Guest blog by Katie McCort
Social media is pitiable. Arguably (and quite sadly) the most praised contribution of Generation Y, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and the like have developed from the best thing to ever happen to the Internet to another commonplace fixture in our lives. Consequently, it has devolved into a mindless void of excessive opinion, incessant hype, and trivial aspirations held up by meaningless “likes” and “favorites” instead of legitimate motivation. So, when I hear aspiring superstars being given the advice to upload all of their songs to YouTube, set up their main base of operations on a Facebook page, or—the most horrifying of all—beg potential fans to fund their future album via a Kickstarter campaign, I, for my sanity, have convinced myself that the people giving this advice simply do not understand the negative impact that social media has on new artists’ careers.
Musicians who wish to break into the industry using only social media to guide them must understand that social media, regardless of its ability to reach potential new audiences, is limited by the mentality of the marketplace that surrounds shared music on social media services. This mentality is one that views online music as a valueless instrument of entertainment that should be readily accessible and free of charge. The lack of respect for music has ultimately led to a market filled with a high volume of new works with limited potential for growth, profitability, and, as a result, sustainability.
This issue stems from two drivers, both as instrumental in launching a successful music career on social media as they are with limiting its potential. The first driver consists of the consumers of online music and the users that share music via social media. The second driver is made up of the streaming services and social media services that host and share new content.
First Driver: Mistaken Millennials
Second Driver: Google’s Greed
One of the most important things for a new artist to understand about the deception of social media marketing is that when she exclusively invests her career in social media, she is cementing 100% of her potential to a platform that has historically been pleased with watching the music industry crash and burn for the sake of high quarterly earnings. This is because the devaluation of music in the virtual market can largely be blamed on the social media platforms and streaming services that dictate the market for online music. These sites are only concerned with the billions of plays of online music themselves, not the success and value that these plays could potentially pass on to the musician. One of the best examples of Silicon Valley's apathy for artists is YouTube, currently the most popular streaming service on the Internet and the service that is reportedly responsible for giving up-and-coming musicians the most opportunities to launch a successful career.
We’ve all heard of the success stories surrounding the few musicians who have managed to squeeze their way into the mainstream via the power of YouTube views including Esmee Denters and Justin Bieber. Despite the hype (and, you know, the widely successful pop stars like Usher and Justin Timberlake who backed these “YouTube Stars”), YouTube, as one of the most profitable extensions of Google, works much harder to restrict artists’ careers than they do to give those careers a boost.
In January, Zoe Keating, an independent musician who has often been vocal about the abuse online media sites have brought upon her career, reported that YouTube demanded rights to her entire catalogue and rights to set release times for her material if she wished to make her tunes available on YouTube’s upcoming subscription music service called YouTube Music Key. The streaming service threatened to block the artist’s channel if she refused to agree to the terms. This practice by YouTube exemplifies their inability to negotiate fair and reasonable agreements with unsigned and independent artists who do not have the support of big labels to help solidify their deals. This, of course, brings upon the bigger point that new artists should consider when they deliberate relying on social media as a primary launch pad for their all-star career. Services like YouTube are not looking to foster an artist’s potential or help an artist flourish. They are businesses. They are only seeking to increase profit margins while they drive the price of music closer and closer to $0.00 to appease their users. This business practice will ultimately harm new artists’ careers and cripple their potential to profit from the audiences these services may or may not give them.
So How Should New Artists Launch Their Careers?
“Traditional methods” refers to earthshattering concepts such as communicating with local artists, managers, and venues to set up gigs and jam sessions instead of putting out a few Facebook messages and wall posts; spending hours booking performances and walking to crappy bars in the freezing cold with pounds of gear simply to play gig after tiring gig instead of posting a live recording of some new song onto yet another overlooked YouTube channel; and actually tracking down the important people that are going to offer up a good gig, a contact for a good producer, or, I don’t know, a record deal (yes, new artists still need one. No. They’re not going out of vogue) instead of spamming their inbox with mp3 files. Using these methods as a new artist not only sets apart these artists from the other aspiring pop stars whose heads are still stuck in virtual hell, but these methods also establish an artist’s career in marketplaces that have not been brought down by the access model of online music.
Where artists build their music catalogs may be going all digital, but how artists build their careers is still the same old game of luck and hard work. All of the hype surrounding social media put aside, any benefits gained through the vapid virtual voids in cyberspace will never be able to replace the value of using personal and physical connections as the launch pad for a career in the music industry.