Like with many other industries, social media has drastically changed the music business. Where artists once relied primarily tactics such as live appearances (remember the TRL days?) or visual storytelling through music videos to help promote their music, it’s evident that their marketing strategy has since evolved to now include a much heavier emphasis on social media – platforms where they can not only reach but engage with their fans. In the not so distant past, an artist going viral on YouTube could’ve been the very thing to kickstart their career, although even the value behind going viral in this space feels like an ancient concept these days. While YouTube may no longer be the platform of choice for artists looking to break into the industry, the potential of their popularity does still have a direct correlation with their ability to “go viral”.
To clarify, no matter how good the marketing strategy is, there is no way to plan to “go viral.” While that may be a best case scenario result, the strategy goes much deeper than that. It’s all about the artist’s ability to connect with their audience and meet them on the platforms they’re on. These days, artists don’t get discovered on YouTube – they get discovered on TikTok because that’s where pop culture and, specifically youth culture, resides. With platforms like TikTok, artists have the opportunity to get even more creative and produce fun, engaging content that helps their fans relate to them. Artists use social media to take fans behind the scenes, tease new music or maybe even start their own dance/hashtag challenges (either intentionally or not). Social media also gives the fans a sense of their own creative freedom to take the music they love and put their own personal spin on it – in most instances they’re the ones that create the dance/hashtag challenges organically or they’ll post covers of the song in the hope of getting recognition themselves. Incorporating social media into the marketing plan has proven to be one of the quickest and most personal ways to self-promote and spark conversation around music, which can be especially beneficial for artists who can’t afford a team to help them execute it.
Social media doesn’t just affect fan engagement, it affects sales too. Social media has the power to influence the music charts, streams and album sales. Even music labels use social media metrics to determine which artists they may want to sign record deals with. Social media, especially TikTok, has also made a lot of old music new and, most importantly, profitable again. Take “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush, for example. A song from the 80s is now one of the most streamed pieces of music of 2022 thanks to content creators capitalizing off the song’s use in the show Stranger Things as well as the conversations online about the show. With the song’s newfound popularity, the artist’s sales have increased.
Social media has also affected the frequency of new music releases. Coupled with the rise of music streaming services, social media has put the pressure on artists to produce music at a much more frequent pace. It used to be where artists would release a new album maybe once a year (if not longer) which gave fans the opportunity to really simmer with the music and left them longing for more – although the wait always felt that much more worth it. Back in the day, fans couldn’t simply stream music from their phones or follow artists on social media. The only way they could interact with their favorite musicians was if they had the money to buy a CD/record or see them live in concert. However, much like the way TV/movie streaming services birthed the phenomenon of binge-watching, social media and music streaming services have made fans increasingly more eager to hear from artists because they’ve grown so accustomed to having access to them 24/7.
Social media has also redefined the idea of what a music artist is. Before social media, musicians and performers spent years recording/writing/producing songs in a studio before they were recognized by a label – which used to be the only way to truly have a successful career in the music business. These days many artists also take on the role of influencers and all they need is a camera and decent social media following to gain recognition and success. While music influencers are not quite the same as musical artists in the traditional sense, I’d argue that their content is a genre of its own that has evidently flooded the market as a modern take on what it means to be a performer.