How OkSessions is Shaping a New Model for Local Music

Many people today understand the value of the local food movement. Choosing to consume locally grown products is good for the body, helps the environment, and has a positive impact on the regional economy. The team at OkSessions wants everyone to know that these same benefits occur when you consume local music. 

By cultivating media content and new idea spaces focused on the central Oklahoma music scene, OkSessions works hard to benefit the entire community. With the mission of building a culture of music and arts throughout the area, the team strives to help Oklahoma grow an industry of sustainable musicianship. 

James Beach and Christian Pearson co-founded OkSessions. The Oklahoma City jazz scene served as the backdrop to the origins of their partnership.

JAMES BEACH: Christian was involved in the jazz scene and doing a lot of show promotion. I arrived in OKC trying to make connections around both technology and music. We brought together our own mutually exclusive projects that we were building around the same sort of thesis. We both wanted to help artists recognize what was here and to build a new, more supportive scene.

CHRISTIAN PEARSON: James and I met at an event I was organizing, and then we got lunch. He was focused on creating content driven by the artist community. From those early ideas came a million others. Through our conversations, we both came to realize that a lot of things would be necessary to develop the music community we wanted to see. We would need to host live events, engage civic and corporate partners,  and make content easier to create for artists.

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The co-founders come from very different backgrounds, with skill sets that turned out to complement the other very well. 

PEARSON: I'm from Oklahoma City, and grew up in this area my entire life. I've been in the music scene here for ten years or so, and also worked in the finance industry in banking. I've been playing in the bars and clubs and venues around Oklahoma City since I was a teenager. 

BEACH: My inspiration to come work here was that I saw the opportunity to get involved in something at a ground level. I wanted to see what would happen if we infused a scene early-on with a planned culture and better roadmap before it starts growing. I'm originally from in the northwest and participated in a lot of the music and startup arenas up there. I came to Oklahoma City because I was fascinated with working in a smaller scene. Getting involved in the DNA of what puts artists together and allows them to work sustainably ⁠—  what allows them to work better together.

While the goal from the beginning was to make OkSessions a profitable business, it took some fine-tuning to figure out the best business model. 

PEARSON: There wasn't much of a revenue model when we started. It's a challenge to develop a solid music culture and industry because it's multifaceted. We resolved to trying a bunch of different things, all of which would have their own revenue model ⁠— whether running a media source, hosting conferences, promoting shows, or managing artists. Those are all very different revenue models. The plan was to take a run at one for a few months, learn some lessons, and see if it gains traction. Even if it doesn't immediately pay off with tons of money, if there's a lot of people interested in it, that might be something we can iterate and explore further.

BEACH: The music industry is still turned on its head from recorded music being taken away as a product model. Today, from top to bottom, that foundation product is gone. So every musician out there is always looking for new revenue models. We're just one example of an industry that is trying to find new and different ways to allow musicians to create a sustainable living for themselves ⁠— ideally, without having to travel all over the world and sleep on every floor to get a gig. It's a challenging industry. 

With a lot of ideas and a mission to build a music scene in central Oklahoma that's sustainable for everyone, it took some time to find their footing. 

BEACH: Before this venture, I worked on a platform called GoShowGo, which made house shows a little bit easier. Through that project, I learned that just having the platform exist is rarely ever enough. It has to be built around a culture that loves and supports it. With OkSessions we’ve always strived to put the culture before technology, to put on great events, and place our values front and center while having a really fun time. 

PEARSON: One of the first things I did, before OkSessions, was hosting a jam session in my neighborhood. It was just a simple jazz show. But it got to a point where I think we had a really strong culture around it. Other people had jazz shows. But this had a little extra hype because of how we talked about the music, how we built relationships. The little things that end up being big things. We didn't just want to sell a ticket but create a scene where people know each other. 

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Over time, Beach and Pearson built out a platform that integrated with the local music scene in a variety of ways. 

PEARSON: OkSessions is not just a ticketing platform. Sure, you buy a ticket, and you go to show, but there's a lot that backs it up. 

