For a professional musician this is important. Your image lives within the minds of the market, and not within your wishful thinking. You can try to put forth the image that you want, but your audience (in the broadest sense of the word—co-workers, contractors, conductors, producers, etc.), actually creates that image.
Image, Identity and Positioning—What’s the Difference? Image is the impression that the market holds of you. Identity is the impression you want to give the market. Positioning relates to the elements of Identity that you present to various target audiences.[i] For example, if you are a composer as well as a fine instrumentalist, you might present only your composer side when entering a composition contest. But, when playing a recital you might program one of your own pieces. The important thing is to know your image. What do people associate with you? Is it good? Are you comfortable with it?
Key Measures of Success
The ultimate measures of success are trial and repeat, and the buyer is the final judge. If a manufacturer of just about anything, from dishwashing detergent to automobiles, gets you to try their product, and you are satisfied and return to purchase again, that is success. Using a music example, let’s say you get a last minute call to sub on a woodwind quintet educational concert in a high school. That’s your trial. If it goes well you are a hero, even if your playing isn’t absolutely flawless. In a last minute situation the other player’s expectations are reduced, and they will cut you some slack. They’ll be happy to get through the gig without any major train wrecks! But even if you do a great job and impress the other four musicians they might not immediately call you back. There just might not be another opportunity for a while. That quintet already has a permanent member, and as long as he or she continues to do good work, it will remain his or her position. However, the chances are very good that they will recommend you to other groups, or at least relay the story of how you saved the day.
A “Jack of Nothing”—How Diversified Should You Be?
This is always a difficult question to answer and it varies from person to person. It stands to reason that if you do one thing and take it to the max, your chances of being superior to the person who does two or more things is enhanced. With a few exceptions most musicians who are at the absolute top of their field do essentially one thing really, really, really well. Miles Davis didn’t have to know anything about the C trumpet or playing the Petrouska excerpt. Itzhak Perlman doesn’t have to know the chord progression of the Blues and Lang Lang doesn’t have to play ragtime (though his handlers might have him do that someday). Nevertheless, certain musicians have been able to excel in several diverse areas of music. Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn immediately come to mind. Wynton Marsalis is arguably another in this elite group.
Breadth and depth are essential. Take one thing to as high a level as you can as you continue to expand your knowledge and expertise in related areas. But if you stray too far from the core of your brand, believability suffers. Going back to Lang Lang, it could well be that he could become a good ragtime pianist. The music is written out. He has the technique. He would have to capture the style. That is believable, but Lang Lang as a first-class improvising jazz pianist, playing with Joe Lovano isn’t. Jazz improvisation is simply too far afield from the Lang Lang brand.
So maintain the core of your brand, and keep it at a high level. It is easy to become a “Jack of Nothing,” when you stretch too far to master it all. But that won’t happen if you always maintain quality, grow slowly, diversify, hire the best to teach you what you don’t know, be flexible and know your competition.
[i] David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership, (New York: The Free Press, 2000), p. 40-41.