Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jeff Weisner on brand loyalty

We each have a "brand" to our playing - a basic set of sound and style characteristics that hold true through everything we play. That brand is created from our core technique elements, the influence of our most important teachers and mentors, and our most basic musical preferences. I make the type of sound that I do on the bass because at some level I like it - it feels right to me, for reasons that I honestly can't even define exactly. It developed through my early years of study and my student days. Even as I have developed a more diverse palette of tone colors and styles in my playing, I still keep one foot (or at least a toe) in this core sound concept that I bring to my musical work.

-- excerpt from "Know Your Brand" by Jeff Weisner, Peabody Double Bass Blog

Drawing analogies to bass playing is a favorite pastime of mine, so I have to take up this recent post by Jeff Weisner. Jeff shares some very intriguing ideas about schools of playing, which he likens to political branding. He concludes that even the strongest players might benefit from an honest assessment of their own "brand", and might focus on projecting those qualities in auditions.

Jeff draws a careful distinction between monotonous, one-style-fits-all playing -- perhaps you could call the Steve Forbes school, taking one issue and hammering it mercilessly -- and playing with no real sense of integrity or authenticity, which he likens to John "Flip-Flop" Kerry. That's still a bit of a sore spot for me personally, having really believed in John Kerry in 2004. What we Kerry supporters called "nuance", many others labelled spinelessness -- though I guess we now have the satisfaction of saying, "I told you so."

The kind of playing that Jeff advocates is neither Forbes nor Kerry -- it can have sophistication, style, and nuance, but it never strays from an essential core sound. It's about playing to the audience, but not about saying, "I'll do anything to get your vote." It all comes back to integrity -- of sound, belief, and intention -- and integrity that comes from one's own highest standards, not the standards of some committee we know only from rumors and hearsay.

Jeff doesn't offer any political endorsements of his own -- maybe he's keeping his blog non-partisan, since it's the official mouthpiece of the Peabody Double Bass Department. I wonder how he judges the brand-salesmanship of these two presidential tickets, though. We have one candidate, Obama, who has worked to broaden the appeal of his party's brand, refining their historically polarizing positions on taxes, foreign policy, and social issues. The other styles himself as a "maverick" -- originally a term for un-branded cattle, it's become political-speak for someone willing to buck his party -- and yet he's run a rambling, divisive campaign that's alienated many independent voters as well.

In a year when the Democratic party brand has so many advantages -- largely because the Bush administration has tarnished the Republican brand, as well as the brand of the nation as a whole -- perhaps McCain's best strategy is to run with the brand of the maverick. As Jeff makes clear, though, there are certain advantages to a clear, recognizable brand -- you know what you're selling, and people know what they're getting. When it's a question of security, a clear and confident brand is sometimes enough to carry an audition or an election.



Anonymous said...

I think Obama would be a much better bass player than McCain- but McCain might be able to rattle off Ein Heldenleben ok.

Jeff Weisner said...

Great post Matt - thanks for your thoughts! You are correct that I keep my own political views off of PBDB, since it is connected to Peabody (though unofficially of course). After all, if PBDB endorsed a candidate our awesome power and thousands of readers could possibly sway the election results and lead to rioting and the collapse of our electoral system.
One clarification - my branding reference to Kerry wasn't referring to the "flip-flop" attacks of the Republicans, but rather to the "Swift Boat" stuff. I think one reason that those attacks were so effective is that being a war hero wasn't Kerry's brand - even though he was an actual war hero! - so on a gut level people bought into the idea that he was not honest on that score. Kerry always seemed to me to be more comfortable as a policy wonk type.
BTW, this is why IMO all the Ayers attacks against Obama are so ineffective - Obama may be a lot of things, but everything about his demeanor screams "NOT a bomb-throwing radical." It's just not his brand! Plus, the collapse of global capitalism can help refocus one's priorities, no?