CIU111.3 (2/3): Social Media & Career
The topic for our CIU111 class in week 3 was Social Media & Career ("Week 3: Social Media and Your Career", 2017). This accompanied our first assessment for this module, the Portfolio Project. For this, we were asked to basically establish an online presence, apply for a job in the creative industry, build a website etc. As always, it came with a very informative blog about the subject on Medium. I personally got a lot out of this particular blog, both as a student and as a self employed, self managed artist. The blog had plenty of great tips and strategies for online marketing and social network presence. Although I had been working on and maintaining my own online presence for sometime already, I came across lots of ideas I had never considered, and some I had simply forgotten or overlooked. The blog also included a fairly melancholic case study on game designer Phil Fish. This short film was created by freelancer, writer, media artist, part-time student, and video essayist Ian Danskin, and titled This Is Phil Fish: A Case Study in Internet Fame (Danskin, 2014). In a nutshell, it talked about how Phil Fish was able to rise to fame, and fall from it, being judged primarily on his online persona alone. This made me think about the current state of the creative industries, and a problem I am always musing; has the artist replaced the art?
Last year I was on a reality TV show called The X Factor in Australia. This was something that I did not want to do, and was quite literally tricked into and dragged through kicking and screaming. However, once I was in it, I thought it was probably worth my while to try and use my close proximity to such major players in the entertainment industry to learn, extract and discover as much information as possible. I looked at myself as an artistic spy inside the belly of a James Bond villain-esque type lair. I took in everything, made notes, and studied every move.
Once I got through a few stages of the ‘competition’, we finally started meeting with some serious people from the music industry. I was so excited to get in the room with some of these people and to pick their brains. So, the day I was told to come in for a meeting with the head of one of Australia’s largest recording companies and his head of marketing, I was keen in pant-wetting proportions. This would be my chance to get inside the head of those at the top of the pile. The masters. The untouchables. I started concocting a list of all the things I wanted their opinion on, an opinion which in a country of such small opportunity for original artists, was one of only few that really mattered, or so was my thinking at the time.
What genres were they working with most at the moment?
What genres did they see taking over next?
What do they look for in a hit song?
What do they look for in a hit performance?
Festivals or tours?
Bands or solo artists?
Albums or EPs?
Acoustic or electric?
I had a million music related questions for the minds that literally control and run the entire game, the string-pullers. If anyone knew about music it was these people. So in I walked, ready to soak it all in. Ready to become an expert on the current music scene in Australia. Ready.
For the next hour, we spoke about three things and three things only: Getting social media followers, having social media followers, and getting and having more social media followers. But, I thought, what about the 20+ years of learning music? What about the singing lessons? What about the endless gigs in dark, dangerous, grimy pubs, perfecting my performances? What about the no pay, no applause, no car, no sleep? All the pain I had dealt with to make sure I was better prepared than the next guy? How could it be that simply having fewer followers on Instagram put me at a disadvantage? I was winded. I was crushed. I mean really, properly flattened out. Pancaked.
Over the following weeks, I tried to accept that this was simply the way it is now. It was up to me, once again, to edit my gameplan, adjust my trajectory, and master a new discipline in my efforts to sell songs. Now, as I said earlier, I had been maintaining my online presence for sometime anyway. That is, after all, how The X Factor found me in the first place. In fact, a few years earlier I experienced a viral reaction to a cover song I recorded and uploaded online. A now extinct video sharing platform called Vube, a site that would get viewers to rate self-made music videos, then display the songs in order of most rated to least, and offer monetary rewards for the top spots, caught my attention via their ingenious marketing efforts. When someone was on an illegal downloading site, Vube would load a music video in a pop-up screen hidden behind the user's current screen. This meant that by the time the user had found the page to close it, they had already heard a decent amount of the song, giving them time to fall in love with it, and henceforth visit Vube for more auditory goodness. Pretty clever! That’s how they got me. I was doing something naughty online one day, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I heard the haunting vocals of Elle Duhe coming out of my speakers. Vube had placed a hidden screen playing a video of her performing her song Little Things on my computer (YouTube, 2014). I rushed to find out where it was coming from, and then watched it 10 more times in a row.
I thought, “Well, this is a bloody good way of getting music heard”, and very soon after I had a video uploaded on to the site. My live performance of MGMT’s Kids, written by VanWyngarden & Goldwasser (2013) went to the top of the ratings within a couple of weeks, and Vube started using it to target new audiences just as they had with Ellie’s Little Things. Within a month or two, my video had over 18 million views on Vube, and my social networking profiles started to get real attention for the first time. I was really excited and happy, but like every other drug I’ve ever felt excited and happy about, it quickly became an addiction. And of course one day the liking stopped, the sharing ceased, the commenting halted, and I was forced to accept that my 15 seconds were over.
I felt the exact same surge of adrenaline during The X Factor after my meeting with the label executives. I become utterly dependent on gaining more followers, more likes, more numbers, more mentions and more of any other example of empty online stranger-love. That was, after all, exactly what was asked of me. However, what I didn’t see coming was that this egocentric, self-obsessed way of functioning was like kryptonite to my creativity. It became all about me, and never about my art. It was competition, not creation. It was likes, not love. It was looking as beautiful as possible for the ugliest reason. It left me feeling so empty, and in an effort to fill the emptiness I looked for more and more online acceptance. I guess a true example of the extremity of this is when I look at the fact that I left that show having gained thousands of new Instagram followers and very few Soundcloud ones.
After leaving the show, I eventually, once again, went cold turkey, this time noticing the issue on my own and consciously weening myself off the drug. It was, and still is very hard to find the balance between keeping fans interested, but also making sure I am taking the time to actually create material that I can be proud of and they can enjoy. I want it to be about my art, not me, but unfortunately, in this time of complete transparency and constant contact, it seems like people want more than that. It is most certainly what the industry has made people expect from musical artists these days. As someone who also pursues a career in acting, people often ask me if I was given the opportunity to be a successful actor or musician, which would I choose? My answer is always actor; I back-up this decision by explaining that when Johnny Depp does something outrageous or newsworthy, it doesn’t affect Willy Wonka or Donny Brasco for example. However, when Rhianna does the same thing, it’s her whole brand that feels the impact. My point is that musical artists are expected to be performing and in-character 24 hours a day. Not just for the hand full of people they may see in that time, but for the whole world, constantly. These days, artists are judged on how many views they get, how many followers they have, but rarely on how good their product is. I’m not for a second saying that I don’t like the fact that social media plays a part in an artists’ career nowadays, and it is definitely possible for someone to make great art and maintain an impressive online persona. In fact, it has made it possible for a lot of artists to have a career who may otherwise have not. I just worry that it has become more important than anything else, and that is something I find dangerous, stupid and very sad.
Perhaps it is social media, not video, who truly killed the radio star after all.