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Facebook Can Ruin Your Music Career!

(Sorry about the dramatic title)


Recently I became aware of an incident on Facebook involving a young NYC saxophonist who posted “F$%& Wayne Shorter” on his timeline (he spelled it out of course). This person was one of twelve semi-finalists for the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition (2008) and was a young talented up-and-coming cat in the New York jazz scene.

His post, “F$%& Wayne Shorter”, which he probably thought would only reach his friends, went completely viral and provoked over 500 hateful comments on his FB page in no time. Many of these remarks were from well-known and highly respected jazz musicians who were not on his FB friends list at all. Many people attacked him for being disrespectful, uneducated, racist and more. Others simply commented, “Say goodbye to your career”. Since the jazz scene in NYC is so close-knit, this is a hole that is almost impossible to crawl out of.

Now, my post has nothing to do with attacking or defending this saxophonist (hundreds of people have done that already). This post is simply to warn musicians about the power of “putting things out there” in social media. For the record, I’m a big Wayne Shorter fan though…

Disclaimer: this article is only relevant to people that want to make a living playing music. If you just want to make great music without the politics and pay, my words are most likely meaningless…ha. Also, this is just my humble opinion…so here it is…

The first thing musicians have to understand is the separation between the business and personal side of their lives. Many musicians cloud these two aspects because “music is art”. Now I won’t deny the art of music, but if you want to make a career out of it, you must treat it like a business. For instance, if you are a White House chef working for the Obama administration and you happen to be a republican, you probably shouldn’t talk about politics at work. Pretty obvious and not so difficult to accomplish, right? I mean, you probably have a really good paying gig cooking for the president and it would be pretty stupid to mess that up over something so silly. This doesn’t mean you’re weak and that you can’t speak your mind in other situations, it’s just not appropriate behavior at work.

As a full-time musician, you’re a freelancer which some musicians erroneously consider “not having a boss”. This is the wrong way to think about it in my opinion. I believe that as a full time musician and a freelancer, almost everyone is a potential boss. If you subscribe to this way of thinking, you’ll come to the realization that everything you “put out there” is a potential job interview. You want people to look forward to working with you. You don’t want to bombard them with annoying rants, conspiracy theories or controversial subject matter.

Here’s where Facebook and Twitter come into play. Due to the architecture of FB and Twitter, nothing you say is private anymore unless you specifically set it up that way. Twitter is very clearly an open line of communication with the world. People can follow you and therefore they can see all of what you have to say; pretty obvious right? Facebook on the other hand seems to be more private because of your friend list. After all, you can decide whether or not to accept a friendship request or not. The truth is that you don’t have to be friends with people for them to see your posts (unless you adjust the FB settings). If one of your friends comments on your post, then that person’s friends can also see the post. This can become incredibly viral which you can either use to your advantage or for your demise (as I spoke of in the beginning of this post).

I don’t want to get into the technical aspects of all of this because most of you know this stuff already. My point is simply to think about your professional image before posting something you may regret. Some people make separate privacy settings for their “business friends” so that only close friends can see their personal posts. This is certainly one way to go if you are motivated enough to set it up. The other way to do it is to think of Facebook as a promotional tool and a casual way to interact with friends…this is what I do. You don’t have to censor yourself in life, just on social media. You can still go out to see your friend’s show and talk about how the aliens are controlling us and how Bach is overrated (I am a Bach fan for the record).

Here are a couple more examples of how people have screwed up their careers with Facebook.

Example 1 – A musician went to a show and was disgruntled by the vibe of the band performing as well as their aesthetic. The band playing that night happened to be very respected and popular in the LA scene (with a lot of friends). The disgruntled musician posted on FB when he got home, “I just heard some of the most unmusical jamming in my life. All chops and no substance…horrible.” Now, if he had said this to his close friends, it would’ve been fine, but unfortunately it was out there on Facebook. The problem was that a few people knew that he was at the show (music communities are always smaller than you think) and within minutes the word spread. He has had problems working ever since because no one wants to be associated with a negative musician who’s calling people out.

Example 2 – A musician was posting on Facebook about how a recent national tragedy was a conspiracy. One of the bandleaders that employed him was related to a victim of the tragedy. The bandleader found these posts distasteful and offensive and stopped hiring the musician. End of story.

Now, I completely believe in freedom of speech so by all means say whatever you like on Facebook. But you must realize that potential employers also have the freedom to hire someone else. Again, all of this is simply my opinion and I wouldn’t want to pretend that I am the authority on professional networking. All I know is that I have a decent number of friends in real life as well as on Facebook and I don’t think any of them can say that they have a reason not to hire me (unless they don’t like my playing…ha). There are a lot of super talented musicians out there trying hard to get the gig. It’s never advisable to give people a reason not to hire you!




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