Ever since records could be mass-produced and popular music could be played on the radio, the goal for professional music artists has remained the same: to identify the most efficient and successful methods necessary to maintain the best possible relationships with their fan bases. In more recent years, it has become increasingly easier for artists to personally reach out to their fans and maximize exposure.
Similar to how the members of the Beatles used to respond to the occasional fan letter, artists today are able to reach out to fans through mediums like Twitter and Instagram. For an artist, all it takes to personally reach out to a fan is turning on a phone or computer and tagging somebody in a post or commenting on a picture. As a big fan of music myself, I know that being personally contacted by a band or a specific artist I like is a very neat thing and it encourages me to promote them and their music.
Social media has made it easier for both artists and music labels to promote their brands and quickly and efficiently communicate with their audiences. Everything from tour dates to band photos to the artists’ music can be shared over social media and spread around the world instantly.
Throughout this paper, I will discuss the relationship between social media and the music industry. I will discuss the history of music on the internet and social media, as well as specific artists that have had professional success due to the utilization of social media. I will also go through the different social media websites and services that have such a strong impact on the industry today.
The growth and improvement of social media over the last 10 to 15 years has greatly affected the way music artists brand themselves and reach out to their fan bases. Today, it is a necessity as a professional musician to understand and utilize what social media has to offer in order to be successful in the music industry.
On August 1, 2003, the world’s first major social media site was launched. The name of the website was Myspace and it revolutionized the way musicians shared their music. By early 2004, Myspace had become a go-to site for music artists to share their work (Hypebot, n.d.). Users were able to post recordings of their own music, or save other artists’ music on their page. Myspace users quickly began connecting with each other, and as they would visit each other’s pages, the music that the page’s owner had chosen would play. Bands and solo artists alike began taking advantage of the site’s popularity and many gained quick success. In a study done by Finnish scholars Jari Salo, Mikko Lankinen, and Matti Mäntymäki in 2013, it was discovered that most Myspace users use the site mainly because of how much information it provides such as artist bios, pictures, reviews, and even event and ticket information (Salo, 2013). Myspace has launched the careers of several successful artists today including the Arctic Monkeys and Kate Voegele. Even Nicki Minaj has said that Myspace played a large role in launching her career (Myspace, n.d.).
About two years after the creation of Myspace, the website YouTube was founded in February, 2005. While Myspace was a great place to put music that artists were able to record themselves, YouTube allowed anybody to set up a camcorder or a camera connected to the computer and record themselves performing their music. Bands were given a place to build a buzz around their brand by posting videos of interviews or live performances to give their online audience a taste of what the band and their music is all about. In addition to being able to post their own music videos, users were also able to watch all of their favorite artists’ music videos on YouTube. This quickly became a great tool for artists and labels to promote their material in a very efficient way. In fact, in a study done in 2011 by Brett Michael Dugan of Bowling Green University, it was found that the people in the study actively sought out and shared music videos on YouTube more than any other type of media when seeking out new music, and music videos were the most common thing that motivated these people to purchase the music (Dugan, 2011). Soon after the launch of these sites, all of the major music labels were utilizing these new platforms and music was being shared in an entirely new way.
A little over a year later, on March 21, 2006, the microblog site Twitter was launched and quickly had millions of users. Each Twitter user is the author of a microblog that only allows for posts up to 140 characters in length. Twitter quickly became a way for people to become connected with celebrities by “following” them, or subscribing to their Twitter pages, which the celebrities will then keep updating. Famous artists use their Twitter feeds to post about anything from upcoming shows to what they are eating for lunch. It quickly became a popular social media site because it almost offers a personal connection between the celebrities on Twitter and the typical Twitter user. Twitter became an easy and fun way to keep up with your favorite bands and performers.
One other social media site that has changed the way music is shared is Soundcloud. Soundcloud was launched in August, 2007 by sound designer Alexander Ljung and artist Eric Wahlforss (Castillo, 2014). Ljung and Wahlforss were big fans of electronic dance music and they wanted a way for people to share new electronic dance music. To attempt to get this started, they created the website and handed out free accounts to different DJs and producers in hopes that they would begin posting their music for their fans to hear (Castillo, 2014). Before they knew it, the site had exploded in popularity and labels and independent artists alike from all around the world were using Soundcloud to post and share their original music.
