We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful James Coffman. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with James below.
James, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Alright, so you had your idea and then what happened? Can you walk us through the story of how you went from just an idea to executing on the idea
First off, thank you Voyager for bringing me back to continue my story. Secondly, it’s been a wild time since we last chatted. Photography has taken itself to new heights and I started a publication, Coffee & Shugar, with some of my best friends. Here is the story behind it.
During the pandemic, it felt like we all tried to keep ourselves from going stir-crazy by finding something to stay busy with. Around July of 2020, Morgan Shugars reached out via Instagram to tell me about an idea he had. The concept was essentially sharing his music interests with people. Unbeknownst to Morgan, I had a similar idea where I wanted to do the same thing, but with a podcast starting a conversation around music. From there, we quickly realized we could join forces on this venture and really do it right – so we got to work.
Combining parts of our last names, we founded the title Coffee & Shugar – catchy right? After that, we brainstormed brand colors, a logo, and what our posts and overall aesthetic would look like. We wanted something that looked sharp but welcoming, unique but not entirely unheard of, a brand we hope will become a household name one day. Without much delay, we finalized enough aspects of our brand to begin work on Instagram and Facebook content. The rest is history.
Within the first year, I felt like we accomplished so much. We went from an idea to an online presence garnering some traction. We launched the podcast, and then did our very first merch drop of the legacy logo. Since then, we have had some really cool artists join us for conversations, we’ve completely changed the branding and it’s been great to see the evolution. Not to mention, our team grew by two, bringing on Jonathan Pham to be our business mind, and Dylan Green to be our tech guru. Pham was fundamental in creating our LLC and Dylan created our website which then later became our official publication space. As of today, the podcast has over 30 episodes, nearly 1400 streams, over 100 followers on Spotify, and growing. We have some more artists and ideas in the pipeline for how to keep it moving forward and we are super excited to share that soon.
Coffee & Shugar is just getting started. We are excited to see it continue to be a place where people go to find their next favorite song or artist. What we are doing isn’t some new idea or industry revolutionizing content. Just a unique way of sharing music with people.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I have been a concert photographer in the Dallas, Texas area for about 6 years now. It all really started with shooting the (at the time) South By So What! music festival, now So What! Fest. That was really what lifted my career and prior to that, I was just shooting some local bands in my area. I’ve been in the creative space for essentially 10 years after starting my college career in the film program at the University Of North Texas in 2011. I have always been a big music person. Music has always been an escape for me from a young age. Combining my passion for photo/video and music has been one of the best parts of my life.
Not only do I love music, but I also love watching it played live. I went to Warped Tour every summer, went to as many shows as I could afford, and tried to be engulfed in it as much as possible because it was where I felt happiest. Taking a chance on me, the Third String Productions team trusted me to take photos of their fest 6 years ago and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been doing it ever since and even joined a publication team that gave me access to even more concerts that I would have never had the opportunity to shoot on my own. A fun one was being able to take photos at the last ever cross-country Vans Warped Tour in 2018.
Fast forward to today, I now have some really cool things lined up like a mini-tour run in Texas with my friends in Archetypes Collide when they roll through on this current tour with The Amity Affliction and The Seafloor Cinema in San Antonia, Houston, and Dallas. There are a few more opportunities for festivals in other states that I am currently working on, but the opportunities have presented themselves and hopefully, they all go as planned. If I could be a touring photographer and still be able to make a living one day, I would be ecstatic.
Coffee & Shugar was just another way for me to stay even more connected to the music scene. Joining forces with Morgan, Pham, and Dylan has been such a fun experience. We can’t wait to see it become the brand people think of when they hear “coffee and sugar”.
How’d you meet your business partner?
This is a really cool question because everyone I work with today creatively stems from one place, my fraternity. And before you gasp and skip this part, hear me out. As much flack that greek life gets all across the mainstream media, I am a success story that came out of it. Someone that used it for all that it was worth because let’s be real, I paid for it and put in work to be successful in it. I networked and met some of my favorite people and best friends because of it. Everything I have and am doing in life is owed to my fraternity experience and I say that with 100% confidence.
I met Morgan (or Mo) back in 2018 when he was interning for the fraternity while I was working for the organization after college. He was on the creative media team that helped run our socials and branding across all platforms. He had a great eye for what looked aesthetically pleasing and knew how to use his design skills to create some captivating content. We really didn’t talk all that much at the time but we both knew each other through that experience.
As stated before, fast forward a few years and he followed me on Instagram from an account he started to just share music every day. I hit him with the follow and he messaged me after thanking me for following and told me about his idea. It piqued my interest because I had a similar idea as I mentioned earlier. One thing led to another and boom, we hit the ground running. It has been history ever since. Mo is now one of my best friends and I can’t think of another person I would want to go on this journey with.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
I think we’ve had to pivot multiple times since the start of Coffee & Shugar. One experience, in particular, was when Instagram started blocking and taking down our posts. Why you may ask? Well, we were technically sharing copyrighted music on the account. See, the idea was to give the people music immediately. The moment you scroll onto our post, you hear the song right away and you can determine whether you wanted to keep listening. It was something we felt no one was doing and so we tried to take advantage of that.
While we knew it was copyrighted material, we were hoping since it was purely for sharing and not to gain a profit, that it would be okay given it was just exposure ya know? In the end, Instagram did not like that. From blocking our posts, deleting them, to even suspending our account for a week, we knew something needed to change. Our engagement was so low and it was almost like Instagram was hiding our posts from our followers. The struggle was that we didn’t want to change our formatting and end up like every other online publication/blog/podcast on the internet, but it was inevitable. We had to.
We sat down and started talking about how we can still keep creating engaging content that also still stuck to the mission that we had from the beginning, making finding new music easier. It forced us to think more creatively about the content that we were sharing and put ourselves in the shoes of the follower. We had to ask ourselves the question, “would this catch my attention if I saw it in my feed?”. Mo and I both care a lot about the quality of the images and content we shared. Quality goes a long way and is remembered. We moved in the direction of creating extra content like “Sip On This” where we share a fun fact about a band/artist every so often. We started cross-posting our tweets to create engaging conversations with our followers like “what was the first CD you ever bought?”. We also started sharing the highest-quality photos of the band or artist so it popped. As a photographer, I am very particular about the photos we share because I think it’s super important to share the band or artists in the best possible light.
That pivot as you call it is how we turned around our content and engagement with our followers to appease Instagram’s community guidelines. Oh, and not to mention, we completely rebranded the account from our legacy logo to a brutal death metal logo and it popped off. Had the best merch drop we’ve ever had and have gained so many awesome new followers. We hired a graphic designer out of Germany who I had been following for a few years named Stefan Skjoedt who absolutely crushed it. That has been a fun corner to lean into when it comes to how we present ourselves. That may be the best pivot we ever made. Branding is key.
- Website: https://www.coffeeandshugar.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/coffeeandshugar
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/coffeeandshugar
- Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/coffeeandshugar
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYlPjbCrmA1pJ09MTbFCbVA
- Other: https://linktr.ee/coffeeandshugar