The steady and inexorable rise of internet culture has without consent affected my daily life in the most intense ways. It was with the creation of MySpace in 2003 that 13-year-old me started to really hone in on how to present myself “on paper” as someone who is popular, quirky, and just fucking cool. Since this time I have handed over much of my precious brain-power to social networking sites including; Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, and Instagram and as I grew into the woman I am today, I watched myself and those around me forget how to be sociable, out-going human beings as we slip deeper into our online hedonism that seems to be growing by the Instagram selfie. But anyway! Let us talk about how this all relates to music.
Patience is a Virtue or One Viral Video Away
I can write and produce a song right now on my laptop while sitting on this plane. I can log into the wifi, create a Facebook artist page, toss up a hipstery sepia-tone photo of myself, and announce to you (with a sponsored Facebook add, so you’ll see it!) that I’m releasing the ground-breaking new single from “Sparkle Gvns” or some shit (that’s pronounced “Guns” by the way, not Governs) straight into your virgin ear-holes! I don’t have to wait on a producer or a record label or anyone, really. That’s a whole lot of power at my fingertips. This is obviously an extreme example – I personally will do no such thing because writing songs that I want to give to you takes me a lot of time and care (believe me, I’m about 30 demos deep and still chiseling away at what will be my next release). And if you’ve ever participated in my One Hour Song Challenge then that’s a whole different animal for self-exploration purposes. But this instant access to a platform for my art does make me think about how this has stealthily fucked with my brain over time.
As artists deep inside the internet age we now have the freedom to be our own record label, producer, and manager. Unfortunately, most of us are not good at these other roles (because our brains are all artisty and weird). We just make a thing and we’re like a little kid all exciting to show mom “look what I made!” and so we put it online and write a couple internet posts about how emotional it was to write, thank those involved, and think our job is done. We may even get good feedback or people sharing our work for a couple of weeks and so we soar above the clouds, drunk on the insta-gratification of our efforts, until the dark day when we come crashing back down to earth. Then we wonder why we’re drinking vodka at 3 pm and feeling like failures as it seems no one loves us anymore. You see, we took our best stab at successfully releasing our art into the world and now the honeymoon-phase is over. I’ve seen this, and experienced it myself, so many times. This instant access to a platform for broadcasting our art has intensified our inherent impatience and created starry-eyed expectations as we hope that either “the right person” will hear what we’ve made or that our song will somehow “go viral” while we’re sleeping.
I really do believe that shallow endeavors lead to shallow, short-lived success. Or maybe I just have to believe that so I keep working at it all. A friend of mine recently told me he was starting to really accept the idea that in order to pursue his project he was going to have to love building it from the ground up and stop looking for some sort of short-cut. I LOVE talking about the short-cut because I want to burst peoples’ bubbles so hard about that. Sometimes I hear people talk about their plan to write a hit song that will make their career blow up. First of all, you can’t decide if it’s a hit song – listeners decide and usually they don’t appreciate contrived, formulaic music. But in your plan this hit song is going to go so goddamn viral that a record label will sign you at which point you’ll get loads of money and be famous. Is this a result of our growing impatience? Or of our power to deliver the world our music whenever we please? Or of this narcissistic idea that somehow we know what other people will love? I’ve tried so hard to stay grounded among the bullshit, because to me there’s a HUGE part of this plan that’s missing. Okay, yeah you could write a hit song, that shit does happen. But when you get signed your record label is probably going to recoup all your recording costs from the sales of what will be your follow up HIT ALBUM (no pressure, right?) and put you on the road for a brutal 300 days a year to open for pop artists bigger than yourself, playing to some audiences who just fucking want you to clear the stage for the main act. The money you make may come from guarantees from venues, your merchandise sales, and if you’re lucky (by some fate of the licensing Gods), your song will appear in a commercial or a movie. And then you really will get the big bucks. Oh and small side-note; prepare yourself to be away from your home and your loved-ones and feel like you’re in a parallel universe where only you and tour-mates can relate on the road in your inevitable decline in normalcy. You will spend most of your time standing in lines, eating airport food, and trying to find new ways/places to sleep. I’m going to cut myself off here because I really could just go on and on about the short-cut-hit-song-instant-fame myth. Call me old-fashioned, but I just happen to like fool-proof, being on your grind, lots of touring to promote your music, mother-fucking hard work.
Some questions to keep you awake at night:
Do you want to write a song that’s hip to the kids right now or one that will be timeless?
Do you want to write a song that you hate but think is a hit and go on to play this anthem of hatred for the next twenty years?
Do you want to have a viral video that’s a hit but be unable to sell out a small 200-capacity headline show in your hometown?
