What Social Media Is Doing To Music (Hint: It’s Not Good)

Social-mediaBy Tony Hymes (@TonyHymes), the community manager at Whyd, a social music community.

Do you remember the early glory days of social media? We started by genuinely connecting with interesting new things on cool platforms, and we received
awesome content that we enjoyed. So we subscribed to more and more things in more and more places hoping to get the same satisfying result, but ended up
only squeezing our time and attention until what is before us today is illegible. Not only is it less rewarding, but it’s even become bothersome.

Groupon provides an example: it seemed really cool because everyone loves to save money. Everyone signed up for great deals, then they signed up to the
Groupon copies to get more deals, until it became so overwhelming that none of the deals were desirable to receive, and it is now essentially voluntary
spam that you only wish you could stop. (A fun — yet heavily pessimistic — activity is trying to find anyway that this example is not like drug addiction.)

The crux: social media has exposed us to more than we would ever know about without it, but at the expense of not really getting to know any of it. We are
— thanks the spin of Earth — limited to twenty-four hours each day. The more things we have to pay attention to, the less time we can spend on each one. If
you follow only a few people on Twitter, you see everything they post, you can learn about them, their interests, their personalities; when you follow
1,000 people, do you really follow anyone anymore?

As all content moves to social media, so has music, and it represents an acceleration in the evolution of the way that people consume music that is harmful
for musicians.

Anyone today can create a song and broadcast it to the world. So naturally there are many more “artists” than there used to be. These artists all compete
with each other, but they also compete with all of the other interesting stuff being shared on our primary consumption channels in addition to music, which
taken together significantly decreases the chances that a fan will make a connection to an artist that is more than eardrum deep, even if — thanks to these
same platforms — artists are technically getting heard by more and more people.

A Personal Example

 In my formative high school years, I was smitten by no band more than the White Stripes. It crossed the line of idolatry: I went to all the shows, crammed
my way to the first rows, owned multiple t-shirts (that are still in my closet today), posters (which do not hang on my walls today, however), got the new
albums the day they came out, left the CD in my car to play for seven months straight, religiously skipping the squirrel song on the album “Elephant”
before finally and necessarily switching the music to the next band. I still to this day adore Jack White (particularly Love Interrupted, which contains
enough swagger to kill half of Brooklyn’s rappers). Of the money I spent on music and merch, most of it went to The White Stripes, and it never seemed like
it was enough.

This morning I've already listened to over 30 different artists, most of whom I don't really know but like their sound. Some of them I chose to listen to,
others I didn't. But if something fails to hook me, they will be lost. I will not buy their merchandise, or go to their show. I will be listening to other
artists, enjoying music but never spending enough time with anything specific to develop a deep connection to the music, to the personas, to whatever an
artist is trying to emit in their music.

Today there is not a minute when I listen to music that I am tired of. As soon as something better or newer or shinier or more interesting pops up, I
naturally gravitate towards it. It would take a conscious effort to stop force-feeding myself so much new stuff and focus on what I have now to achieve the
same depth of connections that was possible as late as the year 1 BSM (Before Social Media).

In the same whiskey-soaked breath, you could argue that the White Stripes hit me at a time when I was the most accessible to music; in a formational,
primordial soup of music tastes yet to become multicellular. Everyone is influenced by their first true experiences with music. But yet there is still the
question: would I have been so open to that impression/connection if I had been splitting my attention between thousands of different things?

Music is deep, connections must be developed, and this requires repetition. How many albums can you remember where you were hooked by one track (Seven
Nation Army) and ended up preferring another track (Ball & A Biscuit) that you skipped over the first hundred times until it got stuck? What the
Internet gives us today is an infinite skip button, a shortcut to instant fulfillment no matter how shallow, and we are always able to effortlessly move to
the next song without facing the quite serious consequences — scroll baby scroll.

The Effect

Another question: How likely are you to spend money on something from a band, music or merch, if you’ve only listened to their songs a few times?

The amount of time that people spend with one individual group is always getting smaller because of the above-mentioned trends and because the
ever-modifiable and shared playlist is rising in the place of the album, so more fans are increasingly less likely to support the bands they like, because
they like more bands. And when they actually do it is in a more limited way, since like their attention and time, their wallets are split too.

Is the trend reversible? Maybe not with the social networks as they are. The overflow of information that comes pouring into our feeds is always about
what’s happening right now, and yet it takes our attention away from what we were concentrating on. The very thing that was designed to help us connect to
things is new ways is stripping away our very ability to connect meaningfully with any of it.

The counter trend has already begun to rear its head: people who are passionate about certain interests — and by passionate I mean obsessive, not just
passive people who say “why not?” when asked if they are into something — are finding refuge among the thousands of topic-specific social networks that are
budding around the world today. The passionate people are separating the things they care about from their general social noise. They are finding more
satisfaction from connecting to a community of like-minded people, no matter where they are in the world, than trying to push their interests to their
physical contacts who couldn’t care less.

