Brent Ryan

Is Social Media the Slow Bleed-out of your Music Career?

Posted on May 28, 2019 in music, Music Business, Opinions, Uncategorized

Have you updated your Instagram with the latest cute pics of you and your dog?

Are all of your show dates posted accurately on Facebook? Did you remember to boost the right posts?

Did you remember the 2 shows this weekend on your Twitter page?

Do you have everything properly updated on your ReverbNation account?

Did you remember to post your latest and greatest YouTube acoustic video? Don’t forget to promote the video through your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?

Did you go the last five minutes forgetting to peruse your Instagram feed to be sure everybody was “liking” your cute dog pic?

It’s not big mystery to my small following how I feel about the music cultural’s obsession with social media as the driving force behind your music career.  Those who know me personally know how I feel. But I continue to drive home this point because I hurt a little bit every time I see a talented, fun-loving, truly hard-working ambitious musician fall into the myth being fed to them that social media is going to make or break their career. Why do you think that the music industry is so impressed with social media as a mark of successful talent? I have some theories. Want to know them?

Social media really begin to explode sometime around 2000, about 20 years ago. Myspace got huge. Then Facebook followed shortly behind. Then came Twitter. Then Instagram. The barrage continues, only new social media formats are not taking off  as quickly. Why? My guess is because we’re already burned out on the over-stimulation factor.   Once Snapchat showed up and we could have the instant gratification of sharing to the world every intimate moment of our lives with complete freedom of choice, what is left for us? Our lives have been voyeuristically ripped from us for the world to see, and we became willing exhibitionists.

Many people were studying and speculating the effects of social media on society long before it got to this point. Yes, there were over-dramatic doomsayers who loudly stated that the internet medium would be the downfall of our culture entirely. They forget that social media has had its positive effects also, and I agree that it has.  But what is it truly doing for the thousands of musical upstarts who are whole-heartedly trying to do the right thing for their music career, and who are persistently being bombarded with the pressure to perform perfectly on social media?

I ask this question sometimes, and I’ll ask it again. When is the last time someone came up to you at a show and said, “hey man, I found your music while perusing my instagram feed and it’s awesome! I couldn’t wait to get out to one of your shows?”  I’m not going to arrogantly say that this never happens. But I bet it rarely happens.  Most likely someone perused your instagram feed because Instagram told them to, and then your popularity began to take off and Instagram told more people to peruse it, and so on and so on. And most of those followers never even listened to your music.  But they sure did love your instagram feed!  What I’m talking about is fan-conversion.  All of the purveyors of social media as a key element to your music career have NEVER supplied me with any credible evidence that social media following equates to fan-conversion.  Why don’t they? Probably because they rely on social media to feel good about themselves also.  Drunk people help people get drunk, not sober.  You catch my drift?

I used to have a personal profile on Facebook (now I have only a music business account and don’t use a personal profile).  I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon pretty early. I remember my family members joined up later during the mass  explosion. My sister texted me one day and said something about how many “friends” I had. She was impressed with my numbers.  I did have a lot. And truthfully I really did know most of them, they weren’t fake.  None of them come to my shows.  Later I used twitter some and I enjoyed the ego-feeding process of posting a wise-cracking observational quote and getting many retweets for my cleverness.  Wow, I must be really cool!  People are re-posting because I’m so witty!  They don’t come to my shows either.

In past blog posts I’ve warned you how much time gets sucked out of your music career by social media engagement if you play the prescribed rules. But now I’m going to tell you the other characteristic that is sucking the life out of your music career.

Your ego.

The industry tells us that social media is necessary because people want to engage personally with the musicians that they love. They want to feel connected. Great. So you can’t shake their hand at a show? You can’t tell people everywhere you go about what you do musically, and invite them to come hear you?  We’ve been doing those relationship builders for a few centuries or more, and they still work.  So why do we prefer to evaluate social media for fan engagement?  I think it’s because the numbers make us feel good. Ego.  I’m not judging ego. But I give you this warning- ego will lie to you. And the lies can be bleeding out your music career.  Experts were noticing very early in the social media craze that this generation struggled with passive-aggressive ego inflation and social arrogance due to the false pseudo-popularity that social media gave them. In other words, perfectly normal people began feeling like they were god’s gift to the world because they had 1,112 “friends” on facebook while their other buddies had only 235.  That was only the beginning. Then when Twitter came out we learned that a well-timed political rant or cultural commentary post would get re-posted many times. The term “viral” became a new addition to the cultural vocabulary.  Now we are even cooler. Popularity is right at our fingertips and we never have to leave the bedroom!  Then we put that power in our phones, and holy hot-damn, I can be the coolest most popular guy on the planet everywhere! I don’t even need real friends anymore!  Don’t believe me? I’d invite you to join me on stage sometime at one of my many performances and watch as married couple after married couple sit next to each other on a vacation meal and spend the entire time scrolling their phone feeds.  No, I’m not saying the minority. I’m saying MANY! They were raised on this drug of social media ego. They don’t know any other way.  It’s real my friends.

Here is the sad truth. The music industry, such as record companies and management teams, are on the same drug that we are on. So being the drunk trying to get the others drunk, they sell the same lie to us, because they believe the lie also. They think that the 5,000 followers on Instagram means that you’ll have a successful album sale, or good ticket sales.  Statistically they are probably right, because the popularity generated organically by that musician usually means they will have a strong social media following.  But they mistakenly look at the wrong cause-effect relationship, and assume the social media following is what caused the popularity.  Remember the famous sociology study where academics studied trends on the East Coast of America and noticed that statistically eating ice-cream was a high predictor of getting shark attacked?  The statistics were accurate. But the conclusion missed the point. The unidentified factor was the heat. On hot days people get ice cream. They also get in the water, making it more likely that they get shark-attacked. If people ate ice cream on cold days, the statistical connection would vanish.

I argue that the music industry follows this same false logic.

The problem is, most of the young musicians are spending A LOT of their time eating ice cream, hoping that they can increase the odds of getting shark attacked. You follow?

Overall I really do think I know why the entire industry is obsessed with social media as the indicator of someone’s musical success or failure.  It’s easy. Social media was always easy. We can sit in our air-conditioned desk chairs and make all the critiques we need to evaluate someone’s quality, and never step out and see a show, take a risk, evaluate the musical climate, or get to know the band in person.  But I’m building a very fun and loyal following of great people in my hometown, and none of them care about my instagram feed.  But they enjoy coming out and hearing my music.  I think they genuinely enjoy me. And I get so much rewards out of that it can’t be expressed in words.

For those of you who use social media regularly, please don’t think that I’m criticizing you or making judgments about your music career.  I choose to not engage in social media for personal reasons, and they are good reasons for me. But I want to warn you to not listen to the industry talking-heads that insist that your music career must have good social media or you’re not going to “make it”.  It’s wrong.  And I would highly plead with you all to not waste your time mastering the management of five social media sites at the expense of your music. Make parameters around your phone time. Schedule one window of time in your workweek to schedule all your posts, and then put your phone down and leave it alone.  Think of the time you would have back to polish your songwriting skills, reach out to venues, listen to influential musicians, etc.  And seriously…I beg you, do not get obsessed thinking that your social media numbers are going to grant you success.  That obsession is an ego feeding lie that will only pull you away from your real talent of making music.  If you play music well and love on your audience, your social media numbers will follow. But don’t go eating tons of ice-cream looking for shark attacks.  Be the heat.

That metaphor lost most of you I’m sure. But think about it. The point is worth it.