Social Networking: A Complete Waste of Your Musical Talent…

It was the panel ‘Connecting Creators and Consumers’ that resulted in the most heated debates at last week’s World Creators Summit.  In an effort to directly connect the two, the Summit included two ‘real life’ young students from Berklee College of Music, who declared that their teachers told them to be “everywhere online“.

“Everything we do is on social media,” said student Seth Jones. “It’s awesome to be able to interact with the artist.”

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The artists on the panel, however, thought this was a complete waste of their time and talent.  “My inarticulacy as a teenager was the reason I started making music in the first place – so I find it ridiculous that I’m now expected to post tweets,” said songwriter/performer/producer and member of Cocteau Twins, Simon Raymonde.  “Young artists should not spend too much time online.”

“We should express ourselves through our music – not by saying what we had for lunch on Twitter.”

Raymonde is also the founder and owner of indie label Bella Union, which counts Beach House, John Grant and Fleet Foxes among its many artists.  “Bella Union’s artists should focus on their music,” he said.  “They should probably tweet once a week, but not a constant dialogue.”

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Eric Hilton of duo Thievery Corporation spends no time at all on social media.  “The music business has been so rough lately,” he explained.  “Musicians are in a terrible place, financially, today. More money is being made from music than every before – it’s just being made by ISPs and tech companies, and not by those who create it.  I’m glad I didn’t quit my day job [as a restaurateur and bar owner] – and I just wouldn’t have time to be on social media as well.”


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“I feel like we’re all working for Facebook now,” he continued. “Dollars have turned into pennies, and soon there’ll be even less – and still we keep typing away trying to get some attention.”

Fighting their court, the students thought it was a brilliant idea for artists to, as they put it, put their “content” (a word hated by many artists, including Thom Yorke) online for fans to remix and make videos to. They even called themselves “prosumers”.

“Don’t you see somebody making videos to your music as good free promotion?” asked Jones.

“No, because somebody else owns our [Cocteau Twins] copyrights and we get a really shitty rate,” replied Raymonde, adding that the homemade videos of their music he’d seen on YouTube were terrible.

“Do you think Miles Davis would have wanted his music online?  I hate when artists let the audience remix their music.  It’s brilliant as it is – don’t fuck with it.  I can’t think of anything worse.”

“I hate when people remix my music,” concurred Hilton. “Musicians are being forced to be minstrels.”

Not put off by these responses, the students continued by claiming that records should be given away as promotion, as artists can make a living off touring.  Hilton fired back that the average age of a profitable touring musician is currently 54 – and young musicians are not making money from touring.  “Giving a song away for free is not a big deal anymore,” argued Raymonde.  “No one is going to join a website because they get a free song.”

Unrelenting, Jones brought up how Amanda Palmer managed to raise over a million dollars on Kickstarter by giving away personally-created gifts, the opportunity to have donuts with her – even offering to draw live nudes of the donors and have dinner with them in their homes.  Surely this proved that artists could make a living in other ways than from selling records?

“Amanda Palmer was a success story for five minutes – then she had the audacity to ask for money to go touring, so obviously your theory doesn’t work,” Raymonde shot back, adding:

“Why would you want to go to dinner with a fan – go to dinner with your wife.”

33 Responses

  1. GGG

    There’s a difference between social networking in an innane boring way and in a meaningful way. The latter can certainly be done; you don’t need to lower yourself to meaningless posts about your dinner to be active on social networking. I don’t understand why everything has to be so black and white to people.

  2. Nicholas Lovell

    It seems to me that there are two ways to build a successful career at the moment. Have lots of fans who love what you do. Or build great music and hope that enough people find it to become fans.

    The “musicians” in this piece prefer to focus on making music, and letting a label or similar organisation take care of the grubby business of making money and finding listeners.

    The “students” believe that connecting with fans is *part* of making great music. And it comes with the added bonus that you are building a fanbase.

    In the end, the students are going to win. Because they believe in giving high quality stuff away to build a fanbase and finding other ways to make money from them. It’s not piracy that will kill the business model of the Cocteau Twins, but forward-thinking students like those from Berklee College.

    Bravo, that teacher.

    • GGG

      Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, though. You can spend 99% of your time on music, get fans who like you based solely on your music, and still be fairly engaging through social media. What that can do is make people like YOU as a human being and artist. When people have a deeper connection to an artist, or the illusion of a deeper connection, they are more willing to spend money, look past musical flaws/missteps, see you live, etc. I’m not saying it’s a 100% necessity, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

      Also, the idea that artists don’t have time is ridiculous. Anyone that’s ever been on a tour for more than a week knows how much time is spent sitting in a van/bus or in a green room or in a bar. Tweeting or blogging or facebooking something interesting isn’t going to kill your creative juices.

