How Social Media and Mobile Technology Has Changed Music Forever
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Social media has completely changed the way people interact with each other. We are all connected in ways that were never possible before. This doesn’t just affect our personal lives, but also how businesses engage with customers and market their goods and services. Though not inherently businesses, bands and musicians have also greatly changed the way they market themselves and interact with fans through social media. This change has also ushered in a massive change in the way music is sold through the integration of mobile technology. However, these changes have not all been positive.
Working closely with bands, and being a musician myself, I have seen this change firsthand, and have conflicted feelings about the results. To get some other perspectives, I also talked to a few musicians about their experience with social media and mobile technology, and asked them about their experiences with social media and mobile technology’s influence on the music industry, sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.
Social Media: Breaking Down Walls Between Musicians and Fans
Possibly the biggest shift in music that has come through social media has been through an increased level of interaction between musicians and their fans. While I have had some experience with this, I wanted to talk with someone who deals with this on a larger scale. I talked to Michael Franzino of alone. and A Lot Like Birds about some of his experiences with fan interaction through social media.
Michael Franzino: “Bands like mine are in no small way cripplingly dependent on social media. The dawn of the Myspace age really bridged an egregious gap between being a major label artist and a local no name act. Where the internet brought on the death of album sales, it took the power of making a band accessible and put it into the fan’s and band’s hands, cutting out a great deal of the need for corporate middle men.”
Giving the power back to musicians and their fans is a massive paradigm shift within the music industry. Before musicians began embracing social media, music labels carried a huge majority of the power when it came to what music made it into the hands of consumers.
Now, the ability to present your music to a wide range of fans is attainable through Facebook and other social platforms, especially considering that, according to an infographic by Case Western Reserve University, Americans spend more than an hour on social media daily, and 83% of social media users worldwide have a Facebook account. Social media puts musicians in power when it comes to getting the word out about their live shows, album releases, or merchandise for sale.
Recently, bands have taken this interaction to a new level and embraced crowdfunding. This has proven to be a successful way for some musicians to fund projects without using traditional means. When going this route, it is especially important for musicians to utilize social media and be mindful of their tactics. I talked to Michael about this as well, since he used crowdfunding for his newest project, alone., and asked him what kind of impact social media had on a crowdfunded project like this.
MF: “alone. is especially not possible without social media. It is a project born on the internet and may solely live on the internet. This project absolutely would not have been able to be funded without the internet, which is where its greatest beauty lies for me. Crowdfunding is a rare successfully symbiotic relationship that allows fans to be responsible for the creations they want to consume by giving the artists the means to create them.
This kind of “symbiotic relationship” is something that largely goes missing entirely in art. Generally, art is created by the artist on one end, and received by the consumer on the other. With crowdfunding, however, it transforms fans into investors, and gives them a tie to the creation of art. It also creates a personal connection to fans for the artist.
MF: “It blows my mind daily that a romantic dream of mine, plus the internet, plus amazingly supportive people, resulted in what it did, and I’m eternally grateful for it.”
This connection between artist and fan is the absolute best aspect of crowdfunding in music. It creates human connection in a place where that can be difficult to establish. While crowdfunding is not the right method for every project, there are times when it absolutely is. I asked Michael why he made the decision to use crowdfunding for this project when his band A Lot Like Birds has used more traditional funding methods through record labels.
MF: “I decided to crowdfund the project rather than work with a label/anyone else because I wanted everything about my attempt at a solo endeavor and its relationship to my fans to be as personal as humanly possible. I was curious what a project might look like if it were simplified; the money and support that fans contributed would go directly to the artist, and the rewards and music offered in return would come directly from the artist. One of the biggest benefits of label support these days is the capital they lend necessary to afford making a record on a professional level. Indiegogo cuts out the need for an outside party and the distance that comes with it.”
Crowdfunding pushes the use of social media in music into a completely new frontier. No longer are musicians just interacting with fans about products already in creation, but are now involving them in the actual creation of music.
Social media’s use in music is also incredibly useful in getting merchandise into the hands of fans. Before the internet, the only ways for musicians to sell albums or other merchandise were in some form of person-to-person interaction. This could be at shows, music stores (if the band had a record label or management to make that happen), or by actually selling it themselves, whether it be out of a backpack or the trunk of their car.
With the rise of the internet, however, musicians now have a much broader range of tools at their disposal for selling and distributing various types of merchandise. With albums, bands no longer need to get a physical copy into the hands of their fans. Instead, people can buy a digital download and have access to the music they want instantly. This led the way for streaming services like Spotify to deliver an even larger variety of music to people. Without spending additional money to do so, people can check out music and decide what they think about it.
At shows, the ability for bands to get their products to their fans has grown in huge ways recently. Since I started going to shows as a teenager, it was just an accepted fact that if you wanted to buy merchandise, you needed cash. Everyone knew where the closest ATMs were to our favorite venues, and how long it took to walk there and back so you didn’t miss anything.
