February 22, 2014

Look at me!

Self-promotion is a touchy thing in piping and drumming. Tradition tells us that we accept our success and failure in equal measure. Apart from handshakes, fist-bumps and back-slaps at the prize announcement, publicly celebrating a victory has always been frowned upon, just as much as outwardly harping about a result to anyone but band-mates and trusted friends.

Thanks to social media, all that seems to be changing. Open up Facebook and you’re likely to see pipers and drummers flaunting and vaunting their wins, usually in a tacky and clunky way:

  • “Really pleased with my first in the March and 2nd in the Piob today! Congrats to all other prize-winners!”
  • “A great day and really humbled to finish ahead of gold medallist ____. Great competition!”
  • “Piper of the Day! Well done to all!”
  • “Thoroughly enjoyed judging today with [much more famous and accomplished person].”

Selfies of people wearing their own medals or in front of their trophies right after the contest even five years ago would have been unheard of. It’s pretty common now, as the “Look at me!” nature of social media has eroded piping and drumming’s tradition of letting only others and your playing itself do the promoting.

The generation of pipers and drummers that has grown up with social media, the unseemly notion of being famous simply for being famous, and “success” often determined by self-promotion is now coming into prominence as top-level prize-winners. Our tradition of magnanimous tact – quietly accepting success and failure – is being chucked out the window. Discreetly enabling and encouraging others to do your publicity is quickly becoming a bygone art.

The Look at me! culture of social media is changing the customary self-effacing nature that pipers and drummers have learned for centuries.

Magnanimous in defeat; gracious in victory: a piping and drumming tradition that we should keep.


  1. I disagree, to an extent. There is nothing wrong with a little self promotion after a victory that you know you have worked incredibly hard for. I do not think that we do enough in this ‘hobby’ of ours to recognize the successes of others, especially in the lowers grades. It isn’t too often you see a picture of anyone other than a top tier piper or pipe band attached to an article on the web. How awesome would it be after maxville next to year to see a picture of young Kid who had won his first prize in grade 4 march instead of the usual photo of Andrew Hayes’ of the world. Perhaps if we all made the effort to promote the success of others than they wouldn’t feel the need to do it themselves. Food for thought anyways…

    1. I like when little Johnny’s parents post pictures of little Johnny’s success. It’s when little Johnny naively does it himself that he doesn’t help or even harms his reputation. The reality is that most readers are most interested in the top grades, akin to most sports fans wanting to read about the major league teams.

      1. Andrew, you can still give the top results from all the contests while putting up a photo of a kid who won his first prize in a lower grade. It may not seem much to is adults, but it is important that those in the lower grades receive the same level of support as do the higher grades. Plus, it would give us readers a break from having to see the same old file photos yet again of the same 5 soloists or bands!

        1. Nice dig, Will. We are here to serve you, but we can’t be everywhere all the time, so largely rely on others to send results (they usually send top-grade stuff) and photos (usually nothing). And when I am at larger contests where I’m often either competing or judging I simply don’t have time to record the dozens of events and hundreds of names. Except for occasional results from branch events, the PPBSO has not once sent results. They don’t seem to want the archival record, much less the publicity for the organization and its successful members. Our policy is not to copy and paste from any websites, so content must be original sent by from sources. So, with all that in mind, we will look forward to lots of results and photos from you, Will, in addition to events in which you’re personally successful !

  2. While the habit of not tooting one’s own horn may be common thing amongst the Scots, I think the numerous pictures of all the greats of the past wearing sashes special made to hold their winnings, or a doublet covered in medals is evidence contrary to your point.

  3. Also disagree… To a certain extent. Many more people these days are involved in piping and drumming at a professional level. To take one discipline, would tenor drumming be anywhere near its present (much higher regarded) level these days without some serious memes in social media? There is a point where pushing stuff is crowing to a certain extent, but saying yer happy with a win isn’t being big headed. Particularly when loads of other posts consist of what people had for their breakfast. And if you regularly comment on wins, then people are going to know when you get gubbed too. Unless of course u never get placed…..

  4. Totally agree. Social media is great to promote a product or event but when people put their own prizes up (in the way the article explains) it urkes me. One of the best things about piping (especially solo piping) is that you can have a blether over a pint with the best of the best and they are so down to earth, humble and always up for a good laugh. The genuine mutual respect between players is also something special that I hope we can cling on to.

  5. Actually, I haven’t looked at this stuff much, although of course I do appreciate your results stuff. But what’s the difference between hooting about your placings, and telling the world your great grand uncle was John MacLellan?

    1. Big difference, Neil, particularly since it’s my wife, not me, who’s related to John McLellan. And your own website saying “A long distinguished piping career that has seen me travel all over the world, perform for Royalty including the Queen, and compete successfully at the highest level” is fine, since you’re marketing your performance and teaching business, but that statement would be far more powerful if it were said by someone else, and not you. See what I mean?