      • Nicholas Lovell

        I agree entirely. I was pointing out the two extremes. I would put “having an audience” above “nurturing talent” as a starting point, because the audience helps you discover who you want to be.

        • GGG

          Yea, only the first sentence was really directed at you. The rest was just kinda because I like to argue about this stuff haha.

  3. jw

    It all depends on where you want to draw the line.

    Other wastes of your musical talent…

    • Participating in panels
    • Giving interviews
    • Being fashionable
    • Signing autographs
    • Radio tours
    • Photo shoots
    • etc.

    It’s all subjective. If you don’t want to do social media, don’t. If you do, do. Just be a genuine person one way or the other. Some artists love interacting with their fans on social media.

    • Wooden

      Quite brilliant observation there.

      These people aren’t that old but it’s hard to let go of ancient methods that made you successful in the first place. They are comfortable getting on TV (or a panel) because those things are familiar and existed when they were born. That is human nature and with technology moving so rapidly even “young” people like these are now defensive and crusty old folk.

      Cocteau Twins came from a different era pre-internet, they may not have been successful at all now if they had to do it all over again.

    • Yves Villeneuve

      Agree. Do what you feel comfortable doing.

  4. Jeff Robinson

    The internet is a sewer.

    The 21st Century lesson is Venture Capital destroys art.

    It’s a completely different skill-set to create music when compared to being a troll (or better) online.

    • Jeff Robinson

      Besides, who wants to compete with Amateur content creators anyhow?

      • Nicholas Lovell

        Have you read the Cult of the Amateur? About halfway through it abandons rational argument and starts going on about Internet porn and “who will think of the children”.

        There is an argument to be had over the changing role of content creators in a digital age, but this isn’t it.

        • Jeff Robinson

          Obviously I’ve read it- and I think you’re wrong, sort of.

          If you read about the creation of the book, the book was heavily crafted in sensationalist fashion with a major appeal by the publisher. I think he harnessed what we all think about the internet anyhow, but was forced into too many nooks and crannies by the publisher. Still, an essential read in 2013. Start here, seek other information after. It’s a really good primer for this topic.

  5. Brittany

    I agree with GGG. If a musician or band members make a personal connection with their fans, fans are more willing to pay for rather than just stream their music. Real connections and friendships with fans and other musicians who cross-promote can and are being made using social media. If a musician is persistent, he can help form a community of fans that interact with each other and generate more sales.

    There is also a lot of potential for artists to sell band-related merchandise on Pinterest, package it with digital download links to their music, and cross-market it on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. If musicians find all of this distasteful, they can choose not to do it.

  6. Henry Chatfield

    I agree with everyone who says it comes down to choice. In the old paradigm it was just, “sign with a record label and they will promote you to fans.” You can still do that, but now there’s a secondary choice of, “build a grassroots following, interact with your fans, and really own your art.” The reason the Berklee students are in support of social media is because it works! Based on many, many case examples — and I’m not just talking about Amanda Palmer.

    Knowing who an artist is on a personal level makes me much more inclined to go to their show and spend money on ancillary items. Then again, I’m also a Berklee student and am 24, so maybe I’m biased, but I don’t think I’m alone.

    • Henry Chatfield

      Another interesting point — in response to utilizing fan driven YouTube ‘content’ the Cocteau Twins replied “somebody else owns our copyrights and we get really shitty rates.” This is representative of the old, record label model. In the new grassroots, social media approach, artists are faced with many more opportunities where they can still own their rights and actually make a considerable profit from fan-driven content (eg YouTube ad rev share).

      So for the Cocteau Twins, sure, maybe they can get away with no social media and hopefully their label — or whatever entity owns their rights — will pick up the slack.

  7. JTV Digital

    Social networks are still a great way to engage with new customers and provide real-time support, like we do with our accounts @JTVDigital and @JTVDigitalHelp

  8. please

    Please point me to 5 artists who are making a great living as a direct result of giving away albums, tweeting a lot, and touring. (Not artists who are on, or have formerly been on a label and benefited from their promotional efforts.)

    If possible, it would be great to see some numbers: how much they make touring, etc., or from t-shirts, etc.

