Boasting

Boasting. Like networking and politicking, I have a hard time with it. And that’s unfortunate, because it seems to be a prerequisite for success — or, at least, perceived success.

And what exactly do I mean by “boasting”? It takes many forms, but the most frequent tend to be overly proud gig and recording announcements as well as related humblebrags — and not just the promotions themselves, but the fact that they’re seemingly endless. Those that immediately come to mind for me are those for whom every gig is apparently the best/most creative/last one in (name the zip code). (Really? You’re never playing at that bar in the next town over again? But you just performed there last month…)

Of course, it’s expected and understandable that one is proud of what they’re doing. You would hope so. I know that I’m proud of my own projects and accomplishments, but I try not to be aggressively so, nor do I rub it in others’ faces.

Most days I’m greeted on social media by posts from friends and colleagues to the social media echo chamber, which come in the following general varieties:

• “Check out my new recording. Get the good sounds in your soul!”
• “I’m honored to be sharing the stage with _____ tonight/this weekend — the best band in ______!”
• “Contribute to my Kickstarter! Be part of something important!”
• *invitation to “like” another project*

And then there’s Kickstarter. Woof. I should mention that I don’t dislike all crowdfunding projects sight unseen. Quite the contrary — I think it’s a step in the right direction towards getting people to financially invest in music and the arts, a perennial topic on this blog. I believe I’ve contributed to three such campaigns: one was a Wagner recording project which was unsuccessful, another was the successful (and important) capstone for the Einstein on the Beach documentary, and another was for a colleague’s project (to which I may have donated after it met its threshold). Of course, those three are but a drop in the bucket when compared to the countless campaigns I’ve been invited to “join.”

Many crowdfunding endeavors strike me as odd in the sense that I just don’t completely understand why the fundraising is necessary. I’ve seen peers campaigning to record an album and asking for ridiculous (to me) totals, with such prices being the supposed bare minimum. At a certain level of “making it,” I can understand that, but unless you’re using studio time to actually write material or tinker away as part of the creative process, it seems a bit excessive to go hog wild. Need the album be recorded in GarageBand on a shoestring budget? No. A happy medium exists somewhere. Also, and back to the aforementioned boasting, it seems that every Kickstarted studio album is the greatest sonic experience to ever be recorded. I recall a musician I know personally posting about three different Kickstarter campaigns on Facebook within about a month of each other (one of which was his own), and each one was IMPORTANT!!!, with the listener/funder’s life being significantly “less than” had the campaigns failed. Maybe so, but I’d hate to be the crowdfunder caught crying wolf.

(Music — art in general — requires a financial and temporal investment to create, but it’s the financial aspect that I think escapes most people. As I started to discuss here, I believe that more honest and frank discussion of the money required to realize a project is needed, particularly as we move into this freemium/sharing economy.)

Now, before I get ahead of myself, is it wrong to post oneself in one of the aforementioned manners? No. I think I take real issue with the frequency at which it’s done.

You could easily argue that I do a poor job of “selling” myself. I rarely, if ever, “invite” someone to like a page/account, I don’t often post a link to one of these blog posts more than a couple times each (unless it’s doing well or has potential, which is a rather arbitrary decision/evaluation), and I surely undersell my gigs. It’s not because I’m trying to go unnoticed. Quite the opposite, in fact. I assume that, like myself, most people just tune out the constant barrage of self-hype hyperbole that floods social media (or unfollow such perpetrators altogether). That, and I’d rather “target” and invite those who I’m sure are interested than just carpet bomb the town or network.

I’ve started and stopped various drafts of this posts over the last couple months, prompted by some commiserating I’d been doing with a colleague a while back. We were reveling, as we occasionally do, in our mutual disgust with those who are seemingly political and PR professionals who just happen to have careers in the arts. And then while catching up on my RSS feeds the other evening I saw posts touching upon this general theme by two unrelated folks: jazz pianist George Colligan and music writer Bob Lefsetz. The former’s list of PR ideas made me laugh, and the latter hit the nail on the head, writing, “Beware of self hype. […] Tireless self-promoter is a gig, but it’s got nothing to do with art.”

At the core, and I know it’s an arguably naive and/or pithy statement, but I’d rather the work just speak for itself. Yes, I know that for the work to be heard then it must first be known (via promotion of some kind), but there has to be some sort of balance — and I believe that that balance skews more towards the art or product than the PR. And after all, the posts or gigs of mine that I’ve seen gain the most traction have been those that also enjoyed promotion or assistance from third parties, often unsolicited. A germ of an idea was planted and then grew. Some do, others don’t.

When it comes to “advice,” one constant seems to be that you should discover “your thing” and hone it. Well, I can safely say that self-promotion isn’t mine. And that’s just fine.

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