Social media for music: What the f**k’s going on out there?
Last weekend's launch of streaming service Nokia Music+ finally made my head do an explode. The seemingly weekly emergence of a new platform for smearing music into our faces is frankly, terrifying. It feels like its social media landscape is now just one big messy Royal Rumble - albeit with hipster beanies and guyliner - where artists are tossing themselves into every available orifice out of sheer FOMO (fear of missing out). Are any of these services genuinely pioneering new ground? Can artists now fashion the optimum outward-facing iteration of themselves based on where they choose to do it from? I lightly molested some artists and industry bods to find out where they'll be hanging in 2013, and why.
Dalston electronic trio Glitches cite access to so many online music outlets a blessing and a curse. While the analytics side of music uploading sites is “on steroids”, giving them Gary McKinnon-level insights into how their music is received, frontman Robbie Parks says he feels artists are under pressure to 'keep up appearances' on social media to stay relevant. “Rumour has it some labels won't even consider bands until they get over some arbitrary threshold of Likes. That scares me a little because traffic to a band's page can be boosted with adverts and campaigns. I'd hate to see the music industry become a race to get to 10,000 ‘fans’ with some having unfair advantages because they can throw money around.”
Glitches are big fans of Vimeo as their main outlet, extolling its flexibility in allowing them to illustrate their music with a heavy visual element. Vimeo, they say, lets them customise the way their videos look when embedded in web pages whereas YouTube is "clunky and garish" in comparison.
Warm Seas from Glitches on Vimeo.
There's nothing wrong with sticking to the bread and butter of Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud and YouTube, say South London band Mt. Wolf, who turn a deliberate blind eye to all others. For them, YouTube’s crucial to whether or not a song goes viral, along with SoundCloud: annoying to use for some, but essential for the relative ease with which it can be embedded in blogs and the like. There's a meh-sized buzz building up around the new MySpace so far but Stevie McMinn from the band's not so sure. “Everyone in the industry knows MySpace is dead so if a band is still using it it shows they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re not with it and their music is probably not worth listening to.” Ouch. MySpace has a task on its hands if it’s gonna turn this one round and I'm pretty sure the whole world is waiting gleefully for the tumbleweed to come a-howlin' across its very lovely new interface. We're all going to hell, btw.
In the absence of a record label for unsigned bands who need to generate real monies for their records and merch, CD Baby is one that Ben Hutchinson from London indie band Gaoler’s Daughter says is a great place for artists to sell their music in both physical and digital format. For a small fee it distributes it on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Facebook plus various others. This and Bandcamp, which acts as a highly customisable hub for virtually everything, he says fill in in the absence of an agent or PR, and unlike its contemporaries VibeDeck and Topspin, are more or less free.
Aside from Twitter which he uses fervently as some kind of grotesque comedy conveyor belt, East London singer-songwriter Josh Weller is most excited about Musicglue as a platform. It “really works for the artist” in terms of merch, ticket selling, digital content and e-commerce. Most importantly, it simplifies control of the finance aspect, “which helps a lot because almost every artist ever is shit at all of these things."
Josh Weller free download
When the Fail Whale’s not stopping us screenshotting tweets from disgruntled HMV staff, Twitter goes down as a unanimous favourite for building fan engagement. Kate Cliffen from United Agency, which helps artists build social engagement, says that pop bands aimed at teens can see ridiculous levels of success using Twitter campaigns which help them to whip young fans into a knicker-drenching frenzy. Stevie from Mt. Wolf agrees: “We get a lot of love on Twitter, and it's good for measuring who’s shared your music, as bloggers are all over it and engagement is more accessible than on Facebook.”
Similarly Viddy, a social network for uploading short videos with hashtags (like a moving Instagram), Kate says can amass pop bands hundreds of followers almost immediately after posting content.
What about artists being selective based on the kind of buzz they want to generate? Chris Duncan from independent digital music distributor The Orchard says that "a mystical indie-rock band is best served putting its music on SoundCloud with minimal information, whereas a pop group will use fan-engagement plugins that utilise the often scary levels of fandom they can receive. In 2013 I'd love to see Songkick's Detour platform take off. Additionally, YouTube is increasingly trying to shift users towards playlists and subscriptions rather than one-off videos which could be huge for artists who use it intelligently."
Obviously, we can't ignore Facebook. It's just as prevalent as, I don't know, air, and everyone's on it (apart from the self-righteous dick head friend we all have but forgot existed in '07). Bereft of a decent music platform of its own, it's the central hub from which the lesser known services can spread their gospel via up-and-coming artists.
As Josh Weller puts it, the online music landscape is currently a sort of "no-man’s land in transition, where nobody’s figured out how the artist can make money, or whether they ever will again." But in the meantime, Vimeo me Tweetin' my CD Baby while I Musicglue 'yo ass (Confused? Same here) as 2013’s Spotify has still yet to show its face.
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