    Because it seems students and hobbyist’s are always talking about how now you can do it all yourself… while the musicians actually making a living aren’t doing it that way.

    and doesn’t Berklee have a deep self-interest in teaching courses to aspiring musicians via the web, and/or course on DIY business models? (kinda like those self-help gurus who make tons of money teaching motivating courses to people on how to make tons of money — but who’s students never do) so there are tons of students turning out every month as ‘free is good’ acolytes.

    • jw

      You should read this.

      The story here is that when you’re out there connecting with your fans, no one outside of that sphere is going to know. Because they’re not in Rolling Stone, they’re not buying ads in Billboard, they’re not launching huge campaigns… Pitchfork isn’t picking up on it, & neither is VH1. So there’s no way to really take inventory of how many artists are really doing well using this strategy unless they come forward. But there’s sure as hell more than 5.

      Also, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis put all of their eggs in the social media/touring baskets… the radio stuff just happened incidentally later on, & was an outgrowth of their social media strategy.

      • Jeff Robinson

        Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are having success because they have an uptempo and completely infectious song that appeals to 11-year olds.

          • jw

            Rhythmic KEZE Spokane, Wash., PD Zachary “Mayhem” Wellsandt played “Thrift Shop” on Oct. 16 after noticing Macklemore’s online presence and his sold-out show at the local Knitting Factory. Now, the station leads in spins with 638 plays through Dec. 27-a reactionary response to listeners dialing in.

            Not sure, but does the Knitting Factory allow 11 year olds in the door?

      • please

        macklemore is an indie, to be sure, but he’s not giving his music away for free — in fact, it was signing a distro deal with an offshoot of Warner that got him on the radio nationwide. but he did do it indiependentlh for sure.

        as for that other guy you mention, corey… it seems he has built a base from giving out the music for free. i don’t believe the 4 million bit (maybe that’s to date) but he’s making a living nevertheles, so that’s good example.

        like to hear some more factual stories about giving it away for free though.

        • jw

          If you don’t think MacLemore’s buzz started with free music or at least music being passed freely, you’re out of your mind. That train starting rolling long before Warner came into the picture. That’s what free music does, it gets the train rolling. It’s not a longterm strategy. If you think that, you’re missing the point entirely.

          Corey Smith is the first suggested search in Google for “Core”. Obviously a lot of people are interested. I think he sucks ass, but I don’t doubt for a minute that he makes that money. I watched him blow up in Athens.

          Here’s another case study from Lefsetz.

    • Henry Chatfield

      Pretty Lights is a really good example of that system being successful for an artist.

    • GGG

      Friend of a friend did a Kickstarter campaign aimed to raise $25,000 a couple years ago. Ended up with over $80k. Know why? Because she was constantly posting her music, covers, etc on YouTube. There was a face to the music. There was personality to the music. She’s by no means conventionally ‘hot’ in the current pop sense so there was no sex appeal. It was pure talent and engagement that gained her fans. She co-headlines shows with similar artists and they play rooms about 500. Is she rich? No. Is she making a living doing what she loves? Absolutely.

      The idea that social networking is time consuming is false. Someone mentioned Pretty Lights down below. That whole group of guys, PL, Lettuce, Soulive, etc are engaged all the time on social networking. And it’s not innane boring stuff, it’s just being a human being.

  9. kelsey

    Seems to me that the panelists are playing the roles of stodgy, anti-internet elders. The whole “Twitter is stupid because I don’t care what you had for lunch” bit has gotten old, and that’s not what the platform is for anymore. We live in a digital world, and if you ignore the importance of branding via social media, you won’t have nearly the exposure that you need.

  10. hippydog

    Saying you dont want anything to do with Social Media because its not part of your ‘job description’ is like saying

    You refuse to use email.. or own a cellphone..

    I dont think musicians should be posting what they had for dinner. I think thats whats confusing people.. In this social media age its even more important for an artist to have two aspects.. A personal private one, and a performance/public one..

  11. Helienne

    Here’s an interesting Guardian article on the subject: Internet anonymity is the height of chic

  12. Jg

    It really sucks that a band must maintain a good image online and spend a lot of time focusing on their social media image rather than focusing on their art, but its just a fact of life in the modern age. You have to promote yourself, and Facebook and twitter are the best places to do it.

  13. FES INC

    I completely agree with Jones’ argument. I think he is the brilliant mind that will lead the stragglers of the 20th century into the 21st century by opening their eyes to a new world of business. I not only applaud him, but I fully support him in his quest to change what we see today in this field.