Brenda K’s continued progress through “Music Success in Nine Weeks”, now tackling the subject of Social Networking for Musicians (Chapter 4).  

Within the space of one month I went from living rather peacefully and comfortably under of the public radar, even while working as a professional performer for many years, to having my information popping up all over the internet like mushrooms after rain.  On the plus side, I’m finding it somewhat easier to get my band booked now that references to “The Panache Orchestra” run several pages deep in a Google search as of late.  However, the one degree of separation between The Panache Orchestra and Brenda K is very thin and transparent, which means that Brenda is no longer at liberty to be her quirky, ornery self with any privacy anymore.  I am not entirely comfortable with that.  Fortunately the worst of my youthful indiscretions were perpetrated before the internet was invented, so at least what has been recorded in a fixed form is relatively benign (or so I think).

I am having difficulty making sense of the current unorthodox maxims of be authentic, be controversial, keep it real, any PR is good PR, etc., and balancing that with old school common sense and good judgment.  In my case, my basic nature tends toward being honest to the point of being offensive, and TMI is apparently a byword for Brenda K.  Its (usually) not intentional.  I just have a lot of pent-up angst combined with a way with words and under-developed social skills, which unfortunately makes me something akin to a human wrecking ball.  That said, wantonly burning bridges does not sound like a sensible idea, at least not at this point in my career, so what gives?  I really don’t know.  Perhaps the answer lies in understanding your own personality well enough to be able temper your realness to a degree that falls within the boundary of basic social decency?

Until I get further clarity about this, I am leaning toward heeding sage advice from my boss at my current day job, which is to not put anything on public record that I would not feel comfortable having broadcast on the prime time news.  Also for what its worth, a general observation from my spectatorship of the www so far is that it is now super-easy to make a global village idiot of oneself on a much grander scale than ever before imaginable. Again, thankfully up to this point, my lack of technology savoir-faire and access has precluded making too many of my misdeeds a part of the permanent public record.

From a different angle, now and then I come across mind-bogglingly amazing players, but if I’m lucky enough to find out their name (it is exceptionally rare that they have business cards – I only got some of my own made up a couple months ago!), and then go to look them up so I can find out more about them, see who else they’re playing with and go to more of their shows or perhaps hire them for one of mine, there is not a single word about them on the web, or with further sleuthing I might unearth a skeletal Myspace site they or a friend/fan of theirs put up but haven’t logged onto in over six months because they’re busy working and hustling for more work, and don’t have the wherewithal to wade through the monumentally time consuming hassle of figuring out how that stuff works. You might also find their name mentioned on a website of an artist they played or recorded with for a different project than the one you saw them in that hasn’t been updated for two years. In fact, I can think of a couple stellar players right offhand I’ve worked with who don’t even have a computer!

Now I’m no pundit, and have only my own experience to go by, but I think another reason for the anonymity of side players is because the line-up is ever-changing, and the artist(s) using them would have to be a pretty sizeable operation to be able to keep their online information totally current, so it’s apparently easier to make the artist’s site all about the artist and zero about their players than try to document a constantly shifting cast of support characters (It can also be like pulling teeth just to get resume information about side players since this work happens almost exclusively through word of mouth and not many of them even have a resume in written form!).  Therefore, the secret lives of side players are kept a deep, dark secret safely out of the public eye. for example, when was the last time you heard about some mega-famous pop tart’s bassist making tabloid headlines? Or the gal who did the French horn tracks on one song three albums ago?  That right there should make the news, i.e., that they actually used (and paid for) a real player instead of using samples for the horn tracks!

With music traditionally being a low-wage job and currently becoming a no-wage job, the idea of a side player hiring a professional to create and manage a web presence for them is sheer fantasy, unless they are working at a very high level (and it takes a hell of a lot of luck and privileged contacts in addition to chops to get there!).  If they write original material and ever get around to recording it and then promoting and selling it so they are producing something they have equity in and thence derive ongoing income from, then they typically build a presence through that effort.

Chi and I are terribly old school, so we didn’t even come into direct contact with digital downloads until very recently, and as soon as we did, my first concern was, “What happened to the liner notes crediting the players on these recordings?!”  Of course only an infinitesimal percentage of the record-buying population even reads the fine print or gives a tinker’s damn who played what instrument on which song on whose album – that’s from back in the olden days when people cared about bands rather than mindlessly consuming whatever popular songs were being pushed by Big Music on a one-by-one basis, but I digress.  At any rate, recording credits are to side and session players what tear sheets are to models.

As I’m writing this, it just struck me that I had totally blown a golden PR/networking opportunity at a gig I did as a side player a couple years ago when Chi and I first moved to L.A. I was hired to play an out-of-state gig for an artist on an indie label at a major showcase event for entertainment buyers.  After our set, the players went out to work the room on behalf of the artist we were backing.  Everybody loved my playing and stage presence, and several people asked for my contact information, but since I was in side player mode working in a genre that I wasn’t certain I even wanted to be in, and this was before Chi and I had decided to move what used to be our little pet side project to the front burner, it never entered my mind to hand out my own contact info, or even have it on me.  Being in touch with the people I met at that gig certainly would have been helpful now that I am promoting my own act, which while in a totally unrelated musical genre, would still be relevant to those types of venues. It occurred to me just now that if anybody had tried to contact me through the artist I played that show with, he would have probably said something to the effect of “oh, that was just some girl I used on that particular gig, and I think she moved after that so I don’t have her current information, but if you’re looking for a violinist, this is the one I am using now.”  Lesson learned.

