How not to succeed, as a musician, on social media

(Or, how to win friends with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.)

“Social 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 — our chamber groups or solos most particularly. But where does the line fall between winning self-promotion and creepily annoying self-advertisement?

Let’s say you’ve been offered a solo gig in the Royal Festival Hall. Naturally, you tweet about it. Repeatedly. Ad nauseum, in fact. You also plaster it to your Facebook status — with superglue — sometimes with overt bribery (“Free drinks to follow! Pizza at mine after! Anchovies!”)

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

These can pop up at any time with regard to the concert concerned, even months before, though I — and I’m aware that nobody has asked me — would recommend saving 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 this stunning orchestra! I’m incredibly lucky to be asked and simply bound to be utter rubbish, but all support gratefully accepted!’)

Some musos are insanely gifted at this, tweeting, “First rehearsal just finished and wowsers! — the orchestra is sensational, can only hope I’ll be up to their standard!” or “What a privilege to work with such a phenomenal conductor!”

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 generally privy to your private texts (“It’s appalling — the conductor lives in some dream-world of his own, the basses last practised in high school and I cannot cope with the principal oboe’s intonation. A four-inderal nerve-piller, no question!”)

However, tweets like the one in the previous para. can become just a tad yawnworthy for your social media followers: rather like all those identikit interviews with actors:

Interviewer (HUSHED TONES): “So, what was it really like working with such a famous director?”

Actor (POWERFULLY MOVED): “Ohmigod 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 just too amazing?”

Sometimes I positively yearn for an actor — any actor — who refuses to play the game: “Well, frankly it was all a bit of a trial. The director was basically hung up on my co-star and the producer on funding for his next film — plus, said co-star had B.O., not to mention 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 has ever met. To perform as Voices Off is a “rare privilege” (I know, I know, it is rare! Actors do have it tougher than anybody!)

Which is why, despite my irritation here, we musos have much to learn from our actor friends. OK, they may overdo it — they are thesps, after all — but we too must learn, not just the resolutely up-lifted lip, but also the resolutely upbeat Facebook status.

This, for example, is how the muso’s best friend should react in the circumstances outlined in the less-than-thrilling concert outlined above: “No, no, no — this’ll never do. Now, repeat after me. Your conductor is a genius — as well as being sadly ignored and viciously 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 the little rose quartz on a string, please — and the orchestra with whom you’re playing tonight is the one orchestra — even if offered the Berlin Philharmonic on a gilded platter surrounded by watercress — that you’d choose with which 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 greater London concertgoing public. You mention it on social media months beforehand, or whenever some friend loyally and publicly inquires where your next gig is: a 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 Greater London make it abundantly clear that they frankly don’t give a shit about (a) your concert or (b) the plight of deaf badgers, then your social media load feels 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 Royal Festival 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 all wondering which performer asked you.)

Perhaps a week later you might shove this on one’s F’book status: ‘Why not come to the RFH and make an evening of it with me after the show at the Bowall Hawroor Indian?’ (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 after the orchestra management call to inquire whether you could possibly utilise another 250 complimentary tickets, you should rush to social media to proclaim: “Only a few spaces left!” (a few in every row, to be precise). “Hurry now to get one of the few remaining tickets to hear this marvellous orchestra!” Or “Free drinks before at the Queen’s Arms pub. See you there!” (Translation: “My mum is dragging both her book clubs along. Beyond that, we seem to stuffed.”)

But after the actual event is perhaps where the true social media genius shows their class.

First the artist tweets “Soooooo relieved to — more or less — get away with last night’s Festival Hall concert! Great to see so many of you!” (Translation: “The hall was 1/2 full, thanks to adroit social media work!!!! Go me!!!!”)

Those equally adept at social media will immediately offer heartfelt congratulations on your astonishing artistic triumph, against notable odds.

(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, one presses ‘like’. This is the rule even for statuses such as:

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

b) “My orchestra’s under threat of closing down next month!” (Or your passionate empathy. Either way.)

c) “We’re splitting up.” (“Like’ is just fab at expressing deep emotional concern).

However, where the artistic temperament is concerned, not even the ever-versatile “like” might be enough. You will probably wish — especially if you deserted Masterchef long enough to trot along to the Festival Hall and do your bit for the badgers — to tweet a truly personal note to your soloist friend.

In these 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) ‘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.”

(And, if it really was rubbish: “You’ve fulfilled your utmost potential!”)

While 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 between you and the principal oboe!”

2. “Thanks so much for the concert: your variety of tone colour was amazing!”

3. Or (in extremis): “Fab evening! You did it!!!!”

Dreamstime image

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Alice McVeigh

Alice McVeigh

Novels — some award-winning — by London-based Alice McVeigh have been published by Orion/Hachette, UK’s Unbound Publishing, and Warleigh Hall Press.