So back in February, I read the “Why YOU Need a Powerhouse Topic” post at The Savvy Musician and it put into words things I’ve been developing for some years (if not decades) now. Outside of the light (though not as light now that the school year has begun) teaching load and the semi-heavy gigging, I intermittently give talks about, well, being a musician in this day and age. Well technically I give talks and lead workshops and present on a variety of topics some of which don’t have direct relevance to being a musician (though indirectly, as a musical career gets chosen by immigrants that’s in a style outside the mainstream).
But the idea of having a Powerhouse Topic isn’t just for the express purpose teaching which, in its own way can be as Self-Indulgent as Performing, as David Cultler says, this can be a life transforming experience. He makes a list of bullet points:
- Your expertise can lead directly to numerous professional opportunities: presentations, workshops, residencies, key note speeches, classes, media coverage, books, consulting work.
- Those opportunities can add, perhaps significantly, to your income.
- Your presentations around the powerhouse topic often lead—directly or indirectly—to additional work in your primary area(s). For example, perhaps someone who sees your talk is so impressed by the way you interact with the audience that they book your group for a concert.
- As an established authority, your network will increase appreciably, often with people trying to connect to you (instead of the other way around).
- Being an expert in a particular area impacts the way you approach your art.
- Having a powerhouse topic will keep you motivated and growing as a lifelong learner.
The drive implicit in having such a deep interest in a topic can lead directly to learning and modifying your own art (as well as your ability to talk about your art). In many ways, this is how I’ve always approached music making–it’s not just an activity I go out and do for the benefit (o in some cases not for the benefit) of an audience’s pleasure. Obviously entertaining an audience is relatively important, but entertaining doesn’t have to be an in-your-face presentation of a musical style you prefer.
And I think far too many musicians are intentionally or not doing precisely the latter. We’re so confident of the value of the music we’ve grown up with that we sometimes will take offense if the audience doesn’t also appreciate our efforts. Or we go into a performance with guns blazing intent on making the audience enjoy what we’re doing while never questioning that what we may be doing isn’t of much value. That’s the Self-Indulgent aspect of performing. We get so locked into an idiosyncratic way of doing things that we never question what it is we’re are doing and why we are doing it in the first place!