Content, engagement, numbers, numbers, numbers. If you’re not engaging on IG or Twitter or doing a dance challenge on TikTok, you’re a nobody, right?
This line of thought has begun to pervade the consciousness of musicians worldwide. Trust me; I’m a musician surrounded by musicians. I know.
It creates this odd divide in the world of music: the old guard who still want to have access to the venues and opportunities of the youth but immediately relegate themselves to the outskirts of all things valuable because they are so out of touch with social media…oftentimes repulsed by it.
Then there’s the youth who are much more savvy about social media, given it was a part of their formative years. They know every little trick, hack, loophole, etc (or so it seems) to drive traffic to their page, BUT even this group splinters into the ones who get lucky enough to see a large amount of engagement and the ones who continue to attempt to get engagement but just can’t seem to hit their stride.
And while social media has been both a blessing and a curse for numerous industries (including the one I’m focusing on here), I think the biggest issue is the focus on the aspiring musician, artist, etc.
Before I lean in, and pretend to know what I’m talking about, let’s start with an anecdote:
There are a few pages that I follow with very engaging content made by musicians. One of them makes some of the most cinematic and informative content about an iconic band of the 90s. He’s in on every little bit of their journey to stardom and the drama that punctuated all of it. The commentary regularly fuels my ideas and understanding of the music industry. His work is really invaluable.
The other creator is a highly engaging orator on all things political. He regularly hosts live streams where he speaks to an audience of anywhere between 200 to 800 dedicated followers who have come to value his voice of reason at a time when politics can be more divisive than any other time we’ve seen in the modern era.
Yet, something odd occurs the minute either one of these men posts their own original music: engagement tanks. When I say “tank”, I mean that there can easily be a dip of a few thousand likes and tens of thousands of views on their posts featuring their original music.
Its not that they get zero support. It’s just….really noticeable that the original music just isn’t as engaging.
Now, to be fair, this might not matter to the artist themselves. They may enjoy making music but do not care if their music goes over like the Hindenburg. Who knows? This anecdote is meant to point to one thing and one thing only: social media engagement is not the be-all/end-all for musicians.
And while this seems like it would be obvious to some, I cannot tell you how often I speak to fellow musicians and musicians on the internet, who regularly stress over their numbers on social media, truly believe that they are just one viral post away from their dreams.
They may be right, but I assert that there’s only one way to swing that pendulum further in their direction, and it’s through a simple business understanding: MAKE SURE THE PRODUCT SELLS ITSELF.
In this case, what I’m asserting is that your music (and live performance) is AT THE TOP OF YOUR PRIORITY LIST.
YES, I HAVE TO USE ALL CAPS FOR THIS.
I’m not trying to make you feel like a dolt, either. I’ve been just as boneheaded about my career. I’m trying to save your time and the rest of your 20s. STOP WASTING TIME IN THE WRONG AREA. The product is everything. Some rules of the 90s and before then still ring true. If the song is amazing, it will catch like wildfire. Word of mouth still has a ton of weight. If your performance is engaging and visually interesting as well (I can hear the painful wail of musicians too pretentious to cater to the visual aspect of a performance, even though studies show the audience, which is mainly filled with non-musicians, engage more readily with visuals), you greatly enhance your chances of being the next big thing to come out of your rural hellscape of a town.
What you shouldn’t do is make the mistake of thinking that your music can just be phoned in and unattended for the sake of 1.3 million followers who value your cat memes. Cut it out.
There’s a reason why Jack White/The White Stripes were able to blow up, despite Jack White being a staunchly anti-smart phone.
The product comes first.