I used to coach people to be more effective public speakers. After leaving Gillette, it was going to be my new career. I discovered I did not want any new career. I just wanted to play my guitar. Thankfully, I had a wife, Rosemary, who still worked.
However, I did keep one major client. It was 1995. Together we discovered the Internet, websites, domain names, et. al. He jumped in with both feet and considerable financial resources. Here’s Bill FitzPatrick today: https://www.success.org
Although we don’t see much of each other anymore, for several years Bill called me his best friend. I called him my mentor. He suggested I get involved with internet marketing, too. I had little interest. I just wanted to play my guitar. He ignored my lack of interest and bought me domain names (steverapson.com and acousticguitar.com). In 1997, he had his staff build me a little text based website: acousticguitar.com.
I got traffic. I got tons of emails from people asking how to be successful musicians. I answered these emails and posted the Q&A on my Acoustic Guitar website. No money, but some fun, and a certain kind of recognition.
One afternoon, while napping on the couch (retirement at forty-eight is great) I got a phone call from a woman: the president of String Letter Publishing: the publisher of, among many others, Acoustic Guitar Magazine. After introducing herself she said:
“I see you have a website using our name.”
“Yes, I do,” I said. I was a bit excited. I thought she was going to suggest an on-line partnership. At the time I was an advertiser in several music magazines. Acoustic Guitar being one of them. I had a one-sixth page display ad for Christmas Guitar: Book and CD.
“We would like our name.” She said rather unceremoniously. At the time their internet address was acguitar.com. Character limitations and all that back in the day.
“You mean, I should just give it to you?” I said.
“Well, yes,” she said, “we have a legal right to our trademarked name.” Not quite true at the time.
She went on, “We have spent much time and money developing a high quality image for Acoustic Guitar. Your amateur little website diminishes our trademark.”
*Sigh*, no partnership for me. Just hurt feelings.
Truly, if she had taken a different tack, a little compliment (phony or not). Maybe some thanks for being a loyal advertiser (at $750 a month). Perhaps the offer of a mention or two in the magazine. I would have just signed the name over and been happy to do it.
Marshaling a little diplomacy, I said, “I’m not sure of my standing here, let me think about this and get back to you.”
I then called my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, the man who got me into this internet thing in the first place. I related the phone call to him and said, “She hurt my feelings, I’m too emotionally invested. Will you deal with them?”
Bill is a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate. He started life as a teacher in Cambridge Public Schools. His personality was a good fit for the position of Teacher of Teenaged Offenders from the Billerica House of Correction. Later, he was a millionaire real estate investor and landlord. One of his favorite quips, “I’ve made millions and lost millions, the key is I didn’t lose them all.”
I could almost hear Bill rubbing his hands together in happy anticipation of going to battle for me. “OK! Who do I call?”
About two hours later, Bill called me back. “They want to know what you want.”
My philosophy has been to ask for the Sun and settle for the Moon. “I want my current display ad, free, for life!”
“OK!” said Bill, “Be back to you.”
A half hour goes by, the phone rings, it’s Bill again.
“You’re not gonna’ get that, what do you really want?”
“I want my one-sixth page display ad for free, revised at my discretion, every month for five years.” The moon.
Bill calls a final time, “OK, it’s done. They’ll send the paperwork.” Then he laughs.
“What?” I asked.
“One of the lawyers asked if I was an attorney,” said Bill. “He said, you negotiate like one.”
I thanked him and asked if his internet guru could find me a new domain name. I suggested sologuitar.com, or soloperformer.com. Both were available. Better to be lucky than good, as they say. I’ve had them ever since, along with steverapson.com, also acquired for me by Mr. FitzPatrick.
Later in our client/friend relationship, Bill encouraged me to write a book about performing and public speaking.
“Bill, I just want to play my guitar,” I said. “Besides, there are dozens of books already on that subject.”
“Not one by you,” he said.
A few weeks after that conversation, Bill dropped a hundred pages, mostly blank in front me.
He said, “Your book should be 101 Questions and Answers on Performing. I’ve done most of the F-ing work for you: here are the questions, all you have to do is write the answers.”
Indeed he had. At the top of each blank page was a question. What he had done was write my consulting advice, our conversations and interactions over the past few years, in the form of a question. As I looked over the questions I realized how brilliant this was. Bill really had done more than half the work.
Still, I’m lazy. I just want… (well, you know) So I asked him if he had the questions on a disk. God forbid I use a pen.
I wrote the book. Bill’s company published it. I changed my free ad in Acoustic Guitar magazine to sell the book instead of CDs. I thought that five years of display advertising in a major music magazine would make me a household name. The ad ran from 1998 to 2003. My book, The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage and Podium, sold steadily as long as the ad ran. I put it on Amazon and sales bumped nicely. But when the free advertising stopped, sales plummeted.
The numbers didn’t quite work. The ad cost $750 a month. On average, book sales were $400-$500 a month. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that is unsustainable.
I now sell the occasional book. Even more occasionally, a CD. Mrs. Rapson and I are not getting rich, but we don’t need to be. Enough is, indeed, enough.
I didn’t become a household name. I did get a good story. And without my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, I wouldn’t have a published book, or a few valuable domain names, or happy memories of our time together during the wild west of the new internet.
Mrs. Rapson is now retired along with me. We have a great life in Massachusetts and Florida.
And, I’m still playing my guitar.
Steve Rapson is a songwriter, solo guitarist, and author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium . http://sologuitar.com
Great article! Enjoyed it very much. I know how much you like to play the guitar. I used to love playing the trumpet as you know until I couldn’t play anymore because of dental issues. Lana has been asking and I have been thinking that maybe at 75 I can learn to play the guitar and Lana and I can learn together and play duets. Could you recommend the right acoustic guitar to purchase for a beginner like me and maybe give me some Zoom lessons for a fee? What do you think? Btw, we had our 1st vaccine shot today and would be fully vaccinated by the 3/25/21. Did you and Rosemary get your shots yet? Also your Christmas card came back in which I expressed heartfelt thanks for the 75th B’Day card you designed and sent me last year. That was extremely thoughtful and appreciated.
An enjoyable read. You are a good storyteller.
You should have held out for more……….you had them!