The era of social media has made the music industry more accessible to all. However, while there are now arguably more musical opportunities, this is not without posing serious problems to the art form of songwriting as a whole.
Social media is reducing musical artistry to audio snippets, thus changing the way listeners consume music and, therefore, the way artists are creating it. In June of 2020, singer-songwriter Lizzy McCalpine posted a video to TikTok of her song ‘You Ruined the 1975’. This clip has since amassed over 9.5 million views and helped McCalpine grow her fanbase to the extent that she recently received her first gold disc. Success stories like this surely cement social media as an aspiring musician’s greatest tool.
Yet, ironically McCalpine regrets ever posting ‘You Ruined the 1975’, stating that it does not represent her as an artist. She also confirmed that she would never officially release the track. So while functions like TikTok and Instagram Reels can be positive, they also cause issues.
Why is following so important?
For those aspiring to break into the music industry as an artist, social media following is crucial. A&R representatives regard this over the music itself, with record labels no longer accepting unsolicited demos. It is vital to create content that aligns with a platform’s algorithm, so audiences receive it well. Record labels manufacture music they know will gain traction on social media and subsequently gain commercial success. Even if an artist is independent social media following is still key. Consumers and boardroom executives alike determine what trends online. These virtual trends then dictate musical trends, thus arguably limiting creative freedom.
Artists who thrive at the moment tend to be ones who can succeed at appealing to social media users. However, while artists like aforementioned McCalpine or Texan singer Gayle used social media to help build their musical careers, it also favors existing artists who can use it too. 2022 saw Charlie Puth reclaim himself at the top of pop predominantly due to his clever use of social media to market his new music. Puth used TikTok to let viewers into his creative process in an accessible way. He kept teasing music, thus generating hype while showcasing his talents.
The musical impact.
While musical talent is still present, social media has arguably led to a decrease in musical talent and creativity. If you analyze a lot of current pop ‘hits’ they lack the musical complexity and ingenuity of those from 20 years ago. This could suggest that it is now harmful to be creative. For example, Ed Sheeran’s latest release ‘Subtract’ is easily his most individual and inventive album since his debut. Yet, his latest single ‘Boat’ is his least commercially successful single in over a decade. I would argue that this is because Sheeran has created a bespoke encapsulation of his own personal grief instead of music designed to become viral.
The idea of going viral has also impacted the way some songs are produced. When songs are teased on social media platforms, audiences only hear a snippet. This means when songs are released audiences immediately want to hear the sections they are familiar with. While this does make some sense it has resulted in the reduction of people’s attention spans. Songs such as Lil Yachty’s ‘Poland’ which is only 1 minute and 23 seconds long would have been unheard of 10 years ago. Despite this, ‘Poland’ has been very successful amassing over 115 million streams on Spotify thus far. Still, it is hard to imagine it having the future longevity of songs equally successful in eras before social media.
Was this Inevitable?
We are increasingly living in a ‘digital age’ and social media and new technologies impact almost everything. With this in mind, it is inevitable it would impact the music industry. Yet ultimately, it is harmful that music is produced with the aim of becoming viral as it hinders creativity.
Artists are working within restrictive boundaries and the ruthless, fast-paced environment of social media often leads to artists feeling outpaced. It can also lead to them compromising on artistic integrity to remain relevant. While there are undeniable benefits of social media it is unfortunate it takes the spotlight away from true musical creativity.