BEACH: I think everything we're doing fits best under an umbrella of saying, we're in pursuit of a roadmap for other artists and communities to follow. That it’s a marriage of both technology and culture, to create a better music scene. Some core tenets like sustainability for musicians, Farm-to-Table music, valuing unique voices, and finding ways that everyone can bring something important to the table. The musicians that play at your local establishment, they've invested just as much time in their musicianship as national touring acts. We want to equip them and the community that surrounds them with a better tool kit. So they can play better shows with higher attendance, get higher engagement, and hopefully, sustain and improve, and be a part of a more vibrant city. 

PEARSON: For example, a small startup band may not have the budget to create a fantastic video. We want to help them figure out how that can be done cheaper, more efficiently ⁠— in a community way that gets that content created and has more people engaged to share it. Local shows might suffer due to lack of technology, but there's also a potential bright side. Think of Airbnb: you probably used to go brag about staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Now a lot of people pass up the Ritz Carlton experience astay at the creative local bungalow that nobody's ever heard of when they're on vacation. That's the direction we want to push the music economy. 

We all know the Taylor Swift songs. And that's cool. You have that solidarity when you go to another country or another city. But say I'm going to Phoenix, Arizona. What do the artists in Phoenix sound like? What kind of songs do they play? Because music is and always will be such an oral tradition. If people dive into that, it's incredible. There's this lineage, and you can hear it.

BEACH: There are these undeniably unique voices and talents that are every bit as valuable as the things you see on national stages. They just have not had the megaphone to reach an international audience. I would rather see something unique and different that I haven't quite experienced before. I want to go to a show and hear musicians doing something exceptional.

While OkSessions is 100% Oklahoma grown, some brainstorming has already taken place about how the platform could expand on a broader scale. 

PEARSON: On a national level, you could go to any city and open an app on your phone, saying, "Okay, where's the cool thing that's only famous here." Creating a culture of people wanting to taste the unique music of these different locales. We already have that attitude with food. When you're on vacation, you're not like, "Hey, let’s find a TGI Fridays." But that's totally what we do with music. We go to these big arena concerts and stand on hard concrete; we pay $120 for those seats. Yet sometimes people refused to pay $5 or $10 to hear the local jazz guitarist who's played at Carnegie Hall. And I think it's just a communication thing. That's why so much of what we do is focused around media in addition to the live event.  

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Even as the OkSessions team dreams about the potential for a more significant impact on hundreds of local music scenes, the work here in Oklahoma is not yet done. 

BEACH: We haven't discovered a silver bullet to fix everything just yet. Or to make such a dramatic improvement that it filters all the way down to the musicians and their wages and how to make a living. But there are undoubtedly several pieces that we can work on. I went over to meet with the Music Cities Network in Denmark a year or two ago, to talk to them about how they really have proliferated music in some of the smaller cities in Europe and internationally. There is so much civic engagement that happens over there. 

Events have much larger budgets helped by city governments who are really taking an active approach to growing their art scenes. Sometimes tens of millions of dollars are being put up to create music opportunities, regional touring efforts, and local music. That doesn't happen here in the center of the country or a lot of other metros in the US. 

Music culture is a real part of the health and growth of a community. Not just in nightlife, but in creating opportunities for kids that are coming out of school. Maybe college isn't the track for them, and they're looking for something to apply themselves to. Having those opportunities be evident and safe, and accessible for everybody from the lowest income person in your community all the way on up. It gives people a sense of hope and value.

To keep the day-to-day operations rolling at OkSessions, it requires a lot of collaboration. The team regularly meets at StarSpace46 to brainstorm, create content, or just get together in a supportive coworking environment

PEARSON: Culture is really, really important in the office, as well as in the community. I like the balance that StarSpace has between being a professional space, but also a fun place. The people are supportive, and it fosters creativity.  Everyone cares about each other's projects, even in different organizations. It's essential for us to bring any of our interns and new hires into this type of place. 

