Since the rise of Web 2.0, which can be most efficiently described as, “the era in which it is no longer a dorky ass-pain to put stuff on the Internet,” another trend in marketing and career management has come to the fore: “self-branding.”
Self-branding is bullshit. I want you to stop it. Cut it out with the “you are your brand,” with the notion that you need to be constantly describing yourself in the third person, with the fourteen different web presences, and all the rest. This world is being larded up with people describing themselves as some thing as opposed to being that thing. Your success will come from authenticity, not publicity.
I have been attending some local musical Open Mic nights, and this tension is burning my brain. I see all manner of young people, almost always with their acoustic guitar, trying hard to brand themselves as musicians. Some are quite aggressive about promoting their career, their upcoming shows, their putative importance in the music “scene.” And invariably, they also are limited to about seven (open) guitar chords, couldn’t read music if a gun was to their head, and are poor songwriters, while simultaneously ignoring great material from the existing canon of popular music. They spend about ten times as much energy branding themselves as a musician than they do being a musician. And it is painful to witness.
My favorite story of “self-branding,” if you will, came from the food and beverage manager of a hotel I worked at in college. He described to me his favorite employee interview ever. It was a Tuesday afternoon at 2:15 pm – the ideal time to catch any restaurant manager, after lunch, before dinner, the hour of the day when restaurant administrivia gets executed.
A tall, portly, excitable-yet-forceful man walks in the manager’s office uninvited, still wearing his slightly-stained chef’s whites.
“My name is Joe. I am a breakfast cook. I am the best you will ever meet. I cook breakfast; not lunch, not dinner. I work six days a week; not five, not seven. I arrive for work at 4:45 am and leave at 12:45 pm every day. I make $11.50 per hour.”
“DO YOU WANT ME TO WORK FOR YOU?”
The manager looked up from his desk, stunned and uttered one word. “Yes.”
The World’s Greatest Breakfast Chef said, “Great. I will see you Monday at 4:45am.” And though the food and beverage manager rarely made it in before 6:30 am, he got up at the crack of dawn to see the arrival of this force of nature, who he described as looking entirely like Rambo, striding purposefully into the kitchen with his knifes and omelette pans hanging off him like .50 caliber ammunition. He then began to slam and jam for a busy breakfast rush without breaking a sweat.
This is what we are lacking throughout our society, and I think the ability to broadcast self-branding information only makes the lack more acute.
I’m going to go back to my boys Dirty Loops to illustrate my point:
These guys immediately ripped over one million views on YouTube with no record company backing, no visible marketing plan, no self-branding. In fact, their presence here is simple – three young guys kicking ass on their instruments at an extremely high-level. (Los Angeles studio music legend Steve Lukather said on his website that these guys should have number one hits, and that music as a whole would be better if we all followed their lead.)
Their work brands them. Their quality speaks more than their “fan engagement.”
Yes, a style can help create your myth, online or otherwise. Muhammad Ali understood creating a public personae, but at the end of the day, he whooped Sonny Liston.
You want a brand? Get writing. Learn to cook eggs benedict like an artist. Box better than the other guy. Learn more than open A, D, G, C, and E on the guitar please. Sure, maybe take a video of it an throw it up on YouTube so others can share it.
But please, make sure that the future is not one of all talk and no action.