That said, I also recall a conversation I had awhile ago with a contractor I used to do a lot of work with about another side player who made the most of networking and PR opportunities at gigs that contractor booked.  The contractor was under the impression that such an aggressive approach backfired on the side player when that person routinely ambushed the clients with information about a totally unrelated band, and that sharing that information would be more appropriate for situations in which the clients personally complimented the player and expressed interest in that player’s other projects and asked for contact information.

They don’t teach you this stuff in music school, or at least, they didn’t used to.  They teach you to play your instrument and interpret and compose music. Hence, the relevance of social networking for musicians! This is the essence of the 4th chapter of Ariel Hyatt’s book I am working through called “Music Success in Nine Weeks”, and this has ended up being one of the most time consuming and challenging tasks to date.

Social networking is a Web 2.0 phenomenon, which is generally about having a more dynamic and widespread web presence, and again, Ariel very kindly summarized the social networking sites and functions that are the most helpful to musicians with a project to promote, which is a huge relief since all these sites have their own vicissitudes and learning curves that consume enormous amounts of time to figure out and make work. We were first directed to the website for a quick primer on how all this works.  That was fantastic!  I felt emboldened to jump in and start social networking my way to relevance.

Upon getting into the nitty gritty of actually creating an account and profile on the various social sites on Ariel’s shortlist, the first one was Twitter.  I have steered well clear of that one so far first because I’m already losing my mind trying to manage the few sites that I already have a profile on, and second because I had no clue as to how it could be helpful.  From the little I had heard about it, it just seemed rather dumb and inane. Nevertheless, with Ariel’s pointers, I feel ready to now take on Twitter, which I plan on doing this week. Ariel gives us lots of advice on how to really make this work beyond simply opening an account and starting tweeting (that sounds so corny!!), such as specific tips on how to set up our profile, suggestions on who to follow, how to find Twitter-based communities formed around types of music similar to what we do, info on how to add pictures to our Twitter posts (boy, did that give me fits when I made my blog site!!), links to a few useful Twitter tools, and even a link to an informative interview with a Twitter guru! I’m actually excited about getting started with Twitter!!

Next up was Facebook.  I had set up a skeletal FB profile a year or so ago since I had heard so often that FB is the new Myspace for musicians, we gotta have it, etc., but hadn’t done anything much with it since out of all the Web 2.0 sites I have put our presence on so far, I have found Facebook to be the most absolutely baffling and frustrating. It apparently even has its very own programming language, “FBML”!  I very recently FINALLY figured out how to set up a special FB “page” for The Panache Orchestra (distinct from my personal profile, but related), and am presently stymied by how to detangle the band stuff that I managed to stick on my personal profile and route it through to the new Panache fan page.

For technology-challenged people like me, it takes an enormous amount of time, effort and research to figure it out, but since I got my hands in it and muddled through acquiring at least a rudimentary grip on how it works for the functions I need the most urgently, I have found it to be a potentially powerful tool for promoting a musical project.  It has to be used with great discretion though, i.e., observe the “golden rule” (Do unto others…).  That means, don’t indiscriminately spam every one of your friends with every show you book and every new track and video you upload. Also, the beauty of Facebook (at least up to this point – hopefully it won’t end up like Myspace!) is that your Facebook friends tend to be your “real world” friends, and/or friends of friends.  This is a critically important distinction.  The vast majority of my Facebook friends are friends from way back when, in one case, before I even started playing an instrument (and this happens to be the person who originally inspired me to pick up the violin!), and a few are other musicians I have worked with as a side player.  I don’t think there is a single person among my Facebook contacts who is there because they were a fan of The Panache Orchestra before they knew who I was.  In fact, the Panache page has only existed for a couple weeks now!

Ariel similarly digested the vast array of available apps and info down to what is most useful for musicians, so I am plugging away at that at the pace traffic will bear.  In fact, it nearly toppled the Panache applecart last week though when Chi threw a tantrum and blew off a gig because he thought I was spending too much time Facebooking and not enough time practicing!  (More about that debâcle in a future post.)

On down the list to Flickr.  I opened a Flickr account.  In fact, I even borrowed one of our cats’ Yahoo login info (Yes, you read that right.  Some of the Panache Cats have their own friends and fans, so they need email addresses!)  I had been heretofore using Photobucket as my photo hosting site, but since Ariel recommended Flickr and gave lots of helpful information about how to work it as a social networking site, I decided to at least give it a whirl.  I can’t seem to take a decent picture to save my soul, but since I figured out how to use our digital camera, I’ve been snapping pictures like a regular shutterbug, and am getting better at editing and uploading them, so this may just work in my favor (as opposed to “eternal time deficit”) after all.  I still need to spend a little more time managing my new Flickr site and implementing Ariel’s many great suggestions.

The final item on the shortlist of social networking platforms recommended in Music Success in Nine Weeks is podcasting.  Well, the buck has to stop somewhere, and I’m afraid that it is just going to have to stop there, at least for the time being, both because before I take on anything that esoteric, I’m going to have to first dig myself out from under the mess from the recent construction enterprise of my Web 2.0 empire I’m building, and also because I just can’t see any way that I will be able to get Chi to agree to make our music available for free for use by podcasters.  In fact, the mere thought of trying to explain this in Japanese in order to get him to comprehend what a podcast even is makes my stomach clench (forget about how appearing in one could possibly help us any way. I have never even listened to a podcast myself yet – I had previously assumed that a podcast was some sort of arcane thing unique to ipod owners, which is a gadget I do not have!!). Nevertheless, this appears to be an essential element of Cyber PR campaigns, so it looks like I won’t be able to avoid tackling this beast for very long. If the truth be told, it actually sounds kinda fun. Maybe I’ll even end up making one of my own.  My first task, however, will be to get it figured out enough to be able to “sell” the concept to Chi, and I’m afraid there is a large array of carts massed in front of that horse at this stage.  As always, I’ve got my work cut out for me……