Social media is a powerful tool and its power can be both positive and negative, especially with music.
Social media is still very much in its infancy, especially the platforms we know today. The first social media platform was a site called SixDegrees.com which launched in 1997 and was defunct by 2001. The earliest platforms we typically think of in terms of social media now like Facebook and Twitter were launched in 2004 & 2006 respectively. If these platforms we still use today were people they wouldn’t even be old enough to be out of the education system yet. Equally young but just as revolutionary are streaming services with Spotify launching in 2008, Tidal in 2014, and Apple Music following in 2015. Whilst still relatively new services, they have completely changed our landscapes.
Streaming has eclipsed physical sales by quite a margin, it is number 1. If you ask anybody with a phone or device capable of streaming how they listen to music the two most prominent answers would be Spotify or Apple Music. This means people have instant access to their music all the time. Where you once had to wait for physical CDs to drop, got to the shops, and then get it back to a device that could play CD’s, now as soon as an album or song is out everyone with a device can access it. That’s a great thing it makes music very accessible and also very affordable. For one monthly fee, you have access to every single track on that particular subscription platform.
Socials and streaming whilst new have dominated our culture. They’ve dominated so much that they initially overlapped and are now interlinked by design. Instagram has a sticker specifically for Apple Music that lets you share songs as well as it’s lyrics alongside it. They additionally allow you to link to Spotify, and equally on Spotify, there are specific preset links for sharing music from that platform to other socials like Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and more.
Beyond just that functional aspect, people also interlink the platforms just through the way we communicate now. We do a lot of talking online and music is a pretty frequent and prominent topic there. At points, social media has even hosted the debate of which streaming platform is best. On top of sharing our thoughts on music, we also share links back to that music, typically on YouTube but also links to the streaming platforms. Just think about the yearly round-up Spotify does for all of their users and the amount of free promotion they get across socials from that one tool.
But that’s not the only side of the story. Whilst it’s been good in terms of making things accessible, it’s caused its own set of problems. One of the biggest issues it’s created is that it has made music and the industry behind it become like fast food. Fast food is great (in moderation), it’s cheap, quick, and serves its purpose of nourishing us. But most people wouldn’t eat fast food all the time because the trade-off for those positives would be the big negative of a whole heap of health issues that would flair up. Streaming is the musical equivalent of fast food.
We are so used to constantly having new music now that we’re impatient for it. When artists tease music and don’t drop it soon after fans will hound them for releases and even troll them in their comments and DM’s. That impatience for always wanting the new also has the knock-on effect of fewer people sitting with music for extended periods of time. This means people aren’t always fully giving projects, or even songs, the time they deserve which can sometimes mean that artists outputs aren’t fully appreciated or given the credit they are due.
Social media equally plays a role in this as with this eagerness for new music, people always want to be up to date to engage in discussion about it. This can be extremely detrimental and D Block Europe‘s PTSD project could be a case study for it. The project was eagerly anticipated but when it dropped people were quick to complain about a number of things. From the project’s length, some of the flows used, and even the quality of the songs. I have to admit that I wasn’t eager to listen to the project after those reviews, and as much as I tried to put those reviews to the back of my mind when I listened to the project they stuck. Unintentionally I’d formed an opinion of the project subconsciously without ever having listened to it. This is what social media has the power to do. It’s a common effect that goes beyond social media, the information we read and hear the most sticks in our brains whether we want it there or not.
A little while after the project dropped and people had stopped talking about it, I gave the project another go. To my surprise, whilst I still wasn’t completely sold on the length of the project my mind had changed about its quality. It wasn’t DBE at their complete best, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as people were making it out to be. There are plenty of tracks on there that have longevity, all they needed was people to take their time to actually listen properly.
This feeds nicely onto another part of the fast-food problem, it creates a focus on quantity over quality. The biggest argument around PTSD was whether it was a case quantity over quality. More generally though, people do just tend to care about having more – that definitely doesn’t just apply to music though. People will say that they want more good music and only the good stuff. But if we look at songs that have blown and done huge numbers they aren’t always good songs. The flip side is also true, artists who don’t necessarily have the biggest outputs and rather focus on quality than quantity often get lost in the whirlwind of release cycles. People usually get one chance at being hot and then are expected to maintain that for the remainder of their careers. When people don’t maintain it or take breaks people will start to say they’ve fallen off or aren’t that good anymore. Abra Cadabra is a perfect example of this and how fickle fans can be.
This creates an odd dynamic on the part of artists. They can either prioritise musical quality or they can focus on constantly releasing. If they go for quality this can sometimes mean long breaks between the music or people never getting into them like that because they aren’t always the most visible. If they go for quantity they risk watering down the content and seeming like they are trying to hang on. Now that’s not to say that an artist can’t have both quality and quantity, it’s just very rare. It takes a very special kind of artist to bring the highest quality work consistently and quickly enough to match demand.
From the artists perspective, I understand why they could go with either direction. With quality, you can better ensure longevity and develop your own niche fan base. With quantity, if you capture attention you can maintain the audience by constantly supplying demand, which leads to big numbers that make the model lucrative but it isn’t always sustainable.
From a label perspective, it makes labels more likely to focus on singles. They are cheaper to pick up and can lead to greater financial reward a lot of the time. It also means they don’t have to make any long term investment which could potentially fall through. Labels are businesses after all so they have to make money, and often single deals are extremely lucrative for them. Plenty of songs start doing big numbers and then get labels jumping on them to get a piece of the pie. Labels are less eager to take those kinds of risks on artists though. As such artists, to tailor to this model, almost have to continuously churn out music in the hopes of getting that one hit.
All things considered, I think streaming and social media is creating a disservice all round – for artists and fans alike. Music has become a commodity so common it’s not valued the way it once was. It doesn’t even have the longevity it once had as people’s memories are so short, especially when what’s new is constantly pushed in our faces. It has however made music more accessible and financially beneficial to artists that can do big numbers. But is that really all we want music to be? We are too far gone to get rid of streaming and honestly I don’t know what the solution would be, but a focus on quality definitely needs to take centre stage again. There are so many talented artists being overlooked and not getting their moment because our musical culture at the moment is one of oversaturation. Hopefully, this changes, but only time will see.