Why You Need to Start Taking Social Media More Seriously as an Artist
Long gone are the days of traditional record deals and physical fan outreach -- as technology advances, the music industry evolves with it. Since the creation of MySpace in the early 2000s, social media has changed the way artists interact with fans, giving them a platform for direct communication.
This blog post will cover the evolution of social media, from MySpace to TikTok, and analyze its role in the careers of some of today’s most successful musicians.
It all began with the creation of MySpace in 2003. A teenage Adam Wiles began uploading videos of his songs to the growingly popular platform, and began connecting with music industry professionals. He landed a publishing deal and began releasing music under the name Calvin Harris. The MySpace videos Harris created in his bedroom served as a launching pad for a highly successful career. Social media got his foot in the door, but his music is what ultimately led to popular collaborations with Rihanna, Dua Lipa, and Sam Smith.
Calvin Harris isn’t the only artist whose success can be attributed to their start on MySpace — Brendon Urie and childhood friends Ryan Ross, Spencer Smith, and Brent Wilson formed Panic! at the Disco in 2004 and began posting demos to their MySpace page. Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz came across the demos and quickly signed the band to his record label. While their discovery required a good amount of luck, their MySpace continued to engage their growing fanbase before their debut album was even released.
The music industry’s most well known social media success story is Justin Bieber — in 2007, Pattie Mallette began posting videos of her 12 year old son covering songs by Ne-Yo, Usher, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, and Chris Brown. Known for his endearingly long, side-swept hair, Bieber built up a following on his YouTube channel, and important people in the industry began to take notice of the young teen. Justin was discovered by Scooter Braun, who quickly became his manager and recruited Usher to serve as Justin’s mentor. Usher’s mentor, L.A. Reid, signed Bieber to Island Def Jam, and by 15 years old, Justin’s first single, “One Time,” was released. “Baby”, Justin’s lead single from his 2010 release, drove Justin to superstardom and made him a household name.
The Weeknd took a more unorthodox approach to the social media game -- his faceless, nameless videos kept his identity a secret. The only identifying monikers on the profile were the misspelled stage name, “The Weeknd” and the username “xoxxxoooxo”. The mysterious videos generated major buzz and drew attention to The Weeknd’s music as listeners speculated as to whether The Weeknd was a band or a solo artist. Drake drew attention to The Weeknd’s debut single, “Wicked Games,” and Abel Tesfaye was revealed to be the face behind the music.
Just two years after releasing his debut single, Justin Bieber paid it forward by jump-starting the career of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter, Carly Rae Jepsen. While home in Canada for the holiday season, Bieber heard “Call Me Maybe” on the radio and knew it would be wildly successful in the United States. He took to Twitter to shout out the song, and Beliebers didn’t fail to blow it up.
Bieber’s then girlfriend, Selena Gomez, followed suit and tweeted at Jepson to announce that she and Justin “have not stopped listening to her song.”
Weeks later, Justin tweeted about call Me Maybe again and shared this video of himself jamming out to the song on his private jet with Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, and longtime friend, Ryan Good.
By February, Carly was signed to Justin’s label and Justin was serving as her mentor, just as Usher did for him years before. Justin and friends even uploaded their own music video to “Call Me Maybe” before the official video was released.
Halsey is a prime example of utilizing both social media and music sharing platforms to reach an audience and grow a fanbase. Ashley Frangipane, known professionally as Halsey, posted videos of herself singing to Tumblr under the username se7enteenblack at 16 years old. She built up a large following with covers, originals, and even parodies of popular songs. After uploading her song, “Ghost,” to SoundCloud, Halsey’s Twitter was instantly blowing up, with five labels contacting her throughout the night and the song charting by morning.
Shawn Mendes may be selling out stadium tours today, but in 2013, he was posting six second covers of songs to Vine. Most notably, he covered Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me,” and began to blow up on the platform. With 300,000 followers on Vine, Mendes recorded his first single, “Life of the Party.” His social media success only grew from there and successfully translated to Billboard chart success.
Quite possibly TikTok’s biggest musical success is Lil Nas X. For only $30, Lil Nas X bought the beat that became “Old Town Road.” He quickly found success on SoundCloud with 7,000 streams and took to social media to leverage the virality of memes into streams. The trap-country song went viral as cowboy-themed dances spread across TikTok.