BEACH: There is a cost in creating culture. If you just rent an office building and start from scratch, it's not only the assets, tables, chairs, and whiteboards ⁠— you need to be set up for the way people behave and interact and offer in creatively. It can be a challenge to start with such a blank slate. Small businesses like us can't often afford to invest in everything it takes to get all of that happening. At StarSpace, we get to build off an existing platform and focus our resources on our mission: building a more vibrant and sustainable music culture through media and technology.




Jaret Martin Talks Coworking Spaces & Safe Collisions

Going back at least as far as the Land Run of 1889, many have seen Oklahoma as a place of opportunity. A place to start a farm, or a business, or a family. Jaret Martin, one of the partners at StarSpace46, shares this view, as well. I recently sat down with Jaret at one of our favorite local restaurants, Sala Thai, to chat about his passions, and what he foresees in the future of Oklahoma City.

"I think we've got a unique opportunity to build something special here in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma, as well," Martin said of the current business scene. And that's a big statement, coming from someone who has traveled to more than 60 different countries since graduating from Oklahoma State University.

"I've lived and worked on both sides of the country, the east and west coast. And I've also lived abroad. I've worked on everything from agriculture to tech," he related. "I got my start in tech sales, and that transitioned into working on impact projects that solve real-world problems. And those are the companies that I like to work with."

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Coworking on the West Coast vs. No Coast

Before landing in Central Oklahoma, Martin was a founding member of ATLAS Workbase, a flexible workspace in Seattle, Washington. During his time at ATLAS, Martin learned a lot about what it takes to nurture a coworking space, and the need to focus on user experience. "When I came back to Oklahoma, I actually came into StarSpace as a member. And I was amazed at this organic, almost viral movement with Techlahoma," he said. Soon after, he was brought on as a new member of the StarSpace46 team.

Martin explains that the entire SS46 team has always held high expectations for the venture. "Filling a space with a lot of smart people has an exciting effect. That's where people can dream together and launch new ventures. We needed a space that promotes these collisions; a safe spot for people to come and dream big."

A vital function of the partners at SS46 is building a community, as Martin explained: "We're building a community that unlocks a lot of doors. We're also exploring what those next steps are. We're exploring what the building blocks are that we can stack on top of our foundation, which can provide even more value to the members of the community."

An Ecosystem of Safe Collisions

Creating a coworking ecosystem that cultivates safe collisions is a passionate part of Martin's life work. So how, exactly, do you make way for these collisions? "Think of it as a wider and wider scope, more of a safety net. A place for somebody to come in and say, 'Hey, I've got this idea!' And if you've got a lot of people around that are resourceful, they can help guide and focus your idea and even give you feedback on the areas that may not be your expert domain."

"And so it becomes the safety net in a way. People want to see you succeed. So if you can build a community that has similar values, people buy into those values and care about one another. You can build some really neat ventures."

I asked Martin where he thinks OKC is headed within the next few years. He anticipates a more decentralized approach to entrepreneurship: "The decentralized approach is saying, if you've got an idea, let's surround you and your concept with fractionalized experts."  

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A Flexible Workforce Made of Moms

StarSpace46 isn't the only project Martin has in the works. After a recent "collision" with Ally and Stephen Meyers, co-founders of Moms on MissionS, the three of them arrived at a new concept that will help change the way people work in Oklahoma City and beyond.

"If there's one hero in my life, it's my mom. I grew up with a disabled brother. My mom sacrificed a lot to take care of my brother. In a way, she's this unsung hero," Martin conveyed.

"In dreaming with Ally and Stephen, we realized that there's this entire unsung workforce of stay-at-home moms,” he recounted. “When you look at moms who care for the family, they exhibit all the characteristics of someone a smart company would want to hire. Often, they make that decision to stay at home based out of childcare costs alone. So we're building a platform called Suma to facilitate a way to take on more flexible work.

"We've found that a lot of these moms are highly skilled women. They've got professional degrees, and they're responsible. Being able to match them with employers, whether it's more of a micro job, a fractional expert, or even full-time remote employment is our driving purpose."




5 Best Practices for Collaboration with Freelance Teams

Countless entrepreneurs have now discovered the benefits of hiring freelancers to help grow their business. By leveraging a worldwide talent pool, businesses large and small can quickly ramp up projects without the tradition months-long recruitment window. Many large companies now hire freelancers under long-term contracts to fill central, highly-skilled positions.

