There was a time not long ago when all a musician needed to keep in touch with their fans was a simple website and an email list. And then in 2005 MySpace introduced the term “social media” to the masses, and musicians joined in droves.
While primitive by today’s standards, MySpace was a pivotal social media platform for musicians. Artists could upload songs, post photos and announce tour dates, all while their fans followed their every move. And then just as quickly as it arrived, MySpace ceded all of its popularity to the Social Network: Facebook.
For over a decade from the mid-’00s to the late 2010s, Facebook reigned supreme in the social media landscape, and musicians put it to good use. It could do everything MySpace could, but with even more flexibility and reach. Artists fed Facebook all their information, engaged with fans and posted every piece of media they could. And then Facebook became an ad platform, and began throttling users’ audience with a paid structure for increased reach.
Even YouTube, which started as a repository for fun user-generated content (UGC) grew into an essential platform for brands and businesses. Musicians could post videos and engage their audience all on their Official Artist Channel (OAC).
This trend towards transforming artists who just want to write and play music into unwilling “content creators” has led to the current social media landscape. It’s much like the Wild West of mid-’00s social media, only with many more options for artists.
From standbys like Twitter to short-form video platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, to flexible platforms like Instagram that allow multiple media formats, there are more options than ever for artists to post their music, connect with their fans and reach new listeners.
So how do you, the modern musician, juggle engaging your audience on social media with writing and recording new music? How do you use social media to expand your reach without feeling like Sisyphus with a smartphone? We’ve got some tips for how you should be using social media, but first here are its five main drawbacks.
The five main problems musicians face with social media (and how to fix them)
Problem #1: Social media can be distracting
Overuse of social media can distract from the main goal of every artist: the creation of new music. Time spent on your smartphone making funny videos is time away from writing and recording. And as much as we let social media distract us, it provides diminishing returns for what we put in.
Solution: Don’t put in more than you get out.
Those diminishing returns we just mentioned? You can actually measure them. Social media platforms allow you to view your engagement, so you can see how users are viewing your content and compare that to how much time (and in some cases money) you’re investing into reaching your audience.
Another thing to keep in mind: engagement only means that people are viewing your content on social media. Those views don’t necessarily translate to streams, ticket sales or subscribers to your email list. So don’t knock yourself out creating something that isn’t going to see real results in the long run.
Problem #2: Social media platforms are constantly changing
Remember Vine? A household name in 2015, and a year later a ghost town. Everyone migrated to Snapchat, then to TikTok. Who knows what’s next, but each new platform with its moment of fame requires its own set of rules, accounts and time spent learning the platform that could be spent elsewhere.
Solution: Stick to what you’re good at.
This isn’t to discourage you from trying new things. Want to get in on the latest TikTok trend? By all means, do it and have fun!
But let’s say you’ve seen great engagement with your audience posting photos on your Instagram profile of your life on tour and in the studio. Should you instead focus on IG Reels or Stories because they’re all the rage right now? While it could be beneficial to dabble and reach some new fans through another platform, surface, or format, don’t abandon what’s been working for you just to stay on the cutting edge.
Problem #3: Social media might not build your career
Unless you do it really well, social media won’t necessarily help you build your music career the way you might think. And the effort it does take to succeed past the millions of other content creators can be exhausting.
Solution: Be wary of imitating major artists.
You might see major label artists launch massive campaigns on TikTok to promote a new single, posting hundreds of videos in the days leading to the release and flooding the platforms with content. And while it may look like they’re creating all that by themselves, the reality is that they have a PR team managing their social media accounts, brainstorming content and handling every aspect of their campaigns.
It goes without saying as an indie artist that you likely don’t have this luxury. Any content you create has to be done by you alone.
Not only that, but barraging social media platforms with tons of content in a short period of time can actually ruin your presence. The Weeknd can post 150 tiny snippets of his music video because he’s the Weeknd. He’s not creating all those videos by himself. The average indie artist has to play by different rules.
Problem #4: Social media can impact our mental health
Numerous studies in recent years have shown that overuse of social media — both as a content creator and a user — can have a negative impact on mental health. If just staring at a screen consuming content for too long can impact a user’s mental well-being, think of what the stress of constantly having to create new videos can do to an artist already occupied with trying to write new music.
Solution: Don’t compare yourself to others.
So much of social media’s impact on our mental health stems from the “social” part. Humans are social creatures by nature, and it’s understandable that we look at others and see how we measure up. So it’s then understandable that we use social media to show others our best side. Seeing other users post their best side means we instinctively think they’re doing better than we are.
Here’s the brutal truth: someone is always going to be better than you are. If you create an awesome music video and post it to your Instagram videos, some other artist will have a video that used better production values or some new technique you hadn’t seen before. If you’re really proud of a new chord you learned on guitar and you share that victory on TikTok, chances are someone else has already mastered it and has posted a video of them playing it with ease.
Stay proud of those personal wins. Everyone is on their own path. Just because someone’s new single sounds more polished than yours, doesn’t diminish your accomplishment.
Problem #5: Social media is impermanent by nature.
How many of us in 2005 thought MySpace would be all but forgotten just a few years later? And when it was taken down for good, anyone who hadn’t saved what was on their profile to an external source lost it forever. Videos, photos, any media on the platform was removed from its database.
For artists, that meant fan contacts they had nurtured over the years, some of which were only on MySpace. That old saying “the Internet is forever” only goes so far, especially in the fickle world of social media.
Solution: Don’t use social media as your only communication with fans.
Social media is a great way to connect with your fans! But don’t let it be the only way you connect with your fans. Make sure to translate those relationships you’ve built into results for your music marketing efforts like subscriptions to your email list or SMS text contacts.
Taking the communication out of social media provides you a more reliable way of promoting your music and cultivating a fanbase. It also insures you against losing those contacts on the off chance your social media platform of choice closes overnight.
How musicians can use social media in a productive way
If all of the above sounds like a condemnation of social media, it’s not meant to be. Heck, CD Baby uses social media everyday to communicate with our audience.
There are, however, some ways you can effectively use social media to grow your music career without letting it take over your life:
- Use a scheduling tool to keep your posts organized. This takes the stress out of thinking of a post at the last minute. Plan ahead, create ahead and schedule ahead.
- Minimize the amount of time you put into creating content. Try to keep your scheduled content creation to a few hours each week you set aside to create new posts.
- Maximize your impact by smart boosting your content. Create less content but focus more attention on that to make a large impact with your audience. You’re not losing out if you don’t post five times a day.
- Use social media as part of your funnel. We’ve covered marketing funnels before, but for a refresher: a funnel is a map you use to take someone from having never heard your music before to being a fan who listens to your songs, buys your merch and attends your shows. Track how your posts perform and use the ones with different kinds of engagement in different parts of your funnel campaign. If a few posts did well organically, use them as the introductory ads in your campaign. If a post got lots of comments from your existing fans, use them in the middle of your funnel to target people who already know about your music.
- Centralize your communication on your terms. As we said earlier, don’t rely on social media as your sole form of communication with your audience. Whether it’s your email list for newsletters or your SMS contacts, directing fan traffic out of social media to a website domain you actually own puts the power in your hands.
How have you used social media in your music career? And how has your use changed as the social network landscape has changed? Let us know in the comments!