In today’s world where social media platforms give everyone the chance to have their own personal publicity machine it can be a nightmare for new artists to get their work heard. To cut through all the internet noise musicians are forced to exploit every channel of publicity at their disposal. After all, no matter how much talent you have you’ll never hit the big time by circulating your material around a small group of friends and family. You won’t make it anywhere in show-business by playing the odd gig at your local watering-hole, hoping that some big-shot producer will spot your talent. That being said, there are many pitfalls to avoid when using social media for self-promotion.
When social media is utilized properly it can be an effective weapon in the arsenal of an aspiring musician. To understand the power of social networking as a marketing tool just consider the story of how the Arctic Monkeys rose to fame. They started out as a garage band distributing free CDs to the few fans who showed up at their gigs. But when they established a presence online, especially on Myspace, they quickly built up a respectable following. Through their online platform they were able to share music and information about the band with their fans without recourse to a record label. Their popularity grew and before they even released an official album they were performing at venues normally reserved for well-established acts. When they eventually signed to Domino Records in 2006 their debut album became the fastest selling album in UK history.
There is no doubt that the internet has changed the face of the music industry. Social media has allowed new artists to tap into audiences that would otherwise be unreachable to them. But even for highly successful artists the internet has dramatically changed the way in which they interact with their fans. Twitter and Facebook have made these interactions more intimate than ever before and artists are pressured into embracing this online intimacy simply to keep up with the competition. For decades popular artists have had to endure intense public scrutiny, but the rise of social media has taken things to another level by allowing celebrities to share the minutiae of their daily lives with the world.
While there are some benefits for artists in communicating through the Twittersphere I know I’m not alone in thinking that it can be detrimental to one’s artistic persona. Some artists work hard to cultivate mystique around themselves and their art. Such artists live and breathe their art – it is difficult to tell where they end and their art begins. Yet, in today’s world where musicians are encouraged to disclose the mundane trivia of their day-to-day lives it is increasingly difficult to be and remain an enigma.
Bob Dylan famously invented an entire back story for himself when he arrived as an unknown in New York’s music scene, and he has continued to add to his mythology throughout his career. I wonder if he would have been able to do this if he had been starting out in the Twitter age. Tom Waits is another artist who shrouds himself in mystery and keeps his private life under wraps. He is elusive in interviews, making outlandish claims such as ‘I was born in the backseat of a yellow cab in a hospital loading zone’. He once said that ‘the truth is overrated’. These two artists embody the antithesis of the social networking generation. They are rendered more intriguing by their secretiveness and eccentricity.
Tom Waits is extremely critical of the way in which the internet has encroached on the music business. In a video launch for his last album Bad as Me he lamented the lack of privacy which is the flipside of mass communication. He had wanted to keep the title of his album a secret until the launch but it was leaked online. ‘It seems there’s no such thing as private anymore,’ he says in the video.
There is also a danger when starting out as a musician of sharing too much personal information or alienating your friends and fans by bombarding them with too much promotional material. Most of us have friends in bands who clog up our newsfeeds with links to their music and announcements about band activities. It can be very tiresome and off-putting.
So caution is advised when using social media to get noticed as a musician. But what do the musicians out there have to say on the issue. Is social media a blessing or a curse to the music business? Have you had a breakthrough in your musical aspirations as a result of making good use of the internet, or do you know someone who has? I would love to hear from anyone who has thoughts on the matter.
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Thanks The Music Gateway Team.