In this interview, Jason Belisha discusses why it's important to remember that 'social' comes before 'media.'
You wear a several hats: you're in a few different bands, you’re a voice over artist, and you’ve founded an accessories design company. I’d like to first talk to you about your band, Tiny Scissors. What stage in your career would you define yourself to be in?
In my career in general? I’m a baby. I’ve experimented with so many different professions in the past (photography, furniture design, fabrication, etc.) and I only just finally broke it down [to] four main pillars that seem viable and financially/emotionally economical. I’m only 27, and I’ve always planned to thrive in my 30’s and 40’s so [that] I never feel too pressured. I’m right on track.
You describe Tiny Scissors’ sound as “math rock,” which I had to Google. What goes into developing a band’s sound? Is it more referencing the influences you grew up with, or testing the cultural waters to see audience response?
I wouldn’t describe a sound by naming a genre. Rather, I describe it using sonic and compositional characteristics. The current state of math rock is typically breezy and soft, with full 3-5 piece instrumentation and a vocalist. But Tiny Scissors is more of a subjective taste. We generally describe it as “loud, fast, weird” or “minimalist maximalist.” It attracts (and repels) such a variety of listeners. We’re expecting a more “cult” type of following. It’s just too weird to be considered popular music.
We are trying to write the music that we want to hear. Fill a void, bridge a gap... solve a problem in a way. Sure, we have influences—nobody doesn’t—but instead of writing a new riff that “sounds like Hella or Converge,” we write first and analyze later. Perhaps months later I’ll quip, “Oh damn, I just realized I got that drum fill from Jaga Jazzist.”
In other mediums, artists may have portfolio reviews or critique sessions to garner feedback and hone in on their craft, but music is a different beast. Has performing helped you grow as an artist? Is audience feedback integrated into your artistic development?
For Tiny Scissors, as expected, 80% of people either hate it or don’t understand it and 20% fall in love with it, and that’s perfect. The demographic is largely undefined. We never know who will walk up or who will walk out. We’ve heard hardcore purists say it’s not their thing, but just last weekend we had some art connoisseurs and a SCAD professor buy us drinks and ask tons of questions. We love it.
How’s the scene in Atlanta? When people think of Atlanta, it’s generally for the hip hop and rap culture.
The best part of Atlanta is that it doesn’t quite know what it is yet. It’s always shifting, and we don’t have many defined pastimes, so it’s an excellent brewing pot for new ideas. For example, there’s New York-style music and fashion [and] LA-style music and fashion, but what comes to mind when you think of “Atlanta style”? Rap and hip hop? Maybe. But go to EAV on a Saturday night for a rap show and you’ll rub shoulders with a hundred different crowds. And we’re all friends and it’s so rad. Nobody dominates.
Let’s shift the focus to SHMEER Co., which is the company you founded that makes wallets by upcycling socks. Did your experiences in bands and as a voice over artist provide you with any insights on how to build the SHMEER Co. brand? Or did you feel you were going in blind?
I’m pretty acclimated to presenting things to the public, either when playing live music or showing my artwork. So, just as I write music that doesn’t exist yet, I designed a product that I actually needed and couldn’t find—an expandable wallet that protects business cards. As far as branding, at first I was trying “safer” creative, modeled after what I saw other products do, just to get used to the game. But now that I’m getting comfortable, I’ll be creating content that I would want to see, appealing more particularly to various subcultures.
I tried to design the product and brand with a totally unisex, non-age-defined aesthetic, and when I look at my analytics on Google and social, I see that I’ve done that. My most responsive demographic is 50/50 male/female and aged 18-45. This affords a huge range of freedom when creating content that should appeal to different kinds of people and the freedom to confidently enter a huge range of markets. SHMEER Co. is a party and everyone is invited.
Huh, I feel that it’s Marketing 101 to rigidly define a target audience [so] as to create target-specific ads. But you’re saying that you want to [cast] a wide net at your target audience. How is that working in respect to your advertising approach?
I'm still testing different kinds of material. The benefit of having the attention of a huge range of demographics is that anything is worth a try. It's still a new company and there is no reason to pigeonhole anyone yet. I can tap into subtleties that appeal to different crowds on a post-by-post basis.
They say your "brand" is not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you when you're not in the room. So I'll be testing content to create a symbiotic relationship with my following until I finally understand what they want to see, then deliver.
