What Playing Drums Taught Me About Financial Writing
Long before I was delighting Wentworth Financial Communications’ clients with white glove writing and thought-leadership strategy, I was dazzling audiences as a drummer. From about age 10 through my mid-20s, I played drums or other percussive instruments in ensembles ranging from elementary-school concert band to high-school jazz and marching band to the obligatory college-age rock and bar cover bands. It was the focal point of my life for a long time, and I like to think I was pretty good at it.
But while I no longer moonlight as a Keith Moon or Buddy Rich impresario—something I might reconsider, considering my recent re-location to the music mecca of Los Angeles—I believe there are many lessons I learned as a drummer that eventually made me a good writer and content strategist. I also believe many of these lessons apply to financial marketers and thought leaders as well.
Lesson No. 1: Less is almost always more
Like many novice writers, young drummers often try to do too much. They think that being a good drummer means being really complex and flashy, impressing people with overly elaborate beats, fills (what a drummer does during transition phases of a song), or (dare I even mention this) solos. Writers, too, often become too focused on using big words, complex, long sentences, or really sumptuous structures in their content. It almost always falls flat with the audience.
More often than not, the simpler, the better. Some of the best classic rock songs of all time were held together by professional drummers who knew that trying to do too much would ultimately ruin the song or take away from other members of the group.
To the same end, writers should know that using simple language, sentences, and structures is almost always going to make their content better—even if it’s geared toward a highly sophisticated audience or on a technical topic. In fact, if you can’t explain a complex topic in a simple, easy-to-understand way, using simple words and language, then I would argue—and many professional writers would agree—that you don’t understand the concept well enough.
Lesson No. 2: Use subtlety to your advantage
This isn’t to say that drummers and writers alike shouldn’t take opportunities to show off every now and then—but the way they do it should be selective and subtle.
For example, a good professional drummer or musician is almost never impressed with the other drummer who flails his or her arms excitedly in the air while playing or constantly playing loudly, drowning out the others in the band. In the same vein, writers who use industry jargon as a crutch or are too generous in their use of Latin phrases are going to come off as out of touch with the reader.
Still, a subtle, selective, and careful use of such turn of phrases can go a long way toward making your piece of writing more colorful and appreciated.
Lesson No. 3: Don’t be sloppy—details matter
I began taking drum lessons from a professional jazz drummer at a young age, and one of the things that annoyed me the most once I got into high school and college were other drummers my age who thought they could play the instrument by ignoring some basic techniques. I could always tell when other drummers didn’t receive technical training and taught themselves in their garage or basement. They would hold the sticks wrong, strike the drums too hard, and navigate the instrument with a disregard for playing it the right way. And it showed.
These drummers may have been talented, but their lack of attention to detail or technique would come through in how they sounded. The same goes for writing. Many talented writers can fall into the trap of ignoring critical details, like proper use of punctuation or conforming a piece of writing to a desired style—like Associated Press or Chicago Manual.
This also goes for writers who don’t properly attribute research or cite people they interview for their content. Or, worse, quote people out of context or inaccurately, without being transparent in how they acquired such information. In both financial writing and drumming, sloppiness isn’t tolerated.
Lesson No. 4: You’re not the star of the band—but your role is critical
This lesson is especially relevant for ghostwriters or financial marketers who may not be getting the final byline on a white paper they are writing on behalf of a portfolio manager or investment banker. Drummers are rarely the star of the band—that honor typically goes to the lead singer or guitarist.
Most drummers are OK with this; they relish being able to perform in the background and letting their bandmates bask in the stardom. But that doesn’t mean a drummer’s role is any less important. Just like it isn’t financial marketers who get the credit for the piece of thought leadership that helps their firm land a big new client, drummers aren’t often the first to get credit when a rock band’s album hits No. 1 on the Billboard charts or (more relevant today) the top Spotify playlist.
Financial marketers, I like to think, are the drummers of the thought-leadership creation process. They’re holding the band together with a solid, foundational beat; they’re finding subtle ways to add value that make the final product more appealing to the end-user; and they are OK with using their role to help others earn the spotlight and be successful.
In the meantime, click below to download our 19 thought leadership content ideas for 2019 e-book.
About the Author Frank Kalman is the chief operations officer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Frank and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.