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.