I’m regularly targeted by companies attempting to appeal to the ethically conscious or Millennials, if not both. And I’m usually left wondering, what is the difference? Why do I need Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Sun Basket; what are they doing so differently from each other that there needs to be three? So, why SHMEER Co.? What’s so different, or what did you feel was lacking, that you needed to enter this market?
If those brands can’t explain [what differentiates them] to you through copy and content, maybe they’re all actually homogeneous. Maybe they’re all doing essentially the same thing, knowing that eventually one will get the right celebrity endorsement and win out over the others. Variety is good for the economy, I guess, but the monotony makes it redundant because we don’t learn anything from it.
Last year, when I decided to look for a new wallet to protect my business cards, I saw that the space was super-competitive. It’s crazy right now: wallet shoot-outs on YouTube, websites like Everyday Carry and Carryology dedicated to those kinds of products. And people get wild, evangelizing their favorite wallets and forking out upwards of $120 for some brands. But in my search, not only were the designs not hitting the mark, but the branding was so bland, whitewashed, and male-centric, with beefy-sounding names and tactical materials like titanium and carbon fiber. None of the options I found solved my problem, or felt warm and inviting. I think that my light-duty design and charmingly dorky branding will appeal to everyone that the
industry has omitted. A slim wallet for the rest of us, ya know? You don’t have to be a crossbow hunter or a corporate type to rock a SHMEER.
If you look at the Instagrams of Tiny Scissors, The Voiceover Beard, and SHMEER Co., they look very different from another other and have notably different numbers of followers. What have you learned in the realm of social media that has worked in building your audience? And what’s turned out to not be worth the time? Have certain things worked better for one project than another?
I chose Instagram as the home-base social platform for SHMEER Co. and The Voiceover Beard [TVOB] based on the tools, aesthetics, and user base. For TVOB, the 60-second video limit provides more than enough time to showcase my voice and sense of humor in vignette-style iterations. Also, there are a ton of ad agencies and productions companies on IG (those who hire VO’s), but all of the voiceover artists are on Twitter for some reason, [even though its] popularity is declining. IG is also great for brands because I get to showcase the product in individual photographs as well as provide an overarching aesthetic when scrolling through the feed. The fast pace of the platform lets brands describe a lot in a little bit of space to appeal to people’s notoriously shortened attention spans.
SHMEER Co. has more followers now because I’ve been focusing a lot more on it, but interestingly, TVOB hit the 100 and 500 follower mark much, much faster than SHMEER Co. I think it’s because it’s not directly trying to sell anything, just providing entertainment. Tiny Scissors lives more on Facebook. I don’t think there is an optimal social network for bands yet. It’s actually a huge problem. Facebook and Instagram don’t have embedded players like (dare I say) Myspace did. Myspace was perfect for bands. Soundcloud includes podcasts, audiobooks and other arbitrary stuff; I haven’t explored it fully yet, but it still seems a bit scattered. I know Bandcamp is expanding, so I’m keeping my eye on it. I hope it evolves into a legit social network.
Right, but what does that mean to spend more time on social media? Has your focus been on building stronger content? And even then, having interesting content doesn’t inherently generate a following.
One of the most valuable moves to make on a social platform that you're trying to grow is to comment [with] something relevant on a follower's photo. To a fan, nothing beats that sense of individual attention. It's like a handwritten letter—they value it because they know you took the time and the mental energy to show them you really want them around. An account automaton can't replicate it.
Interesting content does grow a following, but it doesn't necessarily sell a product. People follow lifestyle brands, even if what they sell is irrelevant, just because their photos look good enough to adorn their feed, like framed pictures in their foyer at home. What sells a product are third- party recommendations, especially from a friend or micro-influencer. Content is all that matter [for a] viral phenomenon because the first half-second of that video is all people care about, regardless of any laborious effort you make to connect with your crowd.
What’s next for you, Tiny Scissors, and SHMEER Co.?
Tiny Scissors is going back in the studio for another three-song EP very soon, and we’re planning a small regional tour in January with local [band] Things Amazing. My other band, TORO, is worth keeping an eye on too.
SHMEER Co is ironing out the kinks in manufacturing, scaling, and automating one step at a time. We’re negotiating retail deals with some local shops and we’ll have booths at festivals whenever possible. Our first event [was in] November at a food drive in Atlanta called COLLECT. But it [was] so much more than that—live art, bike race, vortex cannon...You can find them on IG @collectatlanta.