There is a big difference, however, when collaborating with freelancers vs. traditional full-time employees. Freelancers are self-employed and are not tied to the stability of a long-term career with one company. Sure, they may contribute to your brand’s mission for ten years and beyond, but they often have multiple streams of income. Freelancers often chose contract employment so they can focus on projects that pique their interest and tap into their niche skills.

Freelance teams require unique resources to enable efficient collaboration. If you are managing a team made up for 5, 10, or 20 freelance contractors, it is vital to put systems into place that allow for an open flow of creativity and keep everyone focused on the central goals at hand. Here are five best practices you can use to collaborate with freelance teams effectively.

1. Concentrate on Shared Fundamentals

Freelance teams are often built with skilled specialists from profoundly different backgrounds. For example, if your project revolves around creating a new app, you might have two software developers, a brand manager, a copywriter, and a public relations expert. Each comes to the virtual table with their objectives and expectations, so it’s essential to bring people together from the beginning.

At the very first meeting, concentrate on shared fundamentals that everyone needs to know: the problem your app will solve, the demographics the app will serve, and the type of message you want to convey. Each freelance contractors will be responsible for upholding some component within each of these areas. By discussing these matters upfront, everyone gets a chance to understand their contribution, and how that works together with the team as a whole.  

A man takes notes during a video conferece. Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

2. Take Collaborative Notes

Freelance teams, especially those with people at remote locations, can occasionally move in diverging directions after the end of a brainstorming session. Everyone seems to be on the same page while the teleconference is in progress, but then something goes wrong. Collaborative notes are a great way to prevent this.

Notejoy is an app designed to allow multiple users to contribute thoughts and ideas quickly and in an organized way. Each time you and your team have a conference call, distribute a page link to everyone and ask them to put all of their notes into the shared document. This creates 100% visibility to all unique takeaways from the meeting, and everyone can see the action items assigned to the team. Any misunderstandings can be identified and resolved before the meeting is adjourned.

3.  Pick an Official Messaging Platform

You cannot manage a team of freelancers without online messaging. Messaging platforms allow for ongoing communications, in one-on-one conversations, and groups. Each contract employee will likely have their messenger of choice, so it’s critical to pick an official app that everyone must use.

A mobile phone is shown with the messaging app Slack on the screen. Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

One of the most popular messaging apps designed specifically for professional teams is Slack. It allows you to create channels, so groups of freelancers can maintain searchable conversations around the same topic. Users can also tag individual messages to make detailed statements easy to find later on. If video calls are essential for your team, Skype is also an excellent choice. With Skype, you can integrate text, image, voice, and video conversations all within the same chat.

4. Use Combined Online Documents

Combined documents are beneficial in similar ways to the shared meeting notes. Each time a spreadsheet or presentation deck is saved offline, then revised, then re-distributed, you run the risk of someone not receiving the most up-to-date version. With online documents, everyone makes edits in real time, and all changes are immediately visible. Instead of 17 versions of last month’s activity report floating around, you have 1!

Another advantage of hosting documents online is accessibility. If your team works from a combination of mobile devices and PC workstations, there is no need to save or send documents between machines. Just open the shared link, and you are ready to edit. Google Drive has many useful collaboration features, and the first 15 GB of storage are free with each account.

Two team men collaborate in front of a whiteboard. Photo by  Kaleidico  on  Unsplash

5. Develop Your Own Freelancer Network

Building a network of preferred freelancers will help you get new projects started more quickly and efficiently. Just as with traditional full-time employees, developing working relationships with people helps you better understand their top skills and their limitations. At the end of any project, do a quick evaluation of each freelancer's work, and keep your notes on file. Instead of vetting brand new freelancers for every project, use your existing network to get things rolling right away.

Many freelancers have memberships at coworking spaces and have existing relationships with other professionals. When a new company need arises, ask for referrals from within your existing team. You’ll likely discover they have previous experience collaborating with someone that meets your needs perfectly.