Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More on Social Media & Promoting Yourself

I have written a few times on this blog about my mixed feelings regarding social media and, more specifically, about how I think encouraging self-promotion is damaging and distracting for young composers.

I haven't changed my mind, but I do have some more nuanced thoughts on the topic from a recent experience.

Not long ago, I wrote a piece for Baltimore's SONAR New Music Ensemble called "Decadent Music Box." I put it up on my SoundCloud page after receiving the recording and gritted my teeth as I posted it to Facebook. I say "gritted my teeth," because I grew up in a house where it was a huge no-no to brag and any kind of self-assertion or pride easily would fall into that category. I feel weird linking my music on Facebook because I know how it comes off to people who were raised the way I was raised. But I post my music nonetheless because I want people to hear what I'm composing.

In the end, it was a good thing that I did link it, because a fortuitous chain of events followed: a friend of mine tweeted a link to the SoundCloud recording on Twitter, the owner of incipitsify (a score/audio channel on YouTube) began following me on twitter and sent me an email asking to post my piece on his channel, and subsequently more people have heard "Decadent Music Box" than I ever would have thought possible. I got some feedback and more followers on both SoundCloud and Twitter. It's possible that this kind of exposure and these kinds of connections will help me down the road. For about a heady week or so I was feeling almost a complete about-face in terms of my attitude toward social media.

But, as the initial ego-trip has faded, I think there are some worthwhile things to point out.

First, social media can be very effective at temporarily putting a composer on the radar (at least the radar in our very small world)--almost alarmingly so.

Second, because social media is very effective, I had better be sure whatever is online is something I am proud of. In addition to being very excited about the exposure the piece was getting, I was also a little bit terrified, despite the fact that I do feel that it's one of my stronger pieces to date. The thought crossed my mind, however, that I would be cringing if one of my weaker pieces were getting this kind of attention. And, I think it's also worth pointing out that the more exposure a composer has the less likely that people will feel compelled to be nice and generous toward his or her work. This isn't a bad thing necessarily, but it's worth considering if you aren't sure you want that kind of criticism yet. And, in keeping with that...

Third, social media exposure doesn't guarantee anything positive. Just because someone has listened to my work doesn't mean that they listened to the whole thing, really focused on it, or even liked it. YouTube hits and SoundCloud plays do not indicate that I've necessarily written something meaningful. I understand the desire to write music that is liked by your audience (although, I also understand the desire not to worry about this at all), but social media doesn't always tell us what is liked (even the "likes" can be alarmingly political...), it simply tells us what is "trending"...what people on the internet are aware of. Awareness and appreciation should not be confused.

The ultimate job of social media is to provide us with networks and it is, actually, very effective at doing that if we use it well. This can be a good thing, but I still think that we need to emphasize, especially to young and emerging composers, that the "legitimacy" that social media may appear to give our work is still only worth as much as the musical content that we provide. Thus I stand by a statement I made in an earlier post that young composers should be focusing more on the music and building their craft, rather than worrying about websites, Twitter, and Facebook.

What I have learned from this recent experience is that I do need to take social media seriously in terms of its potential to connect me with musicians and an audience. It is, without a doubt, a powerful platform for marketing yourself. But, like all marketing tools, that's where its meaningfulness ends. I still need to wake up tomorrow, go to class, make lesson plans for my students, and figure out effective ways to compose the music I want to write.

Posted by Natalie

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