By Lee Waites
"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." - Abraham Lincoln
"The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear." -Socrates
The fast paced, seemingly impersonal nature of the world today might seem to contradict many age old, traditional beliefs, practices and established cultural morays. People, seemingly isolated, dash from air conditioned box to air conditioned box. Security cameras watch us punch the codes to enter our apartment, office complex, gated communities, where we lock the world out or it locks us in.
It is now the norm for half of the patrons of any given restaurant, bar, or for that matter, half of any people in any public place, to bury their eyes in the palm of their hands, tapping away on some form of mobile device.
Seems like everything has changed, doesn't it? But I believe if we take a closer look, we'll see that many things, many old and valued, traditional forms of social communication and value systems are still alive and well. One of these age old and ever valuable things is a person's reputation.
As in society as a whole, so it is in the music business. Some people panic at the pace of technology, thinking it will water down or ruin the music business. But when I look, I see something different emerging. I don't see some dire future where every kid with a couple of bucks can buy a Mac and throw together an album. Technically, yes. Technically it will become easier and easier. Already it's possible for rapid, large file transfers and inexpensive websites to mix and master and pop out an album without two people ever meeting, sitting at a board or sharing the same space.
Booking shows, distributing your own music online, mailing lists, self promotion sites, online only fliers, programs, websites, apps, you name it, are all increasingly available.
But how much has that really changed things? In some ways immensely and irrevocably, in other ways, not so much.
These days, I can more quickly than ever, ignore 1000 songs that I don't like.
I can find the great songs, the one's I love, while my kids sleep safely under my care in the next room.
In the wonderful days of yore I had to hop in the car, go to the store and scroll through the albums and tapes on the rack, hoping the idiot in front of me hadn't gotten them all out of order. (I love record stores. I wish there were more, as I do libraries and bookstores. But for each one of these that failed to also present their goods online, there is an empty building.)
The speed and convenience available for me to seek out music online is amazing. It has allowed me to find many new artists that have enriched my existence. But the knowledge of just how many great musicians are out there has also made me want to streamline my experience. For many of these musical discoveries I count on the ancient social tool...word of mouth (although perhaps text of thought is more applicable in many cases).
"A good reputation is more valuable than money." -Publilius Syrus
So what makes me seek out the next album? What makes me like an artist, a label, a magazine, merchant or venue? With all of these things, at least for me, it's quality and reputation. As someone who is constantly watching and scanning the online music scene, I will, with firm certainty state, that most other people also value personality and reputation. It is evidenced now in the form of unfollowing, unfriending and just plain ignoring.
The spirit of any person, place or thing is the driving force, the feeling of the artist, what I thought of a server at a bar or restaurant. I perceive their personality. Yes, I don't enjoy listening to or being served by assholes. I admit it.
The pretty girl with the crappy attitude never did a thing for me. I like the whole package. I don't want my entertainment, information, beer, food or wine served to me by someone I don't like. Most of the time I choose and react silently, by leaving the person, leaving the place or leaving whatever it is (which includes music). Most of the time I leave silently. Some particularly choice moments require that I should leave a bit more loudly. But in these moments the offending party is at least made aware of why I am doing so. It is their choice what to do with that information.
"Concealed talent brings no reputation." -Desiderius Erasmus
I don't believe technology has changed that for the worse. In the past there were fewer numbers of people, people who worked for large news outlets, or record companies, who could spoon feed you whatever they allowed you to hear. With their high dollar promotions, or egotistical, socially monophonic reviews they could inform you of why you liked what they were telling you to like. Now artists can bypass these thought control outlets and bring their message, music and merch directly to the audience.
But in that same instant they bring themselves. There are few people these days who have the money, or the inclination to be "handled." That is becoming a thing of the past. So quality and reputation once again become a valuable currency.
Just like the emergence of local foodies, organic produce, craft brews and coffee too, art is returning to the people. This is evidenced by the sheer number of talented musicians, artists, actors, comedians, brewers, bakers, writers and other people in our community. Each of these is taking a slice of the pie. And each is returning quality to the community.
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you'll do things differently" -Warren Buffet
Through BFP Music's networking for the past many years I have witnessed the struggles and failures of people who either have talent and a bad attitude, or a great idea with no commitment and/or perseverance.
I've seen venues who might have a good location, or idea, fail to thrive, some of which can be blamed on their interpersonal skills. They build resentment, an unhappy, disloyal staff, who are likely to pass that on to the customer, or grab a 20 from the till.
I've witnessed venues and promoters who develop a reputation for not keeping their word to musicians. The end result is that good musicians keep away from these people. They know better. More often than not the complaint is simply "they weren't honest." Musicians know the score when it comes to music and money. They know who can and can't pay them and the whys and why-nots. Many times they will work with you if you are honest, forthright and display character. The late Marty Eagle comes to mind. I know many well paid musicians who played at Marty's, money not being the top issue. He developed a bond with his customers, his staff and the musicians. It was based on character.
The bottom line is, no matter how convenient or quick it is to live and interact in the world of today, no matter how amazing and streamlined or frustrating and glitchy, it is all built or lost the same way as it has been throughout history. Big or small, simple or complicated, success or failure rides primarily on those things it always has, respect, character and a good reputation.
As they say these days, this is all IMHO.
Here's the treat: