The Only Thing Constant Is A Foot
Another holiday season is slowly winding its way down with the approach of New Year's Eve; the biggest party of the year. Once again, I'll be at the Homosassa Riverside Resort , where the theme this year is "Mardi Gras." People ask me, all the time, when I'm going to be playing in Orlando again and why I spend most of my time on the Gulf Coast performing concerts in Homosassa. I usually say that the beauty of the place, and the special nature of the people there, brings me back. That, and I've got a special relationship with the two resorts that are across the river from each other (the other being the Seagrass Waterfront Resort) and playing there is like going back in time and getting out of the relative craziness of the city. The older I get, the more low-key I become, it seems. Kind of a theme for 2015 in many ways.
It's been said that the only thing constant is change, in which case we should never be surprised when it shows up with a big "how y'all doin'?" Change is always afoot, which is to say that change is always in preparation and it's always happening or beginning to happen. Life is dynamic and if it lives, it grows. If it doesn't grow, it stagnates. If it stagnates, it grows crusty, fetid and extremely unpleasant. That's not exactly how I'd like to spend my days, so I'm always open to moving and improving, tinkering with the formula and throwing open the windows so that the fresh breeze of renewal can blow in and get rid of the musty odor of the status quo. I'm always looking at ways to work better and revise my plans and actions in order to be a better person, musician, teacher and businessman. I figured I'd let you in on some of those solutions as we tiptoe towards the new year.
Front and center is Facebook. Yeah, just about everyone is on it and will probably admit that they have a "problem" with the ubiquitous service because it can be a total time-suck. I originally signed up for the sole purpose of promoting my music and it gradually became, as it did for most of us, a great way of connecting with others on an everyday level, often to the point of over-sharing and relentless checking of other people's statuses and updates. Late in 2015, I hit the 5,000 "number of friends" limit on my personal page and came face-to-face with the ridiculous realization that I not only didn't know most of those people but that there was now a "waiting list" of potential friends to manage, so I began to refer people to the unlimited "like" expanse waiting at my Facebook music page. There's a basic rule in social media that has something to do with a post ratio of 80-20 (some people will adjust that ratio to suit their style.) That means that if you're promoting yourself, whether as a business or just someone with a lot of time on their hands, you post 80% stuff of general interest and 20% stuff about you. That keeps people from getting burned-out on the "me, me, ME!" posts and actually gives them something that perhaps they can use. This is known as "generating content" and Facebook is basically counting on such content to drive traffic and generate sales for its advertisers. For free. Back in the day, I was a content producer for the Prodigy Service, which started out as a proprietary system before branching out onto the internet in 1996. There were lots of meetings, seminars and training on how to lord over newsgroups, chat rooms and websites designed to be a beacon for those new to the World Wide Web. Though the general atmosphere and operations have evolved over the years, the same basic principle applies: people come online to seek out information, even if the info they seek serves no other purpose than simply to kill time.
One of the first things that folks say to me when we meet in person (or "meat space", as a friend likes to call it) is "I've been following your adventures on Facebook" and it's often extraordinary just how much people know about my life, until I realize that it's not extraordinary at all because I basically gave them a personal tour. It's fun to share what you've been up to and it helps to get people excited about upcoming concerts and other events where I'll be. However, all of the work that goes into posting items is just that; work. It takes time to cultivate a following, to interact and to manage an online presence, which can then get even more dense when you do it across multiple platforms which, for me, includes Twitter, Instagram, Reverbnation, YouTube and my own web page. Sometimes, I'll spend two to three hours each day just massaging those points of online contact, updating and revising, tagging and ordering, and then trying mightily to interact with each and every person who responds either privately or publicly. 2015 is the best year that I've ever had for a lot of reasons, but mostly ranked in terms of business. I played the most shows, drove the most miles and made the most money that I ever have in life. As they say, "business is booming" and 2016 is already shoring up to shatter the records. With growth, however, comes manageability issues and with those issues comes the need to, well, manage. So what gives? The music or the method in which it gets promoted? Increasingly, the answer has fallen to the latter.
You may have already seen some of the changes, but I'm currently preparing to cut way back on my Facebook activity. I've already deleted about 90% of my photo albums and haven't been posting pictures of events like I used to. You can kind of get into an oversharing frenzy and it seems that, for a performer, you can lose a little of the mystery that comes with seeing someone live onstage. When the audience knows every little thing about you, it leaves nothing for you to surprise them with. Well, almost nothing, but why go to extremes in order to top your online persona? I'm basically going to be stealing from one column and placing into another. The efforts that I've put into Facebook promotion will be brought down to a dull roar while I focus a bit more on other social media outlets. I'm horrible at Twitter. Though it's, by all accounts, a platform that is on dangerously wobbly legs, I'm still trying to find a way to make it a viable point of contact. But not everything will go into that basket; a good portion of time and energy saved from Facebook will dump right back into my music where it needs to be.
