Be a Real Person

Whenever a conductor or ensemble performing my music tags me in a post about their performance, I have two simultaneous thoughts: I should probably share this and Is there any real reason for me to share this? When I post because I think I "should," but I haven't thought through why anyone would be interested in that post, it inevitably gets fewer likes and comments than when I've asked myself if what I'm sharing is compelling. Even on the internet, people can usually sense when we’re faking enthusiasm.

 

I have a mantra that I say to myself now whenever I'm wondering how and what to share: Be a real person. Real people have distinctive voices and interesting stories. Yet when we're promoting ourselves in a post, we slip into generic, forced language we'd never use to tell a friend or close acquaintance about our work.

 

There's the “Come to my concert!” post, which neglects to give any actual reasons to come to the concert. There's the post-performance “So grateful for my collaborators!” post that fails to mention any details about how the concert went. We trot out this tired self-promotional language for concert after concert, as if the fact that other people use these words means we have to use them, too.

 

I understand the sentiment. Of course you're feeling excited before a concert and grateful after it. But what specific details make this performance different from others? If you're trying to convince me to come to your concert, well, why should I attend? Yes, live music is wonderful, but I'm an introvert. I like staying indoors, where I don't have to make polite conversation with strangers and pay $9 for parking. Why is your concert worth leaving the house?

 

On every platform, there are composers and conductors who share only the best and most braggy posts about their music. “Humbled to be working with this amazing ensemble!” “Here's a gorgeous sunset I captured en route to my outstanding gig!” “Feeling blessed to have reached a double-barline!” How do you feel reading these posts? You might secretly resent them, or find them annoying. You might reach for the “unfollow” button.

 

I must confess: I've posted that flying-to-a-gig photo before. The mid-air sunset may have been lovely, but when I took that photo, I was on hour five of that flight, feeling tired, slightly claustrophobic, and annoyed at the stranger who kept sticking his elbow over the armrest. I hadn't washed my hair in three days. I wished I was back home, not on that plane. If I could redo that post now, I wouldn't necessarily share all that information in the caption. But in a string of other people's airplane photos, mine would have stuck out if I'd mentioned even a little bit of the story behind that photo.

 

When you’re promoting your work in a real way, you have to be willing to be a little vulnerable. Real people are flawed.

 

A few years ago, one of my favorite writers, Curtis Sittenfeld, shared a lengthy post with her very mixed feelings about receiving a lukewarm New York Times review for her latest book. The reason I enjoy Sittenfeld's books is the same reason I enjoy reading her posts: she captures human experiences and emotions in a devastatingly accurate way. Online, whether Sittenfeld is sharing accolades or less-than-stellar reviews, she remains lightly and humorously self-aware of her own fame. I’m sure there’s plenty in her life that she chooses not to share on social media, but because of the bracingly honest way that she does share her work and her life, I've become an even bigger fan.

If our hypothetical composer who feels "blessed" by his double barline also mentioned that he experiences writer's block every once and a while like the rest of us, or that he's tired from hopping on and off of airplanes all the time, we'd probably like him a little more—because of his humanness, not in spite of it.

 

There is, of course, a shadow side of “being a real person” on social media. We worry that we might appear unprofessional. I'm not suggesting that you post every minor frustration you experience or downplay your successes.

 

When I urge you to “be a real person,” I mean this: share a slice of your reality in every post you make, and think twice about the language you use to promote your work. Instead of mechanically sharing an upcoming concert because you think you should, first ask yourself what story you'll tell about that performance. Whenever you share information, ask yourself why you feel the need to share it at all, and whether that information is worth sharing in the first place. Incorporating your actual life and human feelings into a post helps distinguish your story from everyone else's. Especially in an artistic field full of others who do exactly what you do, setting yourself apart can only benefit your

career.

 

In person, we can't help but be ourselves. When we're posting about our lives online, though, it's up to us to tell our stories in a way that captures our thoughts, our feelings, and how we live our lives. The social-media posts we share add up to a much bigger picture about who we are. What would happen if we let our stories be real?

.  .  .  .  .

Originally published in Cantate Magazine, Vol. 31, No. 2,Winter 2019.

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