The Self-Promoting Composer, Part 3

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.

7 thoughts on “The Self-Promoting Composer, Part 3

  1. dB

    Thanks for writing this, Rob. It’s good to know that pretty much any approach is not only feasible, but is actually working for people in the real world.

    Your mention of navigating the subtle nettiquettes makes me think of the occasional flack I get on this site for posting under the name “dB.” I’ve never really understood what problem(s) people have with it, but maybe there’s something important I’ve overlooked.

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  2. paulhmuller

    “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.”

    Thanks to Rob Deemer’s extensive research for bringing this out. I think it is an important point and I would like to advance an opinion why I think it is true.

    The skills and techniques for getting a piece of music performed before an audience today probably have not changed for, say, 100 years. You have to compose good music – that is a given – and you need to have a good relationship with the performing organizations, maybe have a sense of what the audience and players are looking for, and perhaps have a bit of luck. The concert hall, after all, is simply a 19th century delivery system for acoustic music – and the instruments, musicians and management of this system today would probably be recognized by Liszt or Brahms.

    Able composers writing for performance will likely be successful with or without the Internet, although an on-line presence can probably help. Composers like Eric Whitacre and Alex Shapiro – power users of the Internet to be sure – find an audience because they write good music that fills the needs of the organizations performing their works. But it is hard to see how the Internet makes the critical difference because the traditional performing organizations continue to make their artistic decisions in more or less the same way that they have for the last 100 years.

    The Internet, IMHO, is more than just an electronic business card. It is a delivery system that puts music directly into the ear of the listener – paralleling the function that was previously reserved to the concert hall. It may eventuate that the real reason for composers to understand how to use the Internet is so that their music will reach the most listeners – and be available where the most people are looking for the music they want to hear.

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  3. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Pseudonymous or anonymous posts and blogs are an affectation unless you’re a person who needs identity protection.

    Posting anonymously or under a hidden identity is wearing a verbal ski mask, shared by thieves and snipers. (Slashdot labels anonymous posts “AC” for “Anonymous Coward”.)

    Unless you’re living in fear of something, please use enough of your real or professional name so we know who you are — or at least post a link to a website.

    Dennis

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  4. dB

    Posting anonymously or under a hidden identity is wearing a verbal ski mask, shared by thieves and snipers. (Slashdot labels anonymous posts “AC” for “Anonymous Coward”.)

    That implies that any and every anonymous poster has a dubious reason for wishing to maintain their privacy. I can’t imagine what those reasons would be, but it seems like that could be assessed based on the content of the actual comments. Personally, I’m very careful about my identity, perhaps bordering on paranoia, but my anonymity motivated by precaution, not cowardice.

    I agree that totally anonymous posting can become a problem on many internet forums by separating actions from their consequences. However, if my comments were linked (either by association or digitally) to my “identity” (that is, my online presence as a composer), the potential is created for comments that are motivated by self promotion, rather than a desire to participate in the discussion. At it’s worst, the former amounts to vandalism; annoying, but easily ignored. The latter is much more insidious, as it’s negative impact on this site is subtler, but much more profound. I don’t think either of these extremes ever actually happen, but I would much rather err on the side of the former.

    Ultimately, this is kind of a moot point, as dB is my professional name (it’s the only name I put on scores, programs, etc.) If you don’t recognize dB, I can guarantee you wouldn’t recognize my “real” name, as nothing appears on the web (or anywhere) connecting that name to my music. Knowing it wouldn’t give anyone any context, though I still don’t see why that would be necessary to engage with my posts here in the first place.

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  5. Juan Calderon

    Dear dB,
    In the spirit of the obscure verbiage you have just used to defend ‘anonymity,’ it could be argued that not revealing one’s name is a kind of ‘self-promotion’ by default, which consists in seeking not to alienate colleagues and possible employers with one’s personal opinions on music, therefore reducing possible friction on your professional relationship with others. Cunning! Too late for me! Oh well… there goes my opportunity at being employed by so-and-so or winning who-knows-what.

    Non-Link

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  6. rtanaka

    I recently started my own music business and have been spending the last year or so trying to get it off the ground. Most of the suggestions mentioned here are true, and it echoes the things I’ve been hearing around town as legitimate ways of getting your work out. But this is all spoken from a technical standpoint — before they start calling themselves entrepreneurs composers might want to ask themselves if they’re really cut out for it because it requires a certain type of personality in order to pull it off. Startup ventures are becoming very popular now and I’d imagine it won’t be long before it becomes a form of fashion, but if you’re interested in doing it more than just a lark, then there should probably be some things to consider.

    You have to love what you’re doing, be willing to work almost 24/7 with little to no pay (at least in the beginning), like people enough that you don’t mind spending hours networking and making connections, develop multiple skill sets (since you will be pretty much running EVERYTHING) including management, administration, marketing/PR, and budgeting. In this day and age, technological savvy-ness is pretty much a requirement as well. So basically you have to be good at everything yet be crazy enough to forgo high-paying jobs in order to realize your idea in the marketplace. (In that sense, entrepreneurs aren’t all that different from what artists do.)

    If anybody here knows how to improvise — you know that feeling you get when you’re in the middle of a jam session? Now, imagine feeling like that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s what starting a new business is like — it’s not for everyone.

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  7. dB

    Apologies for the bizarre hypotheticals, Juan. I’m trying to argue for a wide range of reasons why someone may wish to remain anonymous, but I can see that those arguments are too general to really be useful. However, I still think anonymity has merits, and I can’t think of a reason why my anonymity should bother anyone.

    Your example actually highlights one of the virtues of anonymity. It’s easy for us to cluck our tongues at the abstract idea of someone hiding their ideology (creative, political, etc.) in order to stay employed, but the reality is that very few people are in a position to refuse a job over ideology. The only options I can imagine for a person whose opinions may alienate their employer are 1) abstaining from discussions that may cause friction 2) engaging in those discussions, but not saying what they actually believe 3) asserting their potentially alienating viewpoints and risk getting fired or 4) asserting their potentially alienating viewpoints anonymously. I personally would rather have people present their real opinions here anonymously than to have them risk their jobs or to miss hearing those opinions altogether. Maybe that’s just me, but I honestly can’t think of a reason why someone would insist on knowing that person’s name.

    Stepping back from that hypothetical, I feel I should add that the above example has nothing to do with why I value my privacy on the internet. Actually, I doubt that example can apply to anyone, as I can’t imagine a situation where an employer would care enough about his employee’s opinions to fire based on them, but not enough to value the open expression of those opinions.

    I understand that people view this as an issue of etiquette, but I really don’t understand why. I appreciate that someone may presume anonymity as an act of cowardice (though I disagree with that presumption), but I still don’t see why it’s discourteous to be perceived as a coward. Why does anonymity bother people? Why is the “identity” (that is, a name that sounds legitimate) of a poster more important than the things he posts? I truly am open to changing my mind on this, but I can’t think of any reasons (good or bad) for why I should. I’m genuinely curious about people’s opinions on this.

    Reply

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