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Online Credibility

In this age of FREE advice, suggestions & web tutorials, how does one go about differentiating the credible from the questionable…the legitimate from the bogus?


“The internet is full of bad advice & information”.


Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, it’s true!

Our online world has more than its’ share of misdirection & incompetence…some deliberate, some not.

So, what’s a poor site surfing seeker of information to do?

My suggestion is simple.

We need to become more discriminating consumers.

How do we accomplish that?

By forcing ourselves to examine & evaluate the sources of our information?


Anonymity is one of the biggest advantages to operating online.

It’s also one of the biggest obstacles to the validation of information.

As long as you talk a good game, you can masquerade as whoever or whatever you chose.

And while there are valid reasons for masking online identity, there are just as many questionable ones.

That being the case, I propose that internet trust be earned, not given indiscriminately.


For musician/songwriters, the web is a useful tool. Forums like this one provide an environment for people with similar interests to learn and interact.

But they also serve as a breeding ground for posers. It takes a while to figure out who’s legitimate & who’s not, but that’s a necessary part of the process.


So, how does one go about verifying online credibility?

Hopefully, the individual in question has made that a simple process.

I’ll use myself as an example.

  • I have little need or desire to mask my internet persona. In a nutshell, what you see is what you get!

         My name is Tom Hoffman…I chose the member-name “tunesmithth” because my primary website is tune-smith.com & my initials are TH.

         I deliberately avoid exaggerating my musical credentials. What credentials I do claim, are easily verified.

  • The “About Me” section of my member profile is detailed & publicly available. It contains both member name & real name, as does my “Tips & Tidbits” blog.

         It also provides a link to the Metro St. Louis Historical Site http://www.stlmusicyesterdays.com/Nickels.htm. You’ll find my name listed near the top.

  • My member signature, which displays at the bottom of every post, includes 4 links….3 YouTube channels + Tune-Smith.com.



  • Accessing those links, pages & blog gives you access to original mp3s, drum tutorials, guitar & drum demonstrations, music videos, an “Arrangement 101” playlist, published articles, photos, etc.
  • The Library of Congress website is searchable by title (*Songs by TEH), or registrant name. Either will yield a history of copyright registrations for Tom Hoffman...a matter of public record.


  • What I never volunteer is exact date of birth, where I went to school, political preference, religious affiliation, etc.

         The only ones who benefit from data like that are Identity thieves, data collection entities, marketing firms & special interest groups.


So, given that I’ve provided all the resources necessary to assess my musical qualifications, does that mean you should trust my advice implicitly?

In a word, NO! :rolleyes:

But it does mean that I’ve done my part.

All I can do is make the information available.

It’s your responsibility to research, evaluate & decide who to place your trust in!

No one can do it for you and you shouldn’t want them to!   


When it comes to my own online interactions, I operate by a simple rule. Unless you’ve done your part, I’ll probably disregard your advice.

Sorry, but if I can’t verify that you’re qualified to offer me the advice, I won’t be taking it seriously!

I’ll probably respond courteously, thanking you for your insights. I simply won’t act on them!

Why would I?

If you’re a relative stranger and you haven’t bothered to provide some sort of qualifying credentials, how would you expect anyone to take you seriously?

In fact, shame on anyone who does!


So where does that leave the individual who’s determined to maintain online anonymity? As I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate reasons for choosing to do so.

But, those reasons don’t outweigh our need to verify. Bottom line…if people aren’t in a position to supply something, they forfeit their right to be taken seriously.

Life’s a trade-off! 

People who truly have the need to operate anonymously should be willing to recognize the limitations imposed by that.

Fair or not, I simply don’t know a better way. 


*Please refer to member comments below for case-in-point.


Tom Hoffman

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"Unless you’ve done your part, I’ll probably disregard your advice."


Does that mean you ignore suggestions or comments form others here in the forums when you post a lyric or song for feedback?  I ask because I'd guess that 90% of the people here don't have the details you specify on their profiles - do you check each person out when they comment?



Just Curious

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Since this is obviously a sensitive subject Mike, I'm going to be very specific with my responses.



Does that mean you ignore suggestions or comments form others here in the forums when you post a lyric or song for feedback?

1) To begin with, I never used the word "ignore"...I said "disregard" the advice. There is a difference!

The word ignore implies that I'll pay no attention at all or act as if you'd never offered it. That's not what I said or meant.

This is what I said....

"Sorry, but if I can’t verify that you’re qualified to offer me the advice, I won’t be taking it seriously!