In only a handful of years, sharing music went from handing out CDs at shows and hoping to get lucky, to uploading demos to Myspace, Soundcloud, and YouTube, and Tweeting your way to success through branding and frequent, instant, interconnected updates for your band’s fan base.
An interesting pattern that has formed from the common music fan’s method of searching for music one song at a time on YouTube or Myspace is that when people buy music today, they typically buy one song at a time, rather than an entire album (Dewan, 2014). This has in turn affected the way musicians release music. Now, pop artists especially focus on releasing singles and having hit songs rather than hit albums. With sites like Soundcloud and YouTube, this type of one-hit-wonder status is not far out of reach for many musicians.
When discussing how social media has had a positive effect on the music industry, it seems necessary to mention a few examples of artists that have made successful careers out of opportunities that stemmed from posting music on social media sites.
First and foremost, arguably the most successful artist that has ever been discovered on social media is none other than Justin Bieber. It all began after Bieber finished second in a local talent show and his true talent was discovered (Biography.com, n.d.). Bieber’s mother started video taping him singing covers of popular songs and posting them on YouTube. At this point, he didn’t have any quality recording equipment to record nice videos or a manager or publicist working to push his music. All he had to do was upload the amateur videos to YouTube and he started getting a lot of attention online.
After a while of the videos being online, in 2007, Justin Bieber was contacted by a talent scout/manager who worked to arrange a meeting between Bieber and pop icon Usher. Eventually, the meeting paid off and Bieber ended up signing a record deal that would launch a successful music career.
In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Bieber was even quoted saying, “Social media helped launch my career. Without the internet and without YouTube, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to put my music out there and have people hear it (Greenburg, 2012).”
YouTube, however, isn’t the only social media website that Justin Bieber has to thank for his career. Ever since he has been posting videos on his YouTube channel, he has also maintained a heavy presence on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. With millions of followers across these different networks, he is able to notify his many fans about new song releases and upcoming concerts and events. Not only did these social media tools help slingshot Justin Bieber into fame and fortune, they also still help to maintain his relationship and communication with his fan base.
Another example of a successful professional musician that has YouTube to thank for their success in the music industry is guitarist Andy McKee. In 2006, McKee was working mostly as a guitar teacher and he had just signed with a small label called Candyrat Records. McKee played around the country and had even played in places like Belgium and Japan, but struggled to ever reach real success with his original music (Harris, 2014).
After signing with Candyrat Records, McKee recorded a few videos of him playing some of his songs that they would eventually post on YouTube. Without much promotion, the videos were simply uploaded one at a time and awaited viewers. In no time, McKee’s videos exponentially started getting more views and his music began flying off the shelf.
Today, Andy McKee’s video of his song “Drifting” is up to nearly 51 million views and he is touring and making a fantastic living as an original performing artist. To this day, McKee still runs his own Facebook page and uses it to interact with his fans (Harris, 2014).
While their music might be entirely different, in the cases of Andy McKee and Justin Bieber, social media played the main role in both jumpstarting their careers as well as maintaining communication and media sharing with their fan bases.
While I’ve done a lot of examination into how social media is changing and how bands are utilizing the technology, I haven’t discussed much about the way fans of music go about finding new artists and songs. Websites today such as Pandora, Spotify, and Last.fm work solely to help people find new music based on the music they already enjoy listening to.
Music recommendation works slightly differently from site to site. However, the traditional recommender system is based on rating predictions that are formed based on the listener’s rating for previously listened to music. Other systems include the process of tracking what songs the user has been listening to and giving suggestions based on the songs’ descriptions (Su, 2013).
These music discovery websites are used not only to help the common music listener discover new music, but also to give artists a better chance at being heard by somebody that might not look them up on their own. Additionally, a lot of the music recommendation websites offer the ability to comment on music and rate music for other listeners to see. These kind of features help make deciding what new music to listen to much easier.
Aside from music recommendation sites, independent music artists’ lives are made easier by websites like CD Baby when going about releasing new music. CD Baby is a music distribution site that is designed to help independent artists release their music for the world to hear and/or purchase through their online music store or one of their many partner sites such as iTunes, Amazon Music, Last.fm, Spotify, and more. Not only does CD Baby offer a place for musicians to put their original music up for sale, they also make it very easy for people to find artists’ music and share it with friends through various social media sites.
