Social Media and Music

It is no surprise that emerging artists and new musical acts take advantage of social media sites like YouTube and Twitter to boost their popularity. Social media is, after all, the quickest and most effective way to reach a mass audience. Marketers, both corporate and individual, are quickly jumping on this opportunity, but I wonder what causes a video to go viral? How and why do certain videos gain more popularity than others?

In a recent New York Times article titled, “How ‘Call Me Maybe’ and Social Media are Upending Music” author Ben Sisario uses Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit “Call Me Maybe” as a primary example for how the music industry is being transformed by social media platforms. Among these platforms, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook seem to be having the most influence. Shocker, right?

YouTube is especially important when looking at musicians utilizing social media. It is through this platform that musicians gain the most popularity. Does Justin Bieber ring a bell? As the Anthological Introduction to YouTube video points out, YouTube creates an online community where users and video makers can collaborate. Through feedback via the comment feature, viewers interact with each other, and more than that, users also feel a special intimacy knowing that they like and/or relate to a particular video. As a user, the feeling that you “discovered” some great new artist is special and for an artist, this intimate bond with viewers can be powerful because they establish a built in fan base before their first single comes out. Win. Win. Win.

Nicole B. Ellison and danah m. boyd write in the their article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” that people “define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their life of connection and those made by others within the system” (211)

In the article, Sisario points out how artists are using the affordances of social media networks to promote themselves: “In this day and age, artist development is about how do you turn 10 Facebook likes into 100, into 1,000.” It is the illusion of popularity that gains even more popularity. And marketers love this. Through this connection, Sisario seems to imply that social media has been socially shaped via emerging artists. Sisario also quotes Jay Frank, chief executive of the label DigSin: “There’s not a million-seller out there that doesn’t have radio play, but its first million generally doesn’t come from radio.” Social media is sort of like the springboard that gets soon-to-be stars on their feet: “No matter how hard a record company might push, popularity online depends on the enthusiasm of individual fans.” By drawing this connection between social media and musicians, Sisario seems to be taking the social shaping approach when talking about social media and musicians. By emphasizing the importance of social media in gaining popularity for emerging artists, Sisario suggests there is a co-production between what social media technology allows users to do and what users want to use it for. We see this because Sisario opens his article with, “For decades, the song of the summer would emerge each year following a pattern as predictable as the beach tides.Pop radio would get it rolling before school let out, and soon the song — inevitably one with a big, playful beat and an irresistible hook — would blare from car stereos everywhere.” By opening up his article with how pop summer hits USED to come about, we readers can really see how much progression as been made and how artists really are taking advantage of the affordances of social media and shaping the medium itself.

Like author Nancy K. Baym points out in her book, “Personal Connection in the Digital Age”, the consequences of technologies are from a mix of “affordances” – the social capabilities technological qualities enable – and those unexpected and emergent ways people make use of those affordances” (44). Social media was intended to create and enhance networks, and as Sisario points out in his article, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter weren’t created specifically for musicians. Music artists have now taken advantage of the reach, interactivity, replicability, and networking capabilities of these sites in order to promote and market themselves as musicians. In turn, we can see in the article “How ‘Call Me Maybe’ and Social Media are Upending Music” the relationship between music, users, and social media, and how this new relationship is socially shaping the technology. Sisario even writes himself, “The success of this summer’s hit, Carly Rae Jepsen’s cheerfully flirty “Call Me Maybe,” shows how much the hitmaking machine, as well as the music industry itself, has been upended by social media.”


Keeping Sisario’s words in mind, it is interesting to analyze the rise/fall of MySpace. Ellison and boyd write in their article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” that the reason MySpace was able to grow as rapidly as it did was because of indie-rock bands that were expelled from Friendster (217). MySpace, like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook were not created with music and bands in mind, however, bands used the site to promote and advertise for shows. Ellison explains, “The bands-and-fans dynamic was mutually beneficial: Bands wanted to be able to contact fans, while fans desired attention from their favorite bands and used Friend connections to signal identity and affiliation” (217). It is interesting to connect and see the parallels between an arguably failed social media site with social media sites today. MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were not created for musicians; however, musicians are perhaps the users profiting most.



  1. I agree that social media and music definitely go hand in and, and that social media networks are undoubtedly and helpful to musicians/bands and can be quite invaluable for artists, and have been for quite a while. One of alternative rock’s biggest bands The Arctic Monkeys, got their start on Myspace, which helped facilitate their success as a band. They, along with many other artists, started a trend that I think today, is just about “honing in” on techniques/strategies used for promoting and making use of social media platforms that musicians to profit from. Living in a wholly “connected” world, I’d think that social media and music will continue to evolve together, just as social media has with many other forms of media and communication.

  2. I thought I entered a comment on this article on Friday but I just looked it over and nothing…so here is a revised opinion haha.

    Social media and the Internet have had a profound effect on a music business that is going through a major overhaul. Napster and the Mp3 crippled the 20th century music industry (go ask Tower Records) and the suits behind the biggest Record labels were scared to their bones.

    You made a point about how “For decades, the song of the summer would emerge each year following a pattern as predictable as the beach tides”. Well at the first the Digital Age didn’t really change that. Because of Piracy and online streaming actual Record sales went down nearly 40%. And it wasn’t just the Top 40 artists music that was getting stolen, it was all the Indie, Jazz, and Alternative groups that needed all the record profits they could get. So in order to not lose revenue, the record executives put an even greater focus on manufacturing big budget artists and singles (aka top 40). This meant that less independent, non mainstream pop artists were getting signed. The end of true music was near…

    But then, something beautiful happened. The exact process that your article discussed began to evolve. Through online communities like Youtube, Facebook, and Soundcloud. Artists were beginning to realize that they didn’t need Record Labels to get their music heard. More importantly everyday people were realizing that they had more choices than what they heard on the radio or saw on MTV.

    You say that Justin Beiber and Carly Rae Jepsen have proven the Internet’s power in revealing the next big artist from the masses and you are totally right. A previous commentator mentioned The Arctic Monkeys who are awesome. (What’s crazy about the Arctic Monkeys is that they got famous so quick that during their first nation wide tours they were absolutely atrocious, simply because they hadn’t really played that many shows, let alone at huge concert halls).

    But I think something that happened that is just as important (but is often ignored) was the creation of a new music industry. Through the process of active consumerism, this new music industry is structured entirely through the Blog Sphere, Social Media, Online Independent Labels. Artists release their music online if it is good then it will get attention. The job of music blogs is to pick through the crazy amount of music that is on the Internet and distribute the best artists and songs to their thousands of faithful followers. What this does is creates artists who are independent of Record Labels, who eventually join together to create their own Record Labels: See Rhymesayers, OWSLA, and Mad Decent.

    Because no one is really selling Records anymore the primary way to make money as an artist is by touring. And artists have found (as the great Phish once discovered) that often times that way to gain the most fans is by giving your music away for free. In the digital age the most powerful artists are not just those who can sell the most records, it the musicians that have the most (and most dedicated) followers on social media.

    Branding has become absolutely crucial to the new music industry and social media, youtube, and everything else you wrote about plays a humongous role in determining who has the most branding power. It is an exciting time in the music industry and it will be incredibly interesting to see how these two music industries evolve, if they will ever clash, and just how far the Internet will take us.

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