The Downfall of Social Media and Why It's a Good Thing



When I was a kid, I used to read about music scenes that were slightly before my time and miles away from my location (Los Angeles in the 80s, New York in the 70s, etc.) and dream about how cool it must have been to be part of something vibrant, new and exciting. I grew up in the middle of nowhere as one of the only (if not only) people who did such unthinkable things as wear black clothing and listen to Heavy Metal. No one was trading tapes or writing zines, there were no DIY shows and the only entertainment options in the town were a crappy arcade; a bowling alley; a run-down skating rink and a movie theater. All of these things were eventually either shut down or became so dilapidated that no one dared enter the building. For an awkward, fat, outsider kid such as myself, these places provided little to no solace as they were often inhabited by the same people who tormented me because I was... um... fat? Wore black? Honestly, I'm still not entirely sure, but fuck 'em. They're probably stuck in jobs and relationships they hate; living with sniveling, whiny kids that destroy their monthly income before they even get it, but I digress.

At the dawn of social media (as far as I knew it) there was Myspace, a digitized world that I rarely left because it allowed me to connect with people like me and music I was unaware of; surprisingly enough, some of that music was local! I learned that there actually was a fledgling DIY space in town and was fortunate enough to attend a show there before (you guessed it) police shut it down. In small town America, especially in the South, laws are determined by bitter, old people with nothing better to do than seek out a young person's good time and destroy it. I can't be certain, but I think their goal is to squash any hope that kids might have of ever being anything other than an obedient, worker drone who loves Toby Keith (or Garth Brooks or whatever the hell those people listen to) as much as they love white Jesus.

Eventually, Myspace became Facebook and I got the hell out of that town and into a bigger, less uptight city. Pretty much all the same components of Myspace were on Facebook except it was a little less “spammy” in as much as there wasn't a “bulletin board” where people posted fake headlines to get you to click the link so the 30 music players embedded in the message would start. Overall, it was a little more streamlined and less of an eyesore, so people flocked there and began “liking” everything in sight. For bands, the approach changed from having the music out front, to having the personalities of the band members out front. Your music still got heard, you just had to be a little more patient and a little less pushy. Soon enough, everyone's Facebook notifications were filled with “Play this game! Come to this show! Like my band page!” and people grew tired of it. Event pages became things that are largely ignored, things that are viewed as just another ad. In spite of what “Joe Marketing Degree” might tell you, most people are sick of being bombarded with ads, no matter how creative they appear to be; people usually know an ad when they see it. We all know ads generate revenue and Facebook is a giant corporation with shareholders to please, so of course ads have become a major part of the Facebook experience, but now it's less about being social and pretty much entirely about marketing.

Of course, every independent band on Facebook is up in arms about having to pay for “reach” and I understand completely; all those hours spent accumulating “likes” are now completely meaningless. You feel betrayed, hoodwinked, bamboozled and other whimsical terms for “screwed”. Here's the thing though, if you were paying attention, you saw this coming and I truly hope that you didn't think social media was gonna make you a rockstar of some sort; “viral videos” are usually just clever marketing schemes. Remember that “amazing” video of a pig sniffing a camera that fell out of a plane? Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was just a gimmick to get people talking about that brand of camera. Right around the same time, that same company had sponsored ads on Twitter and who knows where else. You are constantly being “pitched to” and things are a lot more like that movie “They Live” than I'd like to admit.

However, there is a plus side to all this, (apart from somewhat amusing “breakup posts” to Facebook from small, struggling bands) now you have no excuse not to get out there and do your band promotion the old-fashioned way. Handing out flyers, cds and doing what social media was intended for in the first place: being social. We're on the verge of something exciting that has nothing to do with status updates, photos of cats or your lunch. The DIY movement is growing and in some places, thriving. Bands you've probably never heard of are absolutely killing it out there on the road. They're selling their own (often handmade) merch and changing lives with truly impassioned performances; the likes of which you simply will not see on the Grammy awards. In the wake of one of these performances, someone may seek out a Facebook or Twitter page to keep track of their new favorite band. If you want “likes”, don't ask for them, just do your thing and make an impression. A real impression, not just some marketing term.

Social media used to be a much more effective tool in the DIY scene, but instead of lamenting it, you should rejoice! You are now free from having to spend hours sending friend requests so you can invite people to like your band page. It doesn't really matter how many “likes” or “followers” you have if those people aren't feeling a personal connection with you. Remember, that was supposed to be the point of social media, but most independent bands turned it into the spam fest that it is today. I'm not blaming you though because you were convinced that was the way to go and for a while, it worked. It no longer works because people spend far too much time boosting their own projects and not enough time clicking “share” on other people's projects. There is little to no reciprocation and the reason for this is anyone's guess, but what I do know is that more people will pay attention to someone else hyping your music than they will if you're the one hyping it. Besides, music scenes thrive because real people get out in real life and do real things, not because there was an Internet ad campaign.

Ultimately, it's up to you (the music fan, the musician, the indie promoter) to spread the word about the music you love, don't leave it up to radio or television because all of those outlets are run by the same six corporations that truly do not care whether you live or die. To them, you are nothing more than a number on a stat sheet, but out there in your local music scene, you're part of the family. A beautiful family that's just as weird and confused as you are, but who accepts you because you are all one in the same. I implore you to start that family if there isn't one in your town. It has to start somewhere, so why not make that starting point you? Start a band, a podcast, a zine or host shows in your house. Do anything other than say there's nothing to do; time's wasting, get out there and do something.

4 comments:

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    1. Thanks! I actually learned a lot of what I know about marketing & social media from you & the Go Girls chat, so that's quite a compliment.

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  2. I was a bit bitter at first about feeling like I missed the Facebook bubble that so many other bands/brands found helpful (I'll admit that it still kills me when I post something and see that 46 people were ALLOWED to see it out of 2,500). But at the end of the day, it's Facebook's website, and it's their service. If they want to render themselves irrelevant with bands and brands, it's their business. I need to worry about what I can control...
    Facebook making their grab for cash encouraged me to start using Twitter more (which I've found is a much better fit for me anyway), and it's also incited me to get back to basics a bit. The High Cell has only existed as a one-man recording project so far, and I want to spend a little more time playing music to people here in Durham, NC than trying to collect "likes" on my witty comment from people in Dubai. In the big picture, putting too much time, effort, and faith in Facebook as a marketing medium was probably a valuable lesson for me to learn. I enjoyed the blog Hideous, thanks for the read.

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    1. Thanks for reading, glad you liked it. I think Facebook has taught a lot of us a valuable lesson about business, especially those of us who never gave it much thought before.

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