team and get the best out of them every day. How to truly find a life balance and bring your best ideas to the table every day. How to manage my inbox so that it didn’t run my life. I did what i wanted to, and still do, on my terms.
As I evolve alongside the company, I never for a moment take it for granted -my hard working team, my generous and brilliant clients. I would have nothing without them. I always say actions speak louder, just go and do whatever it is you are longing to do. And when you do, do it whole heartedly and fight for it like you’ve never fought before.
Sari Delmar is the Founder and CEO of AB Co., a North American digital, lifestyle, and communications agency that specializes in music programs and events. Sari has spoken at international conferences (Big Sound, Canadian Music Week), sits on the Toronto Music Advisory Council and the Women in Music Canada board, and was profiled in the Globe and Mail Small business column (“from Music Fan to Music mogul”) in 2014. In 2015, Sari was awarded with an International Women Achievers’ Award in the Entertainment category and named as a Rising Star in ProfitGuide and Chatelaine’s Top 100 Canadian Female Entrepreneurs list. Learn more about the work AB does at: http://WeAreAB.co.