I’ll probably respond courteously, thanking you for your insights. I simply won’t act on them!"

Forgive me, but that's a long way from "ignoring". ;)


2) Consider this...when someone posts a lyric/song & requests feedback/critique, they've already made creative decisions & judgments about that material.

Those judgements/decisions are based on their personal tastes, capabilities, knowledge & skill-set.

It's not as if they've posted a blank slate & asked people to fill it in.

What they're asking for is other people's perspectives, ideas & input on possible ways to improve what they've already created.

I consider that type of feedback extremely useful...WHEN it's offered by a qualified individual.


If I know very little about the person...their musical credentials, background or experience, why in the world would I reverse decisions I'd already made in favor theirs?  

Honestly, if you consider that a reasonable thing to do, you have my blessing. 

I simply don't recommend it!



I ask because I'd guess that 90% of the people here don't have the details you specify on their profiles

A valid enough point.

I'll begin by pointing out that my credentials were included as one example...a rather extreme one at that. With me, what ya' see is what ya' get.

I wasn't trying to establish myself as the benchmark standard, but in my opinion, people need to provide something if they hope to be taken seriously.

It doesn't have to be their entire life's history & musical pedigree, but if they don't provide something, I will likely disregard whatever advice they offer.

Fact is, I've never been in an online forum where the posters option to disregard suggestions wasn't an assume right.

Suggestions on writer's forums are always offered with the understanding they may be disregarded.

I'm simply recommending that credibility be one of the criteria you evaluate.



do you check each person out when they comment?

Damn right! ...always have, always will.

Matter of fact, if I hadn't taken the time to check you out months ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

I do my homework. :mellow:

BTW you make more than enough information available. I've been on your YouTube channel, as well as several of your music pages, read profiles, bios, etc.


Let me sum this up with one final point.

As a child growing up, I recall hearing my parents say repeatedly "always consider the source".

The source of something is every bit as important as the substance of what's being offered. That's truer now than at any time history!

To say that we're living in a "buyer beware" world is an understatement.

If someone doesn't provide enough information for you to figure out who they are, that's on them...not on you.


Hopefully this answers your questions satisfactorily.

Appreciate you taking the time to read & comment...Gotta go!



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Interesting perspective regarding credentials, Tom. I've been a Muse member for going on 10 years, but have never put anything in the 'About me' box on my profile, largely because I'm a very private person. But now I've taken the plunge. ;)

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I do agree that credentials count. I suspect we are all more likely to take advice from people we respect than from those we know nothing about.


I also think that it helps to get to know people and their capabilities. I'm a bit more lazy than Tom and am less likely to do a bunch of research, but I will get to know people by their work and by their posts. I think this, for me, is one of the advantages of a community and of becoming part of one - people get to know you and you get to know them, over time. It's a trust thing.


Once I know someone, I get to know what I think their strengths are. That way, when they say something I don't immediately agree with (or give me feedback that stings!) I am less likely to dismiss it, especially when it concerns an aspect of songwriting (or anything!) that I know they are skilled/knowledgeable in.


That said, I have received useful feedback from people who (imho) lack songwriting skills and who have few credentials. Sometimes this may be because they are effectively representing my audience and sometimes this is because they have simply held up a mirror that shows me something I missed (for example, they misunderstood something I thought was clear but can now see was confusing).


But it's still a trust thing :)

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21 hours ago, Alistair S said:

That said, I have received useful feedback from people who (imho) lack songwriting skills and who have few credentials. Sometimes this may be because they are effectively representing my audience and sometimes this is because they have simply held up a mirror that shows me something I missed

This  ^^^


Just because someone is 'qualified' (in whatever personal means you decide to use to judge them) doesn't make their comments any more meaningful than someone else's.  Donna's comment above shows that your method is less than perfect, as she is probably one of the most 'qualified' songwriters on this forum.  So now she's added some info to her profile, so all of a sudden she's "qualified" (after you check out her links) whereas before she wasn't?   

If your only intended audience for a song is other 'qualified' songwriters, then fine, but that's pretty unusual.  I liken it to the songwriting contests - and the comments I read on them after judging.  The facts are MY opinions/ideas/etc often differ greatly from what I read.  Does this make the others' opinions less 'qualified' to me?  Of course not, it just means they have different likes/dislikes.  


In the case of your definitions, Tom, "Disregard" and "Ignore" have the same meaning.  Try substituting the one for the other in this sentence:  'I ignored the comments from John Q Smith because he has no songwriting credentials.'