When browsing CD Baby’s website for music, it is very easy to find music you are looking for because they have the music categorized into groups such as new arrivals, top sellers, or just about any genre of music you can think of. Once arriving on a certain product’s page, links to share the song or album on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or practically any other social media site are available right on the top of the page (CD Baby, 2011). Additionally, CD Baby allows for users who create free accounts to write reviews for the albums on sale in the CD Baby online catalog.
In addition to being able to share artists’ music through social media, users can also follow CD Baby on multiple social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ (CD Baby, 2011). Including links to these separate sites on the bottom of every page visited on CD Baby makes it easy for somebody to quickly visit the social media sites and follow the company.
While CD Baby is a successful online music retailer and does not primarily serve as a social media site, incorporating aspects of social media such as quick share links and the capability to write reviews allows for users to easily find what they are looking for and share what they find within their social networks.
According to Alice E. Marwick in Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, branding yourself or your product involves a “set of practices and a mindset, a way of thinking about the self as a salable commodity that can tempt a potential employer (Marwick, 2013).” While it is important to maintain one’s own self image through social media, music artists’ careers nowadays depend on success in social media. In today’s fast-paced world, new music is being added to the internet each and every day, and social media is necessary to help efficiently share it.
The days of performing night after night and solely relying on word of mouth to propel your musical career are over. Websites such as Myspace, YouTube, Twitter, and Soundcloud provide musicians with places to share and sell their music, as well as directly or indirectly interact with fans. In the past decade, we have seen artists such as Justin Bieber and Andy McKee rise up to have very successful music careers all thanks to social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook. Websites such as Pandora, Spotify, and Last.fm are also great tools for music lovers to discover new artists and share what they find with friends.
In the past 10 to 15 years, thanks to the development of the internet and social media sites, music artists and music lovers alike have had to adapt to changes in how music is discovered, bought, and shared. With the development of these sites and the tools they have to offer, the music industry has adjusted to the more fast-paced nature of our culture and left the less technologically advanced people behind. Today, it is completely necessary for bands and music artists in any genre to utilize what social media has to offer, or they will likely be left behind.
Biography.com. (n.d.). Justin Bieber - Biography. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/justin-bieber-522504#childhood
Castillo, A., Domanick, A., & Matos, M. (2014, March 17). Alexander Ljung, SoundCloud, Founder/CEO - 50 Most Important People in EDM. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/50-most-important-people-in-edm-20140317/alexander-ljung-soundcloud-founder-ceo-19691231
CD Baby. (2011, September). Stone Collective - James Britton. Retrieved November 26, 2014, from http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/stonecollective
Dewan, S., & Ramaprasad, J. (2014). Social Media, Traditional Media, and Music Sales. MIS Quarterly, 38(1), 101-121. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=iih&bquery=IS+02767783+AND+TI+(%26quot%3bSocial+media%2c+traditional+media%2c+and+music+sales%26quot%3b)+AND+DT+%26quot%3b2014%26quot%3b+AND+AU+%26quot%3bDewan%26quot%3b&type=1&scope=site
Greenburg, Z. O. (2012, June 22). Justin Bieber On The Business Of Social Media. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2012/06/22/justin-bieber-on-the-business-of-social-media/
Harris, G. W. (2014, July 1). Andy McKee: Mythmaker With The Social Media. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://www.jazzweekly.com/2014/07/andy-mckee-mythmaker-with-the-social-media/
Hypebot. (n.d.). Social Media and Music: A Brief History. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2014/05/social-media-and-music-a-brief-history.html
Marwick, A. E. (2013). Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Myspace (Producer). (n.d.). Nicki Minaj Discusses How Myspace Helped Launch Her Career [Video file]. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from https://myspace.com/shows/video/nicki-minaj-discusses-how-myspace-helped-launch-her-career/108027585
Salo, J., Lankinen, M., & Mantymaki, M. (2013). The Use of Social Media for Artist Marketing: Music Industry Perspectives and Consumer Motivations. JMM: The International Journal, 15(1), 23-41. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=85408718&scope=site
Su, J., Chang, W., & Tseng, V. S. (2013). Personalized Music Recommendation by Mining Social Media Tags. Procedia Computer Science, 22, 303-312. doi:10.1016/j.procs.2013.09.107
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Los Angeles-based songwriter, vocalist, instrumentalist, and writer.