The scaling-back will sometimes appear as though I've suddenly died, and maybe that absence will be good for getting people to look for me in other places online. One of the things that Prodigy taught us was "bring people back to your website." I'm not sure that the company had ever envisioned a behemoth like Facebook becoming a sort of Socialistic hive of personal pages, but it's kind of difficult to get folks to leave its environs. I know that people who can't always get around to festivals live vicariously through my postings, but there's no reason that I need to keep all of my posts in one place. An entire photo album from such-and-such event on Facebook can be distributed across a single video on YouTube or a tweet with a photo link. I'm resisting playing into the Facebook strategy of getting all kinds of free content on the backs of its subscribers. It's time to rethink and act upon a different social business model.
I pay close attention to online analytics where they're available. Looking at which pages drive the most traffic, what the demographics are, which pieces of content garner the most response; in short, what people like and don't like about your online offerings. With so many portals across multiple platforms, it's no wonder that Facebook has become such a juggernaut. You can easily lose an entire day bouncing back and forth between web forums and social media outlets trying to connect with others. Just about everyone is on Facebook. Why flit when you can sit, right? Without interaction, it's all just a bunch of broadcasts with no listeners and I early on realized this when I made the decision to stop haunting message board forums like Everything Dulcimer and Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer because a) it was too hard to keep track of my posts and b) I often let people dangling with questions because I couldn't keep up. It's like the singer who greets fans after a show and tries hard to sign every item and pose for every picture, but it's impossible to make everyone happy. The singer's got to get back on the bus and head to the next town. I actually saw a dip in sign-ups to my mailing list when I vanished from the forums. People want that one-on-one experience. The problem with the internet is that it's NOT a one-on-one experience for the most part. It's a many-on-one experience when in the public arena. E-mail and direct messaging is the only way to go one-on-one and I've shifted my focus there. Generally, I think people know that they are welcome to drop me an e-mail; I'll answer personally. I prefer that person-by-person approach rather than the broadcast, but it takes a broadcast to let them know that you're available. The two work hand-in-hand (cripes, I'm hyphen-man this morning.)
And as I've mentioned here before, people talk and stuff gets back to me. I've heard everything from "he's too much of a big-shot to hang out with us little people" or "what a show-off", both of which are entirely untrue about me. Anyone who truly knows and understands me gets this. But you can't please everybody and I gave up trying long ago. I'd rather take four hours of my day and work on music than haunt the message boards or Facebook groups in order to drive traffic. What will drive traffic? Being a great musician and teacher, that's what. Two things that I aspire to each and every day. I feel that I can step back from the promotion a bit, maybe hire someone to develop some new avenues and markets for me, leaving more time for improvement, growth and challenge. I don't ever want to be inaccessible. If someone wants to connect personally, I want to be there for them. But I can't do that if I've already spent a good portion of my day trying to connect with everyone. The time has come to radically cut back. Instead of showing my hand daily, I'm going to leave 'em guessing a bit. And when I do post, I'll make it count.
You won't be seeing a whole lot of personal posts or pictures and video on Facebook any more. Instead, I'll post a lot less but will make what does get posted count a whole lot more.
This is part of a larger realization that's been stewing for a while and, while I'm not ready to divulge all the details of what's up with that, I do hope that it will all make sense somewhere down the road. I'm making big choices about business and recreation, finances, mental and physical health as well as refining my approach to a daily routine. The one place where I will continue to post frequently will be on Patreon, where a collective of wonderful supporters and encouragers have been helping me to rise up and be as productive as possible.
And this blog, of course, which I intend to make more frequent and less verbose. Takes me a couple of hours to write just one of these missives when a few minutes and a pic would do to keep folks informed of what's up. It's all about time-management and I just want to be the best utilizer of time that I can possibly be. Don't we all?
I wish for each and every one of you a productive and positive year-end review. What will you do to make essential changes in your lifestyle? How will you implement them in order to maximize the life that you live each and every day? Where will you focus your online efforts and why will you bother even doing it? Most importantly: when will you start?
For me, it's already begun. Why wait for New Year's Eve to make some resolutions?