Thursday, May 08, 2008

Reactions, Blogging, and Misty Mountain Hops

By Pauly
New York City

I read a post of Wil's blog yesterday titled yet another post about writing . . . and stuff.

Sometimes you'll read something that echoes the exact feelings mustering around inside your head. Sometimes, you know exactly what some one is trying to convey. Let's toss the cliche "on the same page" into the mix because that's what I felt when I read the post last night.

Wil spoke a bit about poker and luck and how that translated into his success as a writer. I totally got it. Fortunate for me, I met Wil through poker and we worked together while we covered the 2006 WSOP for Poker Stars Blog. Otis was our boss and that was one of my favorite assignments that I ever had.

Over the last couple of years, I met a couple of people through poker that have achieved a level of success within that industry or in a fringe industry or something completely different. Out of the dozens or so highly successful I met, there were a few qualities that each of them possessed. One specific quality was self-sacrifice and the willingness to work hard at the expense of their own enjoyment. But here's the secret... more often than not, those successful people most of the time didn't view as what they did as work because they enjoyed it so much that they didn't think they were wasting away toiling at the grind. They were doing something they genuinely loved and in the end the results were remarkable.

Sometimes you can trick yourself into enjoying work by focusing on the financial aspect. The attitude of "I'm shoveling shit because I'll get a fat paycheck and then I can buy cool stuff" only lasts a short while until reality sinks in. I look at myself three years ago and I worked at a frenzied pace. Perhaps I didn't know any better and I was hungry to write and travel and to meet new people. I got all of that through poker. In some regards, I worked with less pressure, but I never really felt as though I was running ragged because I was enjoying every minute of my life.

A couple of things happened about two years ago. The honeymoon with poker came to an abrupt halt and the dark side of living in Las Vegas and all the negative aspects of working in the gambling and entertainment industry had become exposed. I knew it was an unhealthy place for me to be especially since I'm prone to making self-destructive mistakes and I have several problems with degenerate gambling and self-medicating... two personal issues which could have lead to my downfall in Las Vegas. But by that point I was earning so much money with my career and websites that it was impossible to get out. That's I accepted my fate - that I'd dance like a monkey for the money. I didn't enjoy it, but I fooled myself into thinking the money was the end to justify the means.

In the last year or so, I discovered a way out of the poker industry. It took me a while to get on that path and find the parallel road where I can easily jump on and off at any time. During my time away, I tried to focus on things that I enjoyed outside of poker. And instead of working for other people on new projects, I devoted more time to my already large list of personal and side projects. One of those was Coventry.

I used to devote a huge proportion of my free time keeping up with the poker industry or with the financial sector. I stopped doing both and got back into music. The change was refreshing. The newer people I met in music had more depth and not a bunch of angle-shooters and degenerates that I met in poker. I know there's plenty of assholes where ever you go... but for the first time in a while it felt great to be a part of a community that was coming together to celebrate creative things instead of being in the center of the poker battle zone where everyone hated each other and everyone was running around trying to get their piece of the action.

I have been quoting Bob Marley a lot the last few months, specifically what he said about music and politics. I'm paraphrasing here... "Politics divides. Music unites."

Music is one of the most real and true art forms. It's not like a book or a painting where you have to appreciate it internally. Listening to music can be a solitary activity or a group activity for as little as two people and as many as hundreds of thousands of wasted souls standing in the middle of a field somewhere listening to their favorite band.

I used to read a ton of political blogs and most of them have the attitude "you're either with my view or against them" and more often then not flame wars erupted between vying factions of bloggers or via comment trolls. The competitive aspect of poker has spilled over into poker blogs and sometimes reading those blogs is more like a pissing contest about how much better someone is over another. And although some music blogs have a snobby attitude about their particular taste in music, for the most part, the sites I have been reading have been extremely friendly towards each other. Lots of inter-linking and sharing posts with each other. And the root of all that is music. It's something we all get off on and everyone wants to turn their friends onto something that brought them enjoyment. Sharing the vibes. Passing along the music. As Iggy mentioned to me this past weekend, "You're a web hippie at heart."