This no longer has to be the case, however. With the introduction of mobile payment technology like The Square Reader, (or other alternatives, if you have concerns about some of the issues Square has), bands have now been able to accept card payments for merchandise. Considering mobile app revenue is expected to grow to $24.5 billion in 2016, it only makes sense that this technology would be a natural fit in the music world.
Last summer, I went on tour with the band Hollow Wood to sell their merchandise. Without card payments the band would have lost out on hundreds of dollars in merchandise sales. At almost every show, there was someone who would come look at a shirt or CDs and say something about not being able to buy anything because of not having cash, but then made a purchase when I told them that we could take cards.
I asked some musicians about live merchandise sales, online sales, and the impact that the ability to process card transactions has had. First, I talked to Jeff Bull, Jr, bass player in Hollow Wood.
Jeff Bull, Jr: “People still seem to assume that bands can’t take cards, so unless they know up front that we take cards, we will probably do 80% cash, and 20% card if they know that we take card, it’s probably like 30% cash, 70% card”
This says so much, not only about how people like to spend their money, but also about the importance of a band’s social media and overall internet presence. By having a strong internet presence and giving out valuable information, it gives musicians an increased chance of getting their music or merchandise into the hands of fans.
Even for bands that are still largely using traditional methods when selling their merchandise at shows, online sales have become vital, as Taylor Hawkins, drummer for Ancient Psychic told me.
Taylor Hawkins: “At our shows, it’s mostly cash. Probably like an 80/20 split. But we get way more money overall via our digital avenues.”
The Dark Side: Musicians as Marketers
Social media and mobile’s impact on music have been largely positive, but there has also been a dark side. With social media platforms like Facebook becoming increasingly vital to musicians, it also increases Facebook’s power within the industry. Michael had some great insight into the dangers of this.
MF: “Nearly all of our promotion is done through social media, which in turn has put us a great deal at those site’s mercy. Facebook is well aware of the corner they have on the market and have been swift to the money grab, charging Facebook Pages absurd rates to reach all of the people with interest in their entity.”
The way that Facebook presents content to its users means that, as Michael said, when a band creates a post, it is quite unlikely (if not impossible) for it to reach everyone who has liked that band’s page. In fact, organic social reach for Facebook Pages has dive bombed over the last few years, and, in reality, is now completely dead as a useful marketing tool.
For marketers, this has meant learning how to use paid social effectively (at places like Social Media Week Los Angeles). Unlike marketers, however, musicians don’t always have time to attend conferences to learn how to market themselves. This means that bands must now become incredibly savvy in their social media use and know how to boost and/or promote their posts in an efficient way, or hire someone to manage their social media accounts. Both of these options move social media away from a personal platform, toward a standard marketing tool.
Crowdfunding isn’t immune to these negative aspects, either. While it can be a great way to connect fans to projects they are interested in, and for bands to secure funding when they might not normally, it makes those who go the crowdfunding route dependent on a funding model that is a gamble. Musicians simply cannot be sure that their crowdfunding campaigns will be successful when they initiate them, and if they do fail to raise the funds necessary to complete the project, then the band has wasted their time, effort, and, (most counter-intuitively) money.
The biggest issue with crowdfunding in music is one that it shares with social media’s place within music now as a whole: it turns musicians into marketers. With the overwhelming amount of music available to fans at an instant, it has become vital for bands to do whatever they can to just get someone to listen to them. The ability for a band to directly communicate with their fans through social media can do amazing things at breaking down the separation between artist and fan, but if that interaction boils down to a sales pitch, then fans will see through that and ignore it.
This marriage with marketing also feels very against the artistic spirit that has always been one of the most compelling aspects of music. When art can’t stand on its own without being sold as worthy of consumption, then it changes the role of the artist in a very dangerous way. While social media can be a fantastic tool for musicians, it can also detract heavily from their time actually being a musician.
Social media and mobile technology have had a tremendous impact on music. By utilizing social media, musicians have the ability to reach out directly to their fans, which creates a closer community between the two sides. With revolutions in both crowdfunding, digital releases, and mobile payment technology, fans also have vastly increased opportunities to consume music in the ways the wish.
Unfortunately, social media has also brought about changes in music that are not as beneficial to either musicians or fans. With social media taking such a key role in how bands market themselves, they now have to worry not only about the music they create, but also how to sell that music to people. It’s not good enough anymore to create good art, musicians also need to know how to effectively get people to pay attention to it.
Social media, and how it is used is a complicated issue for everyone, and this is true within music as well. It has brought huge improvements in some areas, but also unfortunate consequences in others. As with all things related to social media, the best way to look at these changes is to embrace the positive aspects while trying to find ways overcome, or at least live with, the negative.
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