novelist, professional ghost writer

Social Media, Deaf Badgers and the Musician

Social and media are two words capable of striking terror into many artists — musicians in particular.

Everybody knows that we’re meant to promote ourselves — and our concerts — and our every group, especially our chamber groups or solos. But where does the line fall between winning self-promotion and annoying self-advertisement?

Also: where lies the balance between offering support to one’s entire personal acquaintance and (gulp) innate honesty?

Let’s say you’ve been offered a solo gig in a major Edinburgh venue. Naturally, you tweet about it. Repeatedly. You also plaster it to your Facebook status — with superglue — sometimes with added bribery (‘Free drinks to follow! Pizza at mine after!’)

Although some of these can sound rather forlorn (‘Come and hear my concerto! it’s for charity — Deaf Badger Aid — and it’d be so great to see you there! Please, please, please share!’)

Personally, I’d recommend saving such desperation stakes for rather closer to the concert.

Instead, in the early promotion period it can be a good move to appear a trifle bashful. (‘Come and support me at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh with the stunning — orchestra! I’m incredibly lucky to be asked and bound to be rubbish, but all support gratefully accepted!’) Some musos are brilliant at this, tweeting, ‘First rehearsal and wow! — the orchestra is sensational, only hope I’ll be up to their standard!’ or ‘What a privilege to work with the phenomenal conductor so-and-so!’

This kind of post or tweet can, of course, hugely increase orchestral goodwill towards you. This is especially true as the orchestra, conductor etc. aren’t — luckily — privy to your private texts: ‘OMG, the conductor is in a world of his own and I can’t cope with the principal oboe’s intonation. Mega-nervy! TTYL.’

However, the kinds of posts proposed above can become just a tad tedious for your loyal social media followers: rather like all those yawn-worthy interviews of actors:

Interviewer: ‘So, what was it really like working with such a famous director?’

ACTOR (POWERFULLY MOVED): ‘Ohmigod it was to die for! Never in all my life have I felt so privileged! The truly astonishing talent — I’m proud to call him my friend — was so insightful and humane, so dedicated and deep: he simply illuminated the role for me. Oh, and did I mention that my co-stars, not excluding the bunny rabbit, were simply just too amazing?’

Sometimes I positively yearn for the honest actor, the one who doesn’t play the game, instead opining, ‘Well, frankly it was all a bit of a trial. The director was basically hung up on my co-star and the producer on getting funding for his next film; my co-star had B.O. as well as some kind of mild-to-moderate cocaine issue and as for the rabbit, well, I just didn’t get much support from the rabbit, not a particularly feeling actor, if you catch my drift.’

Instead, every other actor is simply too too stunningly wunderbar, while every director is, without exception, the most terrifyingly gifted and strikingly empathetic human that the actor concerned has ever met. To perform even as part of Male Voices Off is a ‘rare privilege’ (well, hey, it is rare! For an actor just working is rare; they have it tougher than anybody!)

Which is why, despite my carping here, we musos can learn much from our actor friends. OK, they may overdo it — they are thesps, after all — but they’re really giving us a masterclass. We too must learn, not just the resolutely up-lifted lip, but also the resolutely upbeat Facebook status.

This, for example, is how the true muso’s best friend would react in the circumstances outlined above: ‘Now, repeat after me. Your conductor is a genius — as well as being sadly ignored and unrewarded. And no, he doesn’t have a Lamborghini, I don’t think he does, anyway . . . Also, the principal oboe has the most remarkably good intonation — just keep your eyes on this little rose quartz on a string, please — and the orchestra with whom you are playing in Edinburgh is the one orchestra — even if offered the Berlin Philharmonic on a gilded platter surrounded by fresh watercress — with whom you would choose to play the Beethoven concerto . . . Right, I think you’re ready. Now get out there and TWEET!’

At first, of course, you simply assume that your concert is bound to capture the imaginations of the great Edinburgh public. You mention it on social media months beforehand, or whenever some friend loyally asks where your next gig is: a very sure-footed move on their parts, by the bye, as long as you actually have a gig or two in your pocket.