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Yeah, but I may well ignore advice from unqualified sources ... I think many (most?) people would. Feedback, however, is feedback - whatever the source.


And I do think that Tom was talking about advice, specifically.



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Obviously we disagree Mike. ;)

The good news is, I don't have a problem with that...you are absolutely entitled to place your faith/trust in whatever & whoever you choose!

The thing is, so am I...and this is "my" blog article, based upon "my" personal opinions & conclusions.

In other words, this is my chosen method.



'I ignored the comments from John Q Smith because he has no songwriting credentials.'

As common sense would dictate, there are no specific criteria for making that determination. 

For the most part, the qualifications depend on what advice is being offered.


If someone comments about the phrasing of a single lyrical passage...from the perspective of a listener, then the bar's set pretty low.

If you're a living, breathing human being who listens to music, then you're qualified. That doesn't necessarily mean you're correct, but you are qualified & I would consider the observation valid.

On the other hand, comments/suggestions/recommendations about the business of music, online music marketing, legalities of copyright/publishing, music theory, proper song-structure, which to write first (music or lyric), arrangement, etc. are an entirely different matter!


'nuf said, agree to disagree! :rolleyes:

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And what achievement has given you the credibility to preach to anyone here...................?????????????????????????????


Why do you feel the need to preach to us?..................is there some outcry from the public for you to share your opinion?


Well....in the end, I guess, I'm really just following your advise, after all :lol: 

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Thank you for taking the time to read & comment-on the article gentlemen. 

As the description of this blog states, it's "Musically related tips, insights, opinions & personal experiences."

As for "who I think I am", I'm simply a guy passing on his "Musically related tips, insights, opinions & personal experiences" Nothing more, nothing less.


BTW Ironknee...I appreciate the removal (editing out) of that personal insult from your original post. The fact that we don't like one another has little if anything to do with the quality of our musical efforts.

Fact is, I voted for YOUR SONG in the recent 1 + 1 contest. That vote was based entirely on the merits of the material. "Nuf said. 


Thanks again!


***Edit 3/23/18***

I noticed the other day that member Ironknee had placed a 2nd comment on my profile, in the form of a status update.

Since that comment was even more aggressive than the one he posted here, it pissed me off a wee bit. :angry:

Enough so that I decided to do a quick Google search of Ironknee's real name (Tom Tognaci).

That 5 minute investment of my time yielded a perfect example of why the issue of internet credibility is such an important one.

Since that was the entire point of this article, I decided to share the results of that result.



Here's the online source that screenshot was taken from - http://www.songwriter101.com/forums/viewthread/66759/P15/#522421


Obviously, I have no way of knowing if those accusations are true, but if you access that link, you'll see that Tom did delete the song in question.

So, is that an indication of guilt?

You'll have to be the judge of that.

If you scroll down a bit on that Songwriter101 webpage,  you'll see these additional comments from A.J. Michaels...


IronKnee2.thumb.PNG.cfe4d4aa8159e72a674b75f85a6e3a6a.PNG       IronKnee3.PNG.fe7a3709510d193e50238b3480bbabbc.PNG


I happen to know that "Ironknee" wasn't always his member name on songwriting sites.

Is that WHY he changed it? 

Was he trying to make the accessing of this type of information more difficult?

Again, there is no way to know for certain, but at the very least, it calls into question his "online credibility".

AND this is precisely why it's so important to examine & evaluate chosen sources of information!


Tom Hoffman

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5 hours ago, kuya said:

maybe put an asterisk after your Muse name

I think what we need is more color and strong character identifiers

Or cowbell! "As all the kids say." 



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For the sake of clarity, let me summarize one more time.


I wasn't trying to say that members should present a musical pedigree in order to have their opinions considered valid.

I was trying to say that it is in everyone's best interest to know something about the individual offering that advice.

I was also trying to make the point that both parties bear some of the responsibility in that exchange...

  • the giver of advice to make information publically available & easy to find 
  • the recipient to take the time to access it & understand the information

I'd bet money that most of you wouldn't:

  • Act on financial advice given to you by an unqualified person
  • Accept medical advice from someone you know very little about
  • Base legal decisions on suggestions made by virtual online strangers

...and while the bar is set lower for accepting creative advice, the advice should still come from an individual qualified to offer it...and you can't possibly know whether they are, unless you know a little about them.

That was my point! :)

I used myself as an example because that is how I operate, both as giver of advice & recipient. (*Please refer to my previous comment for a case-in-point)

If I was unclear about these things in the article, I apologize.

It's a blog & I am NOT a professional writer.



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