February 22, 2013

A Conversation with One of the Grooviest & Mellowest Businessmen I Know.

Photo: Jill Sutherland

I love hearing and sharing stories of people who have found a way to marry their passion and business— without compromise.

As we all know, this path can be one of the most challenging ones to take.

Seriously, is it really possible to escape your cubicle and create a job you love every day?

Here’s my conversation with one of the grooviest, mellowest businessmen I know, Alex King-Harris (a.k.a Rara Avis), CEO and Co-Founder of Yogi Tunes who created something very cool out of his passion.

How gaining control over his own music career lead to the creation and evolution of Yogi Tunes, a place ‘Where the Sonic Mastery of DJ Culture Meets the Illuminated Sensibilities of the Yoga Lifestyle.’ I not only wouldn’t mind going there, I actually kind of want to live there.

TW: Did you ever imagine yourself running a company? 

Alex: I didn’t until I moved to Los Angeles and started to get a better sense of the music industry. I was an artist myself and was exposed to the business side of music as a production coordinator for Hip Hop music videos. As I learned more and more about the business, I found often (not always) that the people with the least amount of musicality were the ones with all of the power and money. In contrast, a lot of the artists that I knew were really struggling with money and/or had little control over their own art.

Witnessing this, something began to birth in me. In order for me to have more control of my own music career, I would have to find balance between the business side of music and my identity as an artist. In what ultimately would be the beginning of my learning curve in business, my Yogi Tunes co-founder Craig Kohland and I began to ask the question:  “How can we be more in control of our own art, our own music, and provide a helpful music service to yoga teachers worldwide?” That’s kind of where it all came from and we started creating the Yogi Tunes.

TW: When you started to become more aware and involved in the business side of things, did you enjoy it? 

Alex: Yes, I really did actually. I mean there are always ups and downs with any undertaking, but I did like it from the start. At the time that I started the business, I had already found success as an artist and I loved the process of writing songs and performing. What I found interesting was that the business side of things was similar. I realized that I loved writing ideas down on paper and exploring how to execute them from every possible angle. Describing the vision from a business point of view, looking at the financial side of things, I loved all of that.

Then when it came time to pitching to investors, I was really kind of in my element, similar to performing on stage. The thing that made it work, was, just as I was aligned with my music when I was performing on stage, I was really passionate about the vision of our business. Expressing our ideas to others was a natural extension of my love of music and yoga… everything evolved very positively from there. It was cool to realize how much those two areas of my life were so similar and complimentary.

TW: What would you say has been the biggest challenge around business? 

Alex: The pace of day-to-day operations involved in running a tech company has been a little challenging for sure. The stress levels and the constant element of change in which business operates was not always easy or something I felt comfortable with.

Another thing was the reality of the financial health of a company verses your dreams and visions of one. That can be kind of crushing at times, especially in a start-up situation. Once you start to feel the weight of that, it’s challenging to keep your vision strong. It causes you to have to resource both new levels of inner strength and support from loved ones, family, friends and trusted advisors.

TW: Is there anything that you would’ve changed when you first started out with your business? 

Alex: Passion around what you’re doing is essential, but you have to balance it out with proper planning and execution. I was so ready to get going in the beginning that I just dove in creating our business/website. I definitely would’ve done a bit more research and beta tested our ideas.

It’s hard to stop yourself when your vision is so clear, but you have to be smart about it. Especially when it comes to spending precious capital.  At first you think you’ll never run out of money, until you do and then you wish you’d been more careful in spending it!

TW: Your company provides music to the world. What are some of the biggest music industry challenges that you face?

Alex: Inflexibility and trepidation from the music industry around doing things in a new way. To get the rights to retail music, it’s one of the most complicated things that you have to deal with. There are so many stakeholders. So many people who you have to be conscious of. There are other challenges in the way big music services handle music, they have negotiated low rates, devalued music, sometimes leaving artists with a fraction of a penny for each play. As an artist, I understand the consequences of devaluing music and one of our goals is to promote the value not only of the artist, but remind people how valuable music can be for your life.

TW: Yogi Tunes went through a recent re-launch of your business/website. Do you want to talk about what prompted this evolution? 

Alex: In November of last year we lost the rights to over 60 percent of our catalog due to a corporate merger in the music distribution world, then less than two weeks later Apple filed an opposition to our trademark because our name contained the word ‘iTunes’ in it. While this was painful at first and left us in an incredible limbo, it later revealed itself to be a blessing in disguise. In the aftermath we realized that it was time to let go of the business as it was in its previous state.

While contemplating whether to remain closed permanently we received a huge influx of love and support from family, friends and the broader Yogi Tunes community. That, along with timely advice from some of our mentors spurred a complete rebuild of everything from the ground up. Miraculously at the same time the Apple trademark issue was settled out of court at no expense to us and so in six short weeks we had gone from being dead in the water to re-launching a new company that was built to succeed whereas the previous incarnation was destined to fail. It was really very, very inspiring, and honestly our community inspires me each and every day.

TW: You keep referring to your “community.” Can you elaborate on this? 

Alex: The Yogi Tunes community is made up of positive lifestyle enthusiasts (yoga teachers, practitioners, wellness professionals, healers, musicians). We have a collective understanding of the importance of music in our lives and the value it has in supporting us to move into a greater sense of awareness in everything we do. We have chosen to collaborate in particular with pioneer DJs and musicians that embody this lifestyle. These artists have been supporting the growth of positive community through music for a long time and now it is our time to support them in a bigger way.

Being DJs and musicians ourselves we know that they hear music in a certain way, and they understand how it inspires a yogis sense of embodiment and self-awareness. You can really feel the asana coming out of the mixes they put together. We provide our community a fresh yet timeless soundtrack that encourages them to go deeper into their practice, their movement and their life. That was our vision since the first day, and it remains today.

I think that’s why we have such a rich and supportive community. It goes back to what I said about alignment. Whether it’s creating music or business, you have to do it with integrity, with a foundation that you are in alignment with. That’s the key, and it always will be for me.

For more information on Alex and Yogi Tunes, please visit www.yogi-tunes.com.

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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