Thoughts arising from David Taylor’s post on ‘Why do classical musicians suck at promoting themselves?’

There maybe other reasons that explain why some don’t engage with digital media to self-promote. And some of that might be down to what motivates professional musicians every time they pick up their instruments.

A generation of young musicians are being steered to consider their musical careers as part of a much-wider portfolio of a revenue generating activities. The entrepreneurial musician isn’t a fanciful construct or aspiration, but a necessity.

But professional musicians have always been their own businesses.

Certainly the ones I’ve known for the past twenty odd years started out by building themselves a sector wide reputation amongst influencers, peers and hiring managers, supplementing their concert bookings with teaching, or other services.

What’s changed in recent years is that young professional musicians are by and large entering the sector having received more of a formalised business contextualisation of themselves.

All of the UK conservatoires offer entrepreneurial skills as part of their undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Reports are mixed as to how rich these experiences are. To my mind, the fact that it’s on the curriculum marks an important step. Advocacy of music education and the arts at secondary level might also consider introducing the basics of looking at the creative arts from an entrepreneurial perspective too. Baby steps first though.

There is, it strikes me, an underlying tension at work in a musicians life – in particular those who regard their musical activities as the prime source (or a potential source) of income – that makes the idea of self-promotion a daunting prospect.

At its most fundamental level, a musician’s central activity – performance – is one riven with risk and jeopardy. It’s something that has its heart negative thinking. If channelled correctly, that negative thinking can drive an alternative behaviour – thinking or actual physical action. But if the negative thinking goes unchecked it can have a negative impact. Unwanted behaviours can result, impacting performance for example.

In this way it seems almost inconceivable that seeing as all of us suffer from it, that imposter syndrome wouldn’t run riot too. And if that’s the case, the idea of self-promotion would be a prospect bound to bring on even more negative thinking.

Look at it from a more positive perspective perhaps. The soloists I’ve interviewed for the podcast have consistently responded to my question about how much they see a Concerto performance as theirs of not in largely the same way: as soloist they are interpreter, channelling the wishes perceived or otherwise of the composer in order to bring a work of art to life. There is in this grossly over simplified statement a sense of the music demonstrating humility when articulating the performance experience.

I know from my own experience producing content which I then need to distribute public ally or on a business to business level how demanding the shift is to go from making to promoting.

A former boss told me I should just do it otherwise how would people know what I was achieving?

Yet the experience felt very different. It still does. Doubts are triggered. Procrastination rears it’s ugly head. The relative anonymity presented by social media distribution feels like a much easier alternative.

Shifting from doing the work that is your business, to doing the work to promote it demands exercising the mental muscles to see yourself as others see you. And that is a process of doing battle with the internal dialogue. It’s not impossible. It just takes practise.

No surprises then that successful self-employment rests not on conventional marketing rather than word of mouth, endorsements, referrals and recommendations. I don’t imagine that’s any different today from how it was for my musician friends when they started out twenty years ago.

What’s different now is that there are more tools available for all of us self-employed types and entrepeneurially-minded individuals to promote ourselves. And that creates an expectation that everyone will feel as ready, willing and able to devote time and energy to promoting themselves across multiple platforms as say I do.

That’s certainly the case when, like David Taylor I suspect, I end up browsing the internet looking for an artist’s digital footprint. It’s not that I necessarily expect to find something (or demand to), rather that I assume that because I tend my digital patch on a fairly frequent basis that others do too. And if they don’t then that says something about their seriousness to the medium. All sorts of assumption do arise as a result: they’re not trying hard enough; they don’t care about how they come across; it looks a bit amateurish.

But since reflecting on David’s thought-provoking post a little more, I’m minded to think of the many reasons why a musician may not self-promote themselves in the way that I as a blogger, journalist and content producer might expect. A lot of those reasons go to the very crux of what it is to be a performer – the very paradox that makes them the creative individual that they is potentially the very thing that makes the idea of self-promotion very very difficult to contemplate. If one were to list a set of priorities, I’d say mastering the core offer – quality of performance – over marketing should surely be top of the list. At least that’s what I expect as a punter.

There is too another aspect to this which seems worth emphasising. In a world where self-publishing is so pervasive, expectations on the individual are set unexpectedly high. Some people may well recognise the importance of it, and may well have put their demons to rest sufficiently to be able to contemplate it. For those people there is perhaps insufficient time left in their schedules beyond performance and practice (their core offer) to generate the content necessary to market themselves.

The knowledge may not be there too. The appetite to learn how to go about doing that may be lacking too. That’s where people like me are still useful, I believe. The content that tells the story of a musicians aspirations or activities maybe better created by a third party who can look objectively on their clients achievements and take on a lot of the spade work for them.

It seems a rather odd thing to say, that I think its important that people like musicians recognise the benefits of having someone like me support them in their promotion, so that they have greater time available ensuring their core product remains highly sought-after.

Jon Jacob is a content producer and accredited coach. He works with people in the arts, media, higher education and civil service. To work with him email jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me.

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