The Double Edged Sword Of Anonymity Part 2

The first part of this series concluded with examining some of the pros and cons of a musician or manager publishing a weblog anonymously or openly with regard to their identity. Today’s installment continues with that idea by providing some specific examples…

Just like any tool, a blog can be used for just about any purpose; sincere or contrived. Here are a few real life examples of bloggers who have experienced different results from their online presence (for the purpose of these illustrations, the names and identities have all been changed or withheld for the purpose of objectivity):

Example #1
I remember a blog which was written by an orchestra musician who freely tacked their real name to everything they published. Overall, I thought they wrote a very nice blog that provided a unique glimpse into the interior workings of an orchestra from a musician’s viewpoint. They wrote about a variety of topics from what goes on in rehearsals, what they thought was good and bad in the business, to what they do in their spare time to develop their artistic skills. It was a real mixed bag but usually fun to read.

One day, they posted an entry about how a soloist behaved while working with their orchestra. The blogger in question was not amused by the way the soloist conducted themselves during rehearsals or concerts and provided examples of alleged transgressions. Shortly after that article was published, said blogger started to post less and less frequently and when they did the articles were usually quite bland and never about their respective orchestra. A few weeks later the blog disappeared.

Although I never found out why the blog stopped directly from the blogger in question, I did hear from some of the managers in their orchestra that this musician blogger was given a stern “dressing down” by a senior manager and told not to write about anything related to the orchestra ever again without approval.

Is this a case where anonymity could have had a positive impact? Perhaps. The blogger in question made it painfully obvious that they were not speaking for their organization and that the blog was just a column of opinion. They expressed those opinions based on their professional training and experience and presented them no differently than other musicians who talk about their respective orchestras over a beer or on the phone. The difference in this case, of course, is the public venue which blogs occupy.

Certainly, issues of free speech could come into play with this example, but free speech is often held in check by the political elements we all deal with on a daily basis.

Example #2
In this case, an aspiring manager used the public forum of a blog to excel their career. In my opinion, this particular individual regularly used their blog to lavish praise on a variety of executive managers throughout the field and they never said anything remotely negative about anyone, any business practice, or any organization. It was all good news, all the time and sunshine was blowing stronger than a trumpet player in Mahler 5.

Once in awhile, they would actually write something insightful, but they mostly used their blog as a tool for personal promotion and networking with colleagues while avoiding anything remotely controversial. Of course, this individual attached their name to everything they published and I doubt it would come as a surprise to learn that this individual was eventually offered an executive management position from one of the managers they regularly praised.

The blog was written under the premise of documenting a particular work experience but that didn’t prevent the individual in question from using the public venue to further their career by using political schmoozing to their benefit (I suppose it really is that easy to get a job in this business).

In this case, would anonymity have benefited the individual in question? I sincerely doubt it. At the same time, I thought using the medium in such as such a blatant political effort to further a career degraded what could have been a constructive exercise in documenting a work experience.

Example #3
This individual has always revealed their identity and began writing a management oriented blog before they secured a full time position. Their blog, which is still in existence, regularly examines a wide range of specific issues within the arts management community.

Their writing was opinionated but fair and they regularly presented a good deal of objective information. Eventually, this individual was able to secure a management position and one of the contributing factors toward securing the position was that the employers took the time to read the individual’s blog. As a result, they had a much better idea of the individual’s thinking and approach to arts management and they were more comfortable with this individual as their new manager.

Unlike Example #2, this blogger never wrote about any of the executives in the organization where they were eventually hired. Their writing didn’t portray the business of arts management as a picture of “doom and gloom” nor did they say everything was all “sunshine and lollipops”.

Fortunately, this same individual continues to blog about the very same subjects and they even include some personal examples from their current organization. In a refreshing twist in that what they publish isn’t useless PR puff; instead, they write about the very real problems and accomplishments their organization faces on a regular basis.

In this example, the individual in question benefited professionally from maintaining a blog but for very different reasons than the individual in Example #2. Instead, of being rewarded for blowing around a bunch of sunshine, they were rewarded for displaying the depth of their business understanding as well as their sincere candor. Would the individual have benefited from their writing if they published anonymously? I doubt it.

In the end, anonymity can protect the weak from oppressors but it can also empower those who are petty and looking for a venue to launch an agenda. Fortunately, those are all extreme cases and I’m glad to observe that the vast majority of musician and manager authored blogs are written by individuals who openly release their identity.

By and large, they write for the enjoyment of writing and to expand the realm of discussion related to their artistic medium. They publish responsible, thoughtful pieces in a variety of unique and entertaining styles.

I sincerely hope that the world of blogging continues to be dominated by such positive users but I can only assume that as the medium grows in popularity so will the instances of abuse. With luck, those offenses will be no greater in proportion than what is currently experienced.

I also like to believe that as society grows more technologically adept, the ease with which individuals can abuse the blogging medium (or those who use it) will decrease proportionately.

All of this brings us back to the original questions posed by “A Soprano” in Part 1,

Is blogging good for the artists’ soul or career suicide?

The answer isn’t cut and dry; rather, it depends on a host of variables unique to each individual. However, I think it’s safe to say that blogging holds the potential for either outcome and anyone venturing into the ranks of bloggers should be well aware of that fact in advance: forewarned is forearmed.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “The Double Edged Sword Of Anonymity Part 2”

  1. Example 1 reminds me of the eye-rolling when Donald Runnicles of SF Opera went public with some of his political opinions! I wish I’d read that blog while it was in operation, but the author appears to have been imprudent, to say the least.

    The first performer blog I remember seeing, by the way, would be Jane Eaglen’s Tristan diary, which was on her Sony Web site during the 1998 Seattle run of that opera. She then did the same for a Met Ring. The entries were entertaining and did give the reader an idea of what it’s like to rehearse and perform an opera. Eaglen has an optimistic and friendly personality, from what I can tell from interviews, and that came through in the entries. They were also discreet; no discussions of personality conflicts or anything bad that happened on the set. Maybe there were no conflicts or bad events, but…

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