You’re Only as Good as Your Number of Facebook Likes
When I was in college, certain venues wouldn’t book my band because we didn’t have enough Facebook likes. This indicated to them that we couldn’t fill their room and so people wouldn’t buy alcohol at their bar and they wouldn’t profit off of our show. Shortly after rejection email after rejection email, my band did go on to have some success as a result of our consistent grind – we played internationally and even performed on CNN and our drummer got a lot of press when he won the Guitar Center Drum-Off. All of a sudden, we looked pretty damn hot as our social media numbers went up as the result of press and TV-time. The general perception of us was that we were fucking killing it but we all just kind of sat back confused – we were still the same band with the same goals, playing the same music, and we still couldn’t fill a venue in Boston. Only now, promoters would give us the time of day and producers reached out as we seemed to be picking up steam. We looked successful, but in my stubborn managerial-mind I didn’t really give too many shits about social media numbers because I knew we wouldn't be satisfied until we could play a sold-out show in our hometown. I wanted my band to have tangible success and I didn’t want to be a bunch of fakes.
At the end of the day, our efforts of playing empty room after empty room for two years was what I believe got us any sort of meaningful connection with our audience. That, and personal YouTube vlogs, being super responsive online, and also having contests where our fans won personalized joke songs from us. Those were the fucking days. If you’re not willing to put flyers in every coffee shop surrounding the venue you’re playing, write a couple online posts, hit up a couple friends, and basically do the minimum to promote your band's show, then I have some trouble respecting your cause. Sorry, jus’ sayin’. You better get busy building it from the ground up because no one is going to believe in your band more than YOU do. When I think back to those times I remember that we had a blast doing these tasks! We once flyered the entire Berklee dorms with a link to our free first album and after a couple weeks of giving out free T-shirts at our shows not a week went by that I didn’t see a Berklee kid wearing our shirt.
I’m not going to sit here and condemn Facebook and say that I don’t believe that social media hasn’t been the musician’s friend – it certainly has in many ways. I for one have been a huge advocate for utilizing social media to get your message out there as an artist. I guess all I want to get across is to remind musicians to stay grounded and to back up what you put up online. Focus really hard on your music and shows and bringing people to these shows. And hey, please don’t forget, people are spending their hard-earned cash to come hear you play – show them a fun time!
I’ll Just Get a Famous Person to Make Me Famous
Guys, I don’t want to ever sound mean on here but if you message me and ask me to promote your band or your song via my social media it confuses me. It is ingrained in me to be authentic in what I endorse and say, whether in person or online. If you came up to me today in person and asked me to tell my friend I’m going see tonight about your band, even though I’ve never heard your band, it would totally weird me out. But if you just want me to listen to a song, that’s a whole different thing. Though I’ll be honest, I hardly ever find time to listen to out-of-the-blue demos from people who I’m not personally friends with because free time is so fleeting and I desperately want to work on my own songs. It’s literally only for that reason. But I love talking about writing and art (clearly), and that’s where we can have a shared common-ground conversation. Also, by the way, I’M NOT FAMOUS. Not in the least. I’m just a regular sleep-deprived girl-woman sitting in a hotel room in puma sweatpants, drinking a cup of Starbucks coffee, on the road and trying to pay my expensive health insurance bills. Also, I don’t have an apartment so technically I’m homeless. I don’t have connections for you – I don’t even have them for myself. But I do have lots of friends in the music industry who are good people who would help out other good people if they like what they’re doing. Just remember to be careful of the way you approach someone, because no one wants to feel like they’re being used. Most people don’t like being treated like a connection. I recently had a friend text me, “hey can you tweet my thing because you have a lot of followers”, and I’m thinking like, I really don't have that many and you probably could have come at me from a better angle dude. Just be you and work hard and share what you love. It’s all authentic and genuine that way. In my experience, people respond very well to honesty.
I guess the last thing I’d like to voice about this is to be weary of riding on someone’s coat-tails. The best relationships you’ll have, whether personal or work, will be the ones that go both ways – where you can give to each other and not just one person giving and one person taking. Do you care more about being a good person or using others as a platform to become a well-known musician? I believe you can in time be both!
I can’t write a blog post about social media without addressing the selfie. I just want to go ahead and say how fucking weird it is that we take photos of ourselves, usually looking hot, and post them online for others to comment on. I still remember when selfies first started appearing in my news feed years ago – I actually laughed and thought what the fuck is this? But over time, they have been accepted as totally normal into our social media world. I mean hell, I post selfies and they’re pretty dumb. Maybe we're just looking for a little pick-me-up because we've had a bad day or we're bored. But it's still really weird. Also what’s with the retweeting tweets from fans – it’s a little self-adoring, don't you think?! Like no one likes the guy at the party who spews his resumé when you’re just trying to have a good time. Self-promotion is really hard to get right and not look egotistical, but maybe if we’re just a little more aware of what exactly we’re doing we can consider if this really is the way we want to be seen. I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out. I sure as hell post a lot of dumb stuff, but I’m aware of it and I own it.
I’m afraid my coffee is wearing off and my brain is nose-diving into sleepiness. I hope this post finds you well and gives you some fire. If I may write any sort of disclaimer here, please know all these ideas are my own and in no way are they hard and fast rules. This blog is here to tell my story and hopefully offer a little bit of insight. Just like you, I'm trying to navigate my way through an industry without a formula, but we can be in it together.
Welcome to Costco, I love you.