As the weeks tick by, however, and the denizens of Edinburgh begin to make it abundantly clear that they frankly don’t give a shit about the plight of deaf badgers, then your social media load becomes rather heavier. Regardless of the actual level of support it’s now your annoying task to tweet: ‘Thanks for all the fab support! If you’re not doing anything a week from Thurs., why don’t you consider coming along to the Usher hall to hear me play with this fantabulous orchestra!’ (Please note the winningly cheery style. Nobody wants to show up at a concert where you can sense the performers wondering who the hell invited you.)

Perhaps a week later one might shove this on one’s F’book status: ‘Why not come to Edinburgh and make an evening of it with me after the show at the Bowall Hawror Indian restaurant?’ (Translation: if we don’t get a few more suckers to come along, this is not going to look pretty.)

A day or two later, or just as the orchestra management politely email to wonder if you could do with another fifty or so complimentary tickets, you rush to social media to proclaim: ‘Only a few spaces left!’ (a few in every row, to be precise). ‘Hurry to get one of the few remaining tickets to hear this marvellous orchestra!’ Or ‘Free drinks before at the Rock and Rope pub. See you there!’ (Translation: my mum is dragging her entire book club. Beyond that, we’re stuffed.)

But after the actual event is perhaps where the true social media artist shows his or her class. First the artist tweets ‘Soooooo relieved to — more or less! — get away with last night’s concert! Great to see you all!’ (Translation: The hall was 1/2 full, thanks to adroit social media work!!!! Yay me!!!!)

Those equally adept at social media will immediately offer heartfelt congratulations (translation: they punch ‘like’).

There is, after all, nothing as versatile as ‘like’. Nothing else can sufficiently express angst, thrill, adoration, remorse, shock, pleasure and sorrow. Basically, if in doubt, when on Facebook press ‘like’. This even goes for statuses like the following:

a) ‘My turtle just died’ – as ‘like’ will deeply and eloquently convey your utter sympathy.

b) ‘My orchestra is under threat of closing down next month’ (or your empathy. Either way.)

c) ‘Bobby and I are splitting up’ (‘like’ is just great at expressing deep concern).

However, where the artistic temperament is concerned, not even the ever-versatile ‘like’ might be enough. You will wish — especially if you pushed along to the Usher Hall, doing your bit for those badgers — to tweet a truly personal note to your soloist friend. In this case, consider something along these lines:

  1. First insert cheery encouragement (‘Loved it’ . . . ‘Thanks for last night!’ etc.)
  2. Then, ‘Your’ (tone/characterisation/phrasing/empathy) ‘with’ (pianist/conductor/fellow performers) ‘was’ (mess about with in any combination):

alluring / appealing / captivating / charming / compelling / delightful / enchanting / engaging / engrossing / gripping / riveting / ravishing / delectable / irresistible / spellbinding / irresistible / fascinating / acute / significant / vital, urgent, meaningful / persuasive / sensitive / acute / feeling / emotional / precise / meaningful / genuine / satisfying / lucid / potent / powerful / arresting / compelling / impressive / insightful / generous / enlightened / perceptive / exemplary or striking.

Remember, if it really was rubbish: ‘You truly fulfilled your utmost potential!’ or even that hoary old stand-by: ‘You did it!’

In short, it wastes only a couple of moments — which, admittedly, will never come again — for you to formulate such snappy winners as the following:

  1. ‘Loved it! Your phrasing was exemplary, and I was so moved by the compelling empathy and glorious understanding between you and the principal oboe!’
  2. ‘Thanks so much for the amazing concert: your tone was ravishing, and your interpretation so insightful!’ Or (in extremis):
  3. ‘Fab evening! You did it!!!!’

The only downside to all this hard social media work is this: none of my friends — or yours, either — will ever believe us again.

(Oh, bugger.)

Copyright © 2015 Alice McVeigh, all rights reserved. First published by Amati magazine.