Breaking Silos

subtitle: I wouldn’t bring it up if I didn’t think it was an issue

As pro musicians we are all players AND contractors. When we can’t do a gig we often recommend someone, and because of the untold layers of expertise between good amateurs and top pros combined with the musical Dunning-Kruger effect, word-of-mouth is very important in our field.

As pro musicians we are all players AND contractors. When we can’t do a gig we often recommend someone, and because of the untold layers of expertise between good amateurs and top pros combined with the musical Dunning-Kruger effect, word-of-mouth is very important in our field.

I’m not going to use “-isms” here. Certainly the behavior of excluding groups from professional consideration are contemporarily described as “-isms,” but labeling unintentional bias as “isms” simply doesn’t cause positive change. It doesn’t work because it’s a static description of the behavior of creatures that constantly evolve and (ideally) learn.

Anyone who spends time around me knows I use the term “breaking silos.” “Breaking silos” is the POSITIVE solution to the harmful cultural practice/paradigm. Not one to be congratulated for, but one that is an essential & positive trait of the complete working professional and a music world that has a chance of blooming to full fruition.

What’s less important: talking about how/when silos develop. What’s more important: breaking them.

In the professional music world, breaking down silos is the most positive thing we can do for the music.

Sometimes the silos are based on locality, educational background, professional background. I’m less resistant to those; not everyone knows everybody, and everybody’s from somewhere, eh?

The ones that hurt us the most in pro music: silos based on (in no particular order) gender, race, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, religion & disability. These aren’t copied and pasted from Wiki, they are real-time, lived observations of the music world as I flit around with my metallic buddy.

Don’t be fooled by the adherents of binary thinking: busting silos doesn’t mean downgrading musical criteria when matching a player to a gig. It means constantly and vigorously checking and rechecking our biases as we develop and maintain our periphery of players. It means looking at our lists and constantly questioning them. It means looking at the union list to discover previously unknown players and then checking them out on YouTube.

It’s part of the job of being a professional musician.

It means maintaining a professional ethic of curiosity and discovery regarding different local players/groups/styles/venues. In many cases it means disposing of musical snobbery and stylistic biases in order to discover new people whose talents/skills translate to the genres we work in.

That sometimes requires intense self-examination: “do I think so-and-so a bad match for this other gig because because of his/her intrinsic ability, or because I don’t like Sufi Ska music?” It often means that the conclusions we drew in music school/conservatory about what the best players “look/seem like” and what kind of music they most often play are, quite simply, mistaken.

What it is is an opportunity to discover new “cells” of incredible/amazing performers.

And most importantly, it makes music BETTER. Depending on genre, the richness of any ensemble/musical experience corresponds directly with the degree to which an “everythingly”-diverse group can simultaneously play as one AND shine as individuals.

Now let’s all us kids get out there and break down some goshdang silos!!!