"Quality over quantity."
I grew up hearing my mom say this often throughout my life. It's ingrained as part of my perspective on the world, but I feel whole heartedly about the value of this approach to many aspects of life.
Over the past year, so many things have become available online. Even more than we had prior to the pandemic - which was still a LOT of information that you could access from anywhere. I think music and music education could benefit tremendously from this transition - imagine accessing whoever has the skills you seek no matter where you or they live! Through this push to move online, I've seen many musicians take different approaches to marketing themselves and their skills.
You may have already noticed the typical "format" that is used for online marketing. Some snazzy looking instagram posts, a website, and some generic text about the value of the product or offering. Over the past year, a lot of companies have included their social, moral, and ethical causes in effective and not so effective ways. You may have noticed marketing on every digital platform that is both compelling and genuine, and overwhelming and insincere.
Like when we meet people in real life, we make judgements based on our impression of a person or product. Sometimes those judgements are wrong, but you can usually trust your gut if you think someone is being untruthful or if something just doesn't "seem right."
When more and more musicians began expanding their online presence as things shut down in 2020, this was very much the case. You could tell if something special was being offered, or if the person sharing it seemed on the level.
But there's another layer in between legitimate, high quality educational or performance offerings, and offerings that look amazing and don't live up to the hype. In between these two rungs on the ladder is what's offered because people would rather share something than nothing. A lot of the internet falls on this middle rung, in my opinion.
This is what makes me wonder. Is sharing something always better?
This is not just a question for musicians. This is a question for all of us who share on social media as the digital face of a business, and also as humans.
Let's say you are a chef with a large following online - sharing your morning breakfast and coffee routines is probably pretty interesting to those who follow you. It's also relevant to your business and gives insight into how someone with a lot of knowledge in their field is using it in their personal life.
But, let's say this same chef starts sharing bits and pieces of their personal life, maybe no-makeup selfies and personal clutter. Is this interesting in a human interest kind of way? Yes, maybe to some. It might make them more relatable, but does it really add quality to their mission? Not that I can see. From my perspective, this adds to the clutter online. It's just one more thing we can use to distract ourselves. Now, instead of only checking this chef's Instagram account for new recipes, I find myself watching ten minutes of archived stories about skin care.
My point with this example is that while some people do find more information and sharing more interesting, I don't think it's helping us. (I have certainly fallen guilty to wasting a lot of time on this kind of content - I am human, after all).
I don't think that selling basic skills like they are unique and ground breaking is helping us, either. Of course you need to market what you are good at in a genuine way, and you should be good at the fundamentals of what you do (a lot of my studio's success is because I am good at teaching the basics, and that is a worthwhile and marketable skill without trying to display it as something it's not!).
I'm also not suggesting that we don't share anything fun. You should be yourself. Love to meditate? (I do!) Maybe you love video games or reading. Or, you're training for a half marathon and love the enneagram. You can share the things that make you you in a meaningful way, and to some extent you should. It will help you connect with like minded people and project who you are and what you value at your core
What I am suggesting is that we share thoughtfully. That we share genuinely what our real skills are for their intrinsic value without overplaying them, and without cluttering those genuine skills and interests with a lot of noise just because we can.
Maybe this means you post a little less, but when you do I bet it will be really good, really worthwhile for those who read it, and way more appealing because the value will be evident to your audience (however big or small).
That's quality over quantity, and quality is how I believe we make an impact.
I had a bit of a technology melt down last week.
It was spurred on by several things that coalesced into slight (major) loss of calm. I don't think it should have surprised me - months of learning or using new skills you're not necessarily interested in can be tough, and then when things don't come together because you're not quite good enough at editing yet or that microphone wasn't in the right spot, etc., we're bound to feel a little defeated.
Alas, my technological struggles are not the point here.
We have some options when we get frustrated. We can wallow in our sorrows (sometimes, a good therapeutic wallow is good for the soul). We can keep banging our head against the wall (this would be an example of efforting in the wrong way) and try to hash something, anything, out of our frustrations. Or, we can put it down and come back later.
I have long been an advocate of "bad practice is worse than no practice." If you are fighting yourself, then you are definitely not getting anything done and you might be creating some nasty habits.
So, my usual reaction, when I am thinking clearly, is to walk away, cool off, and come back to it.
But, beyond giving the task space, we need to make space.
Perhaps even if you give yourself some time to cool off you may have residual frustration when you come back to the task. You may sit down to a flood of emotions remembering how peeved you were at the problem when you stopped.
To bring yourself back around from the space you gave to your task, you now need to create space in and around yourself so you can work.
This will likely mean:
- Giving yourself room to focus (no phone in the room, not cramming the activity in between other tasks, picking a productive time of day to work)
- Checking in with yourself before you get started: What do you want to accomplish? How are you feeling? (It's hard to work when you are hungry, for example.)