  6. I do, but it’s true. So qualified. If it was said by perhaps one of the greats, of course it would mean more. But I’m marketing myself. As are you. And I’m qualified, and have done what I’ve said I’ve done. So why shouldn’t I say it? I’d be daft not to. Should I say… I’d like you to pay me to teach you, and I’m actually ok, but don’t want to say too much? Of course not. Incidentally, I’ve just read your capping numbers things totally agree.

  7. Oh…. Hold on… I get it. Ok. Fair enough. And luckily, people,ARE saying it. Word of mouth reccomendations are the best you can get. But I think you are using your blog here as an expression of personal opinion in exactly the same way as others post on FB. Which of course is fine.

  8. I get where you’re going.

    This is the part I don’t understand:

    “…enabling and encouraging others to do your publicity is quickly becoming a bygone art…”

    Is it ok for “digital publications” such as yours to be the “publicity” for selected pipers and drummers rather then self promotion – or should we simply not discuss it at all — and allow the results of the day only to those who stepped quietly on and off the field?

    Maybe announcing winners should cease and we can get the results in the post weeks later and celebrate quietly together. No more jumping up and down at the worlds, throwing your glens while confetti is spewed in the air.

    Let people celebrate the ways they want.

    You can always post a comment…

    1. I see where that’s murky, Joe. pipes|drums gets results all the time from those who were successful, and that’s great. They know that we won’t say, “These results courtesy of ____.” We rely on them to send results knowing that it’s a good exchange: we get the news and they get the publicity. That’s good media relations, and we can’t report what we don’t know about. But when they post results on social media that features them, them, them, it’s actually counter-productive to them, even though they’re bursting with pride.

  9. I’d imagine Robert Mathieson or someone like that could have easily said that about you, so it would come across as even more authentic and powerful. I agree, that you do need to market your business, which is essentially yourself, but there are different ways to do that with varying degrees of humility and authenticity. I love reading opinions expressed on Facebook, but there aren’t many people who like reading “Look at me, I’m so great” messages. They actually have the opposite effect with everyone but the person’s granny. And when it comes to competitors touting prizes and achievements, they’ll probably lose the benefit of the doubt with judges who read them. Even though many adjudicators aren’t interested in social media, you see frequently see self-promoting pipers and drummers not get the nod.

  10. Boast away, who cares, 1st in a grade one world pipe band championship band or first in an elite solo piping or drumming contest, you are still going to work in the morning buddy.

    Get over them getting over themselves Andrew.

    1. lol so good.

      You played the squawking cat-bag better than somebody else? Tell me more about your contribution to civilization.

      Something to keep in mind. It is just a hobby.

  11. I think most of it stems back to childhood.
    When it was once “cute” (I put that in quotes because I don’t agree with it) for Little Johnny to wear his medal around the games when he was nine, and go up to people and say “LOOK WHAT I WON TODAY!”…before the days of social networking, of course…. Little Johnny never learned growing up when it changed from “cute and innocent” to completely arrogant, because he was enabled as a child.

    As somebody that grew up Highland Dancing, it was perfectly acceptable to wear medals around in that world because of the fact that during the awards, medals were given by being placed around the dancers’ necks. Once I started piping, rule number 1 was never wear your medals around because it looks conceited.
    Now that we have social networking, it’s been taken a step or two further with pictures being posted and words being added to these pictures about ‘look how great I am’. Would these people walk up to all of their friends in public and shove their awards in their face and say “LOOK WHAT I GOT”? Because, that’s essentially the exact same thing and posting it on Facebook.

    I should probably add that it’s not quite the same if it’s a band win that the poster is talking about, because that’s a group effort and not quite self-promotion. So if an FMM’er wants to post that they won the Worlds, or the grand slam, then by all means. If a drummer wants to post a picture of themselves wearing the world’s sash, go ahead. You’ve worked together in a large group towards a common goal so you should celebrate together. Band posts are not usually approached from the same direction as solo posts of “look how great we are”…it’s more of a “yay, we did it! High fives all around”. And they don’t usually post things like “Today we won, beating xxxx (band)” as some soloists do.

    Basically, the bottom line is, if you’re as great as you think you are, you should let the music and the results do the talking for you, not your Facebook page, your Twitter account, or anything else of the sort.

  12. The difference is that far more people nowadays are attempting to make a living from this thing we do than ever before, just like you have mentioned. Those who are, would say you have to sell your yourself to do so…….those who don’t might say instead its your soul your selling along with any integrity and self respect you have into the bargain.