I'm still in the poker scene to make a buck. I'm not entrenched like I used to which is perfect for me since it gives me more time to pursue other interests, like Coventry. It's a site that I can have fun with and not worry about making money or paying my bills with it. I think the biggest problem that I face is what to do when it reaches a tipping point where it would be foolish if I didn't monetize it. And that's something I'll have to address in the future because the site turned around faster than I envisioned.

I guess Coventry was sort of a throw-away blog. I saw it as a bunch of pages that I had my Phish-related content archived. I only started it because of the final two Phish shows in Coventry, Vermont. The site languished in the last couple of years especially when I went away to Las Vegas or traveling the world covering poker tournaments. It was always last on my To Do List and it often got ignored. I'd post something once a month at best. The only time it seemed to have any relevance was when I went to a random music festival and I cross-posted content over there. Even early on, Coventry was just getting second run content.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, The Joker shut down his old blog and asked to write on Coventry. It was sort of like one of your friends asking you if he could drive around in a car that you never used and just sat in your garage collecting dust. I gave him the keys to Coventry and gave him 100% creative control.

In October, I made my exit from poker and looked for other creative outlets. I started posting regularly on Coventry (a couple of posts a week). When the Joker joined the mix in November, we had something we never had... content for almost ever day of the week.

As the 2007 ended, Irongirl joined the mix to write about the Grateful Dead and any shows she saw up in Albany. Change100 came aboard to write about American Idol. And that was just at the same time as Breotch was headed back to Antarctica for a work assignment. He had a ton of free time on his hand so he joined the Coventry roster. In March we added BTreotch's friend Strawberry Shortcake to round out the list of active contributors to six.

At the time I didn't think anything of it. I was just inviting friends to have fun with a little piece of real estate on the web. It ended up being a recipe for short term success.

The writers at Coventry have a similar taste in music, but at the same time, we also branch off into other areas which has been part of the successful formula for Coventry. Originally it was a Phish blog and focused on a lot of bands in the jamband scene. But with the addition of other writers, their music influences also came to the surface. We just weren't writing about Phish anymore. And slowly... more readers started paying attention to what we had to say about music.

I guess the first major highlight happened in January when named Coventry their "fan site of the month." Just around that time, we got in trouble from Phish for illegally posting download links to Trey's album. The Joker thought it was kinda cool that we got a cease and desist order from Phish's archivist. At least he was paying attention to the site. During the weeks after that incident, I learned that several people working in the Phish family were regular readers and loved what we were doing.

Coventry also got added to the list of contacts that many PR people in the music industry use to promote their clients. Obviously they want to use us but at some point, we'll get a little more savvy and figure out some sort of partnership.

I have been giving the Joker a ton of props for breathing life into Coventry and he deserves the accolades. He got it up and running and now we're all pushing hard to keep it afloat. From December to April, traffic increased by 10% every month. At the end of April, we had two of our best traffic days ever. The numbers are nothing close compared to LasVegasVegas or Tao of Poker, but I get excited about the numbers for Coventry because it really came out of nowhere. Over the last month or so, I put some of my web skills to work and we've gotten lucky.

I didn't want to put any pressure on the writers and let them do their own thing. And now we have content every day and it's not uncommon to find several posts in a day. I never thought that could be possible on Coventry... yet here we are in May 2008 and it's a reality.

The last two days have been record-breaking days at Coventry. I dunno if we can maintain these numbers or retain readers. Time will tell. But for now, it's really cool and exciting and energizing to be a part of something unique that brings people together from all walks of life.

In the back of my mind, I kept the site going just in case Phish got back together. If they did, I'd stop everything and hit the road again... live blogging my Phish experiences. Part of me almost walked away from poker completely to soak up the vast summer festival circuit this year. Realistically, it would have been a bad thing for me to do... but you never know about next year!

I have to step aside at the end of the month to focus on the WSOP for June and July. Right now, I'm confident that the Joker and the gang will be able to keep Coventry soaring high. And when the summer is over, I'm gonna have the time to make a couple of delicious additions to Coventry.

But for now, stop by Coventry and check it out. If you dig it, bookmark it and tell your friends.

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