Part One: A Look into the Social Media Profiles of Today’s Indie Artists

Social media platforms dominate the marketing side of the entertainment industry today. One opinionated post can singlehandedly dethrone or enthrone a musician, giving him or her enough social power to control an audience of thousands. “In the past, musicians would need a large financial backing to promote their music, shows, merchandise, and so on. With the rise of social media platforms, and the millions of people on them, you can do a massive promotional campaign without spending hardly any money at all,” explains the founder of Atlanta’s Hijacking Music, Bret Phillips.

“We post virtually everything newsworthy about all our artists on tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, et cetera as well as our website and blog. We also curate Spotify playlists, add songs to the bottom of our tumblr page… Our feeling is ANYTHING we can do to catch someone’s attention in an already crowded space is worth trying,” remarks Steve Theo, co-founder of Pirate Promotion and Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

New outlets for digital expression emerge on a seasonal basis. Some are smart enough to last a number of years, while others fizzle out as unworthy Internet trends. This six-part series is meant to provide a glimpse into how today’s “indie” artists use or do not use social media to further their careers and/or interact with fans.

First, we must identify and define the terms we are working with. “Indie” in the case of this article means musicians who do not chart on mainstream pop radio and make hundreds of millions of dollars of profit. The social media platforms this series will cover are Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Reddit, and Kickstarter. The series will also include musicians who choose to sparingly use social media or not use it at all. Perhaps this will be helpful for musicians who are considering becoming more active on their profiles; perhaps this will be informative for people who are curious about social media and its effectiveness. At the end of the series, we will consider the questions, “Is it worth it? Will social media posts change the careers of musicians today?”

Let’s begin with the tweets:

tweet |twēt|
1 the chirp of a small or young bird.
2 a posting made on the social networking site Twitter: he started posting tweets via his cell phone to let his parents know he was safe.

Twitter, known as the text message system of the Internet, launched in the summer of 2006. Like many social media companies, at its beginnings, Twitter was a San Francisco startup that rapidly grew nationally and internationally. The company now has offices in every major international market. Musicians use Twitter to talk about everyday trivial occurrences, post photos of fun things on tour, engage with others about pop culture, and of course, TALK ABOUT MUSIC. The main Twitter variables are the tweet, the re-tweet (RT), and the trending topic (presented with a “#” sign). Our top-three favorite musicians who tweet are Andrew W.K., Xiu Xiu, and Bon Iver.

Andrew W.K. is known for his profound party advice that he offers to his Twitter followers in the form of “PARTY TIP” tweets. He is truly a die-hard partier, always finding a new way to tweet about living life on the edge. MTV Hive recently reported about a block party concert he performed in Brooklyn, New York, where the musician refused to stop playing at the midnight curfew and was “tackled and literally dragged off by a security guard.” Indeed W.K. knows how to party.

A less predictable and more creative tweeter is Xiu Xiu. Lead singer Jamie Stewart rarely tweets about music or links friends/followers with the “@” sign. It’s as if Twitter is his own diary of questions that he poses to the world, prompting responses without calling people out individually. Many of his tweets are candidly morbid, following sexual and/or political themes–not too surprising, considering his song lyrics also often follow such topics. It is entertaining to peruse Stewart’s Twitter profile because his tweets are atypical and genuine.

All Bon Iver fans know about the musician’s public quandary with the Grammy Awards and how he expressed his lack of compassion for the plastic parts of the mainstream music world on Twitter. Or did he?  Music fans and news outlets seemed to mention Bon Iver/Justin Vernon’s alleged anti-Grammy tweets, but after investigating the musician’s personal Twitter profile all the way back to when the nominations were publicly released (he tweets a loooot, by the way) we couldn’t find any incredibly opinionated or spiteful tweets, even when looking way back into November.
It seems like the rest of the world was following the whole #WhoIsBonnyBear trend and that Justin Vernon was amused, but not “egging it on” or anything. Tweets aside, his acceptance speech did present a down-to-earth perspective on the music world today. He speaks the truth. If we, the public, learned anything about this whole Bonny Bear thing, it is probably that when a subculture successfully mixes with a mainstream culture, there can be funny, viral results. Justin Vernon’s Twitter DID increase in popularity after his Grammy moment. Was his social media “strategy” a real part of that? That doesn’t seem to be the case. He just seems like a cool guy.

One commonality between these top-three tweeters? They all post interesting things on Twitter that give people a glimpse into their lives as PEOPLE–not just “musicians.” Twitter is therefore allowing them to engage with people in a more casual, less business-like way. As John Oszajca points out in this article, social media platforms are meant to be used as “relationship enhancing tools.” And logically, if fans can feel connected to the musicians whose music they support, then fans will logically be more supportive when. However, “Do not think you can just spam a link to your album and people will buy it,” says Bret Phillips. “Build the audience, build the trust, then try to sell them something.”

Tune in next issue for PART TWO of this series, where we will explore Facebook as a social media tool for musicians. We will also bring in additional guest commentary from the music world.

–Jen Brown

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