    I used to joke for a long time that one well known piper had had his name changed by deed-poll to include the prefix of Champion Piper, as it was everywhere that referenced him.

    It seems to be an art form where a majority of those who take it up will never perform at any sort of level of considerable merit, yet always seem willing – rightly or wrongly – to throw vast sums of money at tuition and teaching aids in the belief that that in itself is making them better; and for anyone who wants to make money from it, well it can be an easy market to tap into with the right self promotion.

    It is not just details of contest wins either. Superfluous nonsense such as – have performed all over the world, performed on TV to millions of viewers, performed at event where Z list celebrities were in attendance etc etc – all appear regularly on players biographies that I see, all which means absolutely nothing in reality.

    I regularly see adverts for tuition services that leave me in total disbelief, from guys charging $40/50 who are still only learners themselves or ill equipped to teach others. Everyone is out to make a quick buck from it now.

    I suppose you can’t blame people for trying to heighten their appeal. Perhaps it says more about the character of at least some of the people who take up our hobby, who buy into guff like that in the first place, doing it for something other than the music and love of it, and more to be the centre of attention.

  13. Can’t quite get my head round what to think about this whole issue. If somebody’s running a business, they need to get the business IN, and to do that they can’t be sitting about waiting for it to fall on their lap from the skies. Nor can they expect others to find the business for them, though it would be nice if Piping Teacher A said ‘I’m full up but I can recommend Piping Teacher B and I’m sure that probably happens all the time – or does it? As Neil says, if you’ve got what you say you’ve got, why not tell people then people know exactly what they’re getting. If I’m looking for a teacher, I WANT to know their credentials etc.
    I’m not running a piping business, but I cringe every time I make a post anywhere about a new piece I’ve written. But at the same time, if you’ve spent countless hours angsting over a thing, spent an arm and a leg of your own money on getting it performed and recorded, and get good feedback and are yourself pleased with the result, why keep it hidden away? I like to think any posts are ‘letting people know a thing exists’ rather than ‘hey look at me’. ‘Look at THIS’ would seem more gracious. And actually more true, as it’s the performers and the team that make the thing happen. Having said all that, if somebody posts ‘look at me and see how great I am’, if I agree with them, I’ve no problem saying so. Case in point –this pipes|drums itself, often seems to say of the ‘Ontario group’ as I see them, ‘look at us, aren’t we great’ and yes, I agree, so carry on saying it!

  14. I agree with Andrew on this one.
    My piping career started at age 10. My family considered it an enhancement to my childhood. If a grade 4 senior piping wants to brag about winning fifth place…big deal.
    My concern has more to do with those who have chosen to promote themselves in the teaching and even judging arena. In both areas, some (NOT most) have allowed money to become the primary object rather than good music.
    Anyone can hang a “teacher” shingle and quite a few prospective students would not know the difference between a good or unqualified instructor.
    Do instructors have an “enjoyment only” teaching track as well as a “competition” track? I think not.
    What about judges selling their teaching cd’s at a games they are judging? (yes, I have seen that) How many times have competitors thought about the advantage of buying the cd for an additional competitive advantage?
    My first teacher (Bob Gilchrist) never charged me a dime for lessons. They were group lessons and got me going. He told some students they needed to find some other instrument/hobby. How many “teachers” would tell paying students that today?
    It is very easy to fall into the money trap and I wish there was a bit more discussion about ethics, integrity and honesty among those who should and do know better. I suspect then the self promotion thing would no longer be an issue.

  15. I do the social media stuff for my band, and I have to disagree with a lot in this article. We put up our results from all contests, as we have ‘followers’ from across Europe and friends and family globally who may not instantly know that xxx highland games was taking places that day and therefore may not instantly check the RSPBA website for results. In a globally digitized age, if individuals take the time and effort to follow a pipe band on social media, then there is nothing wrong with posting about the goings on of the band. I’ve never seen a band say ‘we beat…’ and I think any band that did would instantly be scorned by the wider piping community,

  16. My grandfather always told me that empty vessels make the most sound. If you are THAT good, or did THAT well, you shouldn’t have to tell anyone – they’ll know. Savour it, but spare me your self-admiration, disguised as ‘PR’ and a ‘good news story’ on your own little Facebook shrine.

    It is only ‘good news’ for you, it is just plain news to the rest of us. If you are having to blow your bags and tell the world about it, it is most likely because the rest of us have not bothered to find out.

    1. And Andrew B is correct – strategically speaking, the chest beating is counter-productive and can lead to bad PR and the wrong sort of image. In the end, blowing one’s trumpet just shows a lack of class and style. Two things that matter more than any results. Simple as that. As one of the absolute greats of piping once said: “You’ll lose more than you win, so be a gentleman and that’s what they’ll remember more.”



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