- How are you sitting? Find your feet on the floor and your sit bones, check in with your spine.
- What is the most specific thing you could focus on that would help fix your problem? If I'm practicing, that could be just my stance, just my air, just one note that will resonate the way I want. If I am working on the computer, that could be figuring out how to create a template from an effect I want to reuse in a video
- Taking some deep breaths. Have you ever caught yourself holding your breath when you are concentrating? Yeah, me too. Make sure you are breathing (and blinking if you're working at the computer).
- Reevaluating your task entirely. Are you making things too complicated? We usually are.
I definitely wallowed a bit last week. Once I got it out of my system, though, I came up with a plan. I adjusted some goals to make things more reasonable. bought a pair of bluelight glasses (who knows if they actually work, but even if the relief I'm noticing is all in my mind, sign me up!), AND found a way to make space for myself.
If I'm being honest, making space did mean some time completely unrelated to the problem playing as many meditative long tones and technique exercises as I wanted, but I know that will allow me to come back open to my work. Making space for yourself will look different for everyone.
As you approach your next big task, how can you give and make space to/for yourself?
- I have been skeptical about technology as applied to teaching music in the past. Not conspiracy theory, totally antiquated levels of skepticism, just regular skepticism. It's mostly that I have been unsure of what role technology should play in the career I am building for myself.
We live in a world where there is a lot of pressure to be online - both from a social and professional standpoint. There is a lot of encouragement out there to create your "brand" and make something that you can sell online no matter what field you are in. Passive income, for example, is a hot topic right now.
This has always rubbed me the wrong way though when it comes to my work. Isn't it kind of backwards to take something that most of us love because it is SO tangible and turn it into something that can be mass produced? And, call me old fashioned, but learning to do a lot of musical things is not a one-size-fits-all process.
Playing an instrument is about as tangible as it gets - the sensation of moving your air, feeling your fingers on the keys, breathing deeply and using your breath to shape a meaningful phrase. Even listening to music falls into this category, I think. The emotions that it brings up, the goosebumps or excitement you feel when you connect with a song, or even just the need to tap your foot or dance when the beat is good. If you've ever sat in the middle of the orchestra and actually felt yourself buzzing from the collective vibrations, you know exactly what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, technology is amazing for connecting to students and audiences when there just isn't another way - say, snow days, those who just can't access live music, or, I don't know, a pandemic.
But beyond the applications to our traditional model of teaching, I have always grappled with what practical use my career as a musician has for social media "networking" and technology.
As you might expect, though, 2020 has made me reconsider all my past musings on this particular topic. I don't ever want to be antiquated about my approach to teaching or performing, but I do want to take on whatever I do in a genuine way and it just so happens that a lot of the things I enjoy in life don't require the use of a screen or keyboard (flute, yoga, hand lettering, cooking, and even reading - although I do love my Kindle).
I always have in the back of my mind that many of the subtleties I think make me a good teacher, musician, and human are things I learned through in-person experiences and careful observation.
So when the pandemic started, I was faced with a problem. How does someone who genuinely loves to stay away from the screen come up with dynamic ways to use the internet and technology to provide quality instruction to the students I can no longer see in person?
The answer so far has been to split the difference a bit - to use technology as a way to fill the void of in-person lessons and performance, but not to try and replace them (If you've streamed a flute lesson or have tried to get students to check in on just one more platform, you might have more ideas about why a lifetime of online teaching could be tedious).
There are positives in everything. I have enjoyed having to be creative about teaching topics that I have done the same way for years, and have also enjoyed the need to create new events or goals for my studio to aim for.
Recently, we moved our annual fall recital (Flutesgiving!) to an adjudication style online event. We used flipgrid and had guest teachers give video feedback, then culminated in a Zoom masterclass. We even had an oboist as one of our guests! Flutesgiving 2020 was something great that my students would have never experienced otherwise.
I've also enjoyed learning a bit about how to make videos I am, well, maybe not proud of but at least not embarrassed by. New skills and continuing to learn are always good, and I am enjoying a new perspective that is sparking different ideas about how and what I want to teach and focus on.
Will I ever have something I can "sell" in a sustainable way online? Maybe. Maybe not. That doesn't matter to me. Going back to the need to be genuine, I want to take what I offer in my performances and teaching - an openness, a plan and path to reach goals or a musical destination, an intuitive sense of what my students or audience need, a direct pathway to music and all it's emotions - and continue to provide it to those who enjoy or benefit from it.
I hope that this new relationship I have with the concept of technology in teaching leads to worthwhile and dynamic offerings that make a difference for even one student....but I also look forward to being in the same room with my students again and feeling the air vibrate when they play something great.