Online social networking is quickly becoming a historic phenomenon. Sites like Facebook, LiveJournal, YouTube, Last.fm and MySpace are wildly popular. As the music industry tries to dig itself out of its hole, musicians have had to become more self-reliant in steering a path to their own success. New avenues for promotion become standard, such as a personal MySpace Music page—and a website, where you post your photos, tour dates, bio, contact, and other information. But to build up a following or feed a growing fan base, more is needed: a blog, a Facebook page, a Last.fm account, and use of a YouTube channel for uploading music videos. These are all part of a multi-pronged approach to creating a musical identity online. If fans are spending much of their time online, artists will be given exposure there.
Most recently, and since its inception in 2006, we have witnessed the explosion of Twitter. Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read each other’s updates, known as “tweets”. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to other users – known as followers – who subscribe to them.
Twitter.com continues to grow in popularity and importance in both the consumer and corporate worlds. No longer just a platform for friends to stay connected in real time, it has evolved into an important component of brand marketing. Unique visitors to Twitter increased by a factor of fourteen in a one year span, from 475,000 unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009. In that month, Twitter became the fastest growing “Member Community Site”. Zimbio and Facebook, followed way behind, each only duplicating members in that period.
According to a recent report from NPD Market Research, one-third of all Twitter users bought a CD in the last three months, compared to 23 percent for all Internet users. Moreover, one-third of all ‘Twitterers’ purchased a digital download–considerably more than the 16 percent of overall Web users who bought music online. The view that Twitter users are also more likely to buy music online than non-users is supported independently by another article published at www.beatcrave.com.
Could Twitter really contribute to saving the record labels from bankruptcy? The four major labels, EMI Music, Warner Music, Sony BMG and Universal Music, all have Twitter accounts, and they use them because it is a form of easy distribution, where they can expose the music to millions of fans and stay in touch with them through a medium that “seems” more personal. In addition to this, every day more bands and artists also use Twitter to keep their fans updated and informed about tour dates and album releases.
There could be, however, an important difference between the Twitter pages set up by the labels and the artists themselves. Many fans argue that many of the ‘corporate’ twitter profiles from the majors are set up as feeds or bots and do not seem to have a real human behind them. This could be missing the point of Twitter altogether. Twitter can only present a new level of online interaction, if the users can maintain a more intimate contact (direct or indirect) with their favorite artists—not their label reps.
Twitter also does well with music referrals. When a friend or follower suggests a song on Twitter, people are more likely to receive the message and listen to it than if it were to be announced by e-mail spam, or even on an official site. Not to mention the fact that people who are used to using the Internet many hours a day, and using the several social networking sites, are also very likely to listen to music more frequently online, be it on social networking sites, online radio or music videos. This could also be a great advantage for self-promoting musicians, since mainstream music listening is already transitioning quickly from radio and records to online downloads and streaming.
The instantaneous nature of Twitter also encourages musicians to release music quickly. Singles, music videos, and remixes can be immediately distributed, keeping followers interested. A new habit for fans is to follow artist updates on Twitter rather than official website. A blog post from Grooveshark.com (a streaming radio site), gives starter tips for bands/artists who are looking to promote themselves through Twitter. “The best way to start is with a smaller circle of good friends, while your band is either touring or recording. Your own friends are a good starting point just because those friends can then recommend you to their Twitter friends by twittering your name, and you’d grow much more quickly from there.” Grooveshark suggests a 30/30/40 ’strategy’. “About 30 percent of your tweets should be conversational about everyday things the bands is doing, another 30 percent should be band business-oriented things like your CD release, and the remaining 40 percent should be you engaging your community.”
There are many updates that artists can post on Twitter in order to increase their fan base and keep fans engaged. Some examples: updates from the recording studio; updates on the manufacturing process (announce when artwork is finished, when the master has been approved, when finished copies are delivered, etc); reminders about release dates; shows and other news; updates from the road; news about different deals for fans; and also day-to-day work news. The latter post is one that especially makes many fans feel special.
It is good to remember too that an artist is not just sharing text but links to share audio, photographs, video, and even live video streaming off a cell phone. In this way, Twitter may open yet another door for fan-and-artist interaction. An example of this could be being backstage at a gig, warming up, and being able to suddenly give the fans a little sneak preview into what that looks like. As this can also be done from a mobile base, artists can seek contact while in motion.
Meanwhile, the list of acclaimed artists that have Twitter accounts continues to grow. They include Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, Moby, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Trent Reznor, P Diddy, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Lenny Kravitz, Jamie Cullum, MC Hammer, Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam, among others. All of them have thousands of followers, some of them millions, and update their pages with posts of daily reports about their personal and professional lives.
However, Twitter is not for all. Some artists are uninterested, and/or afraid of identity fraud. Imposters can tarnish artist and professional reputations. Another issue is the “traffic jam” of useless information. About.com Music Careers’ Heather McDonald writes that while “[Twitter] can be a great way to … keep fans informed about your news; [the] trick is not to go too far and overload people.”
It has also been said that twittering encourages bad social practices, including exhibitionism and damaging gossip. Elinor Mills, Senior Writer of CNETNews.com, asks, “[What] is up with this obsession the Twitter generation has with expressing itself and monitoring each others’ lives? [In the past]…if you wanted to impress your friends with your clever thoughts or funny anecdotes you passed notes in class or gathered together to share the juicy details. That’s not easy to do in 140 characters or less.”
Still, the success of the Twitter website is undeniable. However, it should not be forgotten that an immediate online connection between an artist and a music fan offers only a partial glimpse into the life of an artist, and perceptions can still be manipulated. There may be nothing innocent about a Twitter feed. Access, moreover, is not everything. Where the message is really the music, and the best, and edited work of the artist is the final product, abusing Twitter could erode the singularity of an artist’s output.
By Silvina Moreno