I wonder whether such blog posts are the New Year equivalent of Christmas letters. I see more and more of them this year. All healthy stuff, of course. Good for the soul. But are people getting bored of them?
I hope not. As it happens I rather like both Christmas Letters and annual reviews.
So, in time-honoured Thoroughly Good tradition, here’s a review of this year against my original 2017 objectives, a few blog successes, a concert high-point, and some actions for next year. Consider it the appendix to the Thoroughly Good Blog User Manual.
1. Face change with boldness; feed challenges with an open mind.
Totally did this. Left the BBC behind. It appears I’m more at ease with change than I had previously given myself credit for. But let’s regroup in a year’s time on this point. If I feel the same way in a year’s time then all is definitely OK.
2. Be an architect, not a victim.
If you can’t make your own decisions about what you think is right for you when you’re 45, when exactly can you?
3. Help more.
A difficult one to quantify. I mentored a graduate in Kathmandu, and coached various people.
4. Seek out freedom; eradicate addiction.
I didn’t so much seek out freedom, as avoided those things which had a whiff of freedom being denied.
I’ve understood addiction more. My addictions are not what I assumed they were at the beginning of the year. Awareness is the first stage. I’m not sure the word ‘eradicate’ really helps. Understanding behaviours and making mindful decisions seems like the right way to go.
5. Reduce my digital footprint.
Hmm. Well. No. Failed on that one.
Review in (around about) 208 words
1. Went to Kathmandu, made a filming project, and mentored a chap out there. A remarkable experience. Saw a country I’d never seen before. Something I want to repeat.
2. Left the BBC.
Had worried I’d been institutionalised. Worried I would pine for it. Concerned I would flounder.
The outside world feels a little more raw than I had originally seen it inside the BBC.
A lot of the BBC’s flaws are more apparent when you’re a licence fee payer. I’m much better working for myself.
3. Got selected for the first stage of the Penguin Write Now Scheme.
4. Established Thoroughly Good Coaching – a new coaching business. Worked one to one with a variety of businesses, public sector and higher education organisations. Also secured associate work. Acquired my Coachy Accreditation.
5. Secured some video commissions – want to do more of this kind of work in 2018. I really enjoy it.
6. Played the clarinet solo in Rachmaninov’s second symphony. Got a bit emotional. No surprises there.
7. Developed some new ideas for the Thoroughly Good Blog, developed a funding strategy to take it to the next stage in its development. Started producing a new podcast for launch in the new year. Uncovered some core editorial strands for my classical music writing. Always useful.
8. Redecorated the living room, hall way and bits of the upstairs at home. Colours me and the OH have lived with for 20 years are now gone. A new dawn.
Blog traffic is up 50% on last year’s total, rising dramatically in July (around the time I devoted more time to the blog, reached out to new content sources, and started expressing stronger (for me) views on the classical music world.
The five most popular blog posts were: Daniel Barenboim’s Post Concert Proms Speech transcription, Why on earth wouldn’t a woman on the podium be your cup of tea Mariss?, Why I Love This Music and What I Owe It, and Classical Music’s Biggest Problem.
These posts defy some of the assumptions I started the year with about classical music writing.
Readers are prepared to go with long reads, the classical music world isn’t the perfect world most might assume it is, and readers do seek out a personal perspective.
I don’t think that’s restricted to my blog necessarily. I see it on a few others of note where longer-form content is successful.
Thinking ahead, I think there’s undoubtedly a sweet-spot to be reached in terms of content where sentence length is optimised but authority isn’t sacrificed. Also, its increasingly important to remove as many barriers to the actual music as is possible.
Not being motivated by what the traffic is or might be undoubtedly helps shape editorial into something distinctive and authentic. Obviously, we don’t everyone doing that otherwise being distinctive will be ever more challenging.
Underneath it all
The most striking insight for me where the blog was concerned was the extent to which writing passionately about how I interact with the classical music world made me confront a side of my personality I didn’t especially like.
This illustration might help.
The green line marks my perception of the world around me as triggered by my Instagram feed for 2017.
The red applies the same assessment in reaction to my blogging, the reaction I received as a result of it, and the impact it had on my personal outlook.
I see an encouraging rise around July in both accounts in terms of confidence and I recall there being a renewed sense of vigour throughout the summer and into the autumn.
The real come-down came in early December when the reality of what I had written in Classical Music’s Biggest Problem essentially appeared as an actual real thing at various events.
Taking an objective stance on that might suggest that I created my own self-fulfilling prophecy – that has to be borne in mind. Or it might just mean I was right.
People I met and their impact on me
Potential new business leads are fascinated about the BBC. This was an odd experience when, shortly after leaving, the one thing I didn’t want to talk about was the Corporation. These conversations did reinforce my appreciation of the skills I have, and shone a light on the slightly odd expectations society still has on people who work freelance. My parents for example, refer to me leaving the BBC as me ‘retiring’.
There’s an assumption that coaches are the experts, that they’ve got life sorted out, and that if only the client could be like the coach then everything will be fine. My clients this year have helped me in my own personal development too. It is because of a coaching session that further personal learning is demanded. I like that.
I spent years at the BBC assuming things about my musical contacts. I also definitely feared PRs (largely because within the BBC a lot of PRs exert a lot of necessary control over the projects they run). Outside the BBC I’ve discovered that isn’t quite how the PR world works. That’s made making new contacts and developing new ideas a breeze. That’s something I really value from this year.
And then there are the actual musicians and the writers. I’ve really felt supported by the people I’ve reconnected with and been introduced to in the second half of this year. It’s been invigorating. That’s something I really wasn’t expect when I changed direction in July.
This seems like a slightly odd thing to write about given that most people weren’t present at it and (unless you’ve got a login to Medici.TV) you may never see it.
But the most touching concert experience this year was undoubtedly at Verbier, Shostakovich trios in the first half and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time in the second. The experience developed my listening skills in quite a profound way. I adore Verbier and the musical magic that emerges there.
This one’s a difficult one to get across. The music was brilliant. Pianist Mitsuko Uchida was a revelation on stage at the Usher Hall. I was moved to tears.
But, the man who sat in the row behind me didn’t like it when I uncrossed and crossed my legs, momentarily blocking his view of the platform. So he punched me hard on the shoulder.
So I turned around and told him to fuck off.
- Be bold; be distinctive; be focused; don’t compare
- Think of digital content as strands as opposed to standalone posts
- Get to Aldeburgh Festival, Dartington, and the Edinburgh International Festival this year.
- Get more video commission and motion-graphic work
- Drive the funding strategy so it at least covers the annual costs of running the blog
- Build your immunity
- Don’t panic – opportunities come from all sorts of places
- Launch the podcast
- Crack the fear of money
- Acknowledge the terror and pitch some book ideas
Thoroughly Good Blog is an independent blog celebrating classical music and the arts.