When someone like Alex Gardner proclaims a Chatter tag-team event, who am I to say no? The topic of composers on the Internet seems to be quite popular lately, especially here on a website dedicated to…composers…located…on the Internet. All kidding and navel-gazing aside, both of the excellent columns by Dan and Alex point to some issues that are have come up time and time again during my interviews. How each composer works on and interacts with the Internet was a pretty obvious question to add to the list of queries, but I still see it as an important link in every composer’s life in some form or fashion these days and it has been eye-opening to see the differences in attitudes towards the medium by these individuals.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the advantages of asking the same question to every interviewee is that patterns start to emerge and while we might not be able to come to any definite conclusions with those patterns, they do allow for a clearer discussion to be had. One pattern that I think I can safely throw out there after having finished my thirty-fifth interview this past week is that there is no pattern when it comes to successful composers and their online interactions. Where you can find one instance of someone harnessing the Internet with all of its social networking glory to magnificent effect, you find someone else who eschews anything more advanced than e-mail—and they both have thriving careers. Age, location, technical prowess, freelance vs. academic—there seems to be very little that points to one’s web presence other than, as Alex pointed out, one’s own taste and comfort with the medium.
At this point I’ve been able to recognize three different categories that composers tend to fall into when it comes to their web activities. The “default,” if you will, is more or less what Alex Gardner describes in her column; a personal website, light to moderate usage of one or more social networks (either Facebook, Twitter, or both), and a nice balance between professional and personal in their postings and their website design. Two good examples of this are Jennifer Higdon and David T. Little, both of whom use both their websites and their social networks to inform and interact, but not to the point that they’ve reached the level of the second category—the “power user.” John Mackey and Eric Whitacre would be good nominees of this category, with both composers using the internet not only for promotion and insight into themselves on a personal level, but as an integral part of their interaction with their audiences and performers, with Whitacre’s “virtual choirs” and Mackey’s use of Facebook to crowdsource suggestions for his works as evidence of this “power user” concept. The third category would be the complete reverse of the “power user”—the “traditional” approach still seems to work just for fine for composers like Christopher Theofanidis and Jason Eckardt, neither of whom use social networking at all, but don’t seem to be lacking for opportunities. Take note that these “traditional” composers aren’t luddites—both have effective websites—but they have chosen to keep their offline personas their only personas.
What to take away from all of this? Just as there are infinite ways to compose a work, there are infinite ways to exist online as a composer—the trick is to know enough about yourself as well as what’s going on around you to navigate the subtle netiquettes and creative opportunities that this new world provides.