Music is no different. The Internet has given us music lovers a direct line to nearly every song in the world, the people who created it, and the other
people who enjoy it. The trick is maintaining a separation from the acceleration of content on major networks, and understanding that music is a medium
that cannot be taken on the same level as their friends’ other interests. In this way, music lovers take back time and can give proper attention to make a
deep and lasting connection to music.

Tony Hymes is Whyd’s community and communications guy helping to construct the filter for the best of the newest music on the web. He paints buffalo, bakes lasagna, rolls sushi, writes poetry, and runs daily, all while listening to great music.

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  1. Absolutely disagree. Do we really want to go back to being limited with choice and having Clear Channel determine what we are and aren’t exposed to?
    Absolutely, there is less permanence in today’s music listening experience. But, to me, that’s a GOOD thing. If something really grabs me, then I purchase it and listen to it a few times, giving it its just due. But I sort of love that I rarely listen to the same song twice nowadays. It’s certainly less boring.

  2. I totally disagree too.. in so many points. Not to mention: you are talking about yourself, your habits, which is NOT statistics…

  3. I agree with you that more choice is better, and in no way was I glorifying the old gatekeepers of the music business.
    What worries me is your argument. If you rarely listen to the same song twice, when do you become a fan of a band? Because you say that when “something really grabs me, then I purchase it and listen to it a few times, giving it its just due” then you say “I sort of love that I rarely listen to the same song twice nowadays,” are we to understand that you rarely buy music nowadays? Did you just prove my point?

  4. This is definitely “a personal example.” But what the essay reflects are my habits within the greater context of social media and how the internet has changed how we consume things. There are certain things that don’t need to be defined by hard statistics.
    Number of people on the internet = increasing everyday
    Number of people on social media platforms = increasing everyday
    Number of connections being made on social media = increasing everyday
    Number of minutes in the day = constant
    This is where the problem is created, so many things to connect to, so many new bands to listen to, but at the expense of what? Other things, other bands. Every time you read an article on reddit about Miley Cyrus’s new hair (among other things) you are taking time away from something else you care about. That’s just how time works, nothing subjective there.
    Sure, there are people who spend $10 to support every band they have ever listened to. There are people who can read two webpages at once, post to Instagram, actively listen to a new band’s performance quality, cook dinner, and teach their kids what morality is all at the same time…
    These are fantasies, all of us are limited by what we can take in for various reasons, some of us are more talented at absorbing, engaging, multitasking, and connecting with things than others, but time is universal. And we all spend it at exactly the same rate.

  5. Overall this article proves a valid point regarding, “More is NOT always better” especially when you look at the Music Industry today. As a deejay in the 90’s I was a serious fan of music and purchased as much as I could when deejaying in the clubs etc. in the 2000’s I become a Music Producer because of my overall love for music wanting to learn more and create it. In 200 I started noticing a Massive change with illegal downloading occurring and no one really cared about buying music anymore because it was able to be downloaded for FREE (I knew that it was only a matter of year that this would cause a dramatic disaster and it has today). With so much songs being pushed in someones faces it is very difficult for their attention span to prolong more than a minute because of the overwhelming abundance of songs out there.

  6. Well, today, I BOUGHT the new Foreign Exchange. I BOUGHT the new The Internet and I BOUGHT the new Snarky Puppy. So no.
    They were just that good. I voted with my wallet.

  7. You touch a very important point: the more information you get the less you pay attention to it. The same with music. A well made statistic would help us to understand what is the percentage of listeners listening to a track till the end and how many are skipping just after the first 19-20secs even if they like it.
    Still nobody, and not in this articke too, really understands where we are going from here: is this kind of way of listening to music to stay or we will change again our habits.

  8. Yeah, I absolutely agree, plus there are so many different places where people are pushing songs to us, which taken individually are very cool but when put together make everything completely illegible!

  9. I wish we knew where we were going, because I don’t think we even really know how we got here today. I do make one semi-prediction, a trend that we are already seeing today, which is the rise of content-specific social networks that are not based around connections with people you already know but create connections based around common interests. These platforms will never achieve the scale of things like Facebook or Twitter, because they will be limited to true fans of a topic (like music or art or aviation) but through the separation of different types of content sharing, we can go back to choosing where we put our attention, instead of opening the untargeted fire hose of the Facebook news feed. Will that improve the situation overall? I have no idea, but I certainly hope so!

  10. You bring up great points. I think social media works well for established artists, but breaking from nothing is very hard thru social media. And the trend of doing covers of big songs is also just noise and only in very few cases has resulted in a real career. A blimp on the mainstream media radar is not a career.

  11. It’s not just the internet… its technology. To make music is cheaper than it used to be, so more music is being churned out at the same time more folks are having web/social access. Its the wild west now, but in time the music aggregators will find a way to push the cream of the crop out, because they will figure out the more they push good music by highlighting it, the better for their bottom line. The number of times we listen to music is truly getting less & irrelevant,but is that necessarily a bad thing? Times have changed, attention spans are shorter, everything moves fast these days… At the same time the likes of spotify have exposed artists music to regions they would typically not be able to market at… Unless the labels are able to payola streaming sites.. the sky is the limit for the possibilities of music, once they have established ways to highlight “good music”

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