Social Media & The Music Industry – Can They Coexist Without Damaging One Another?

Is the popularity of a song more important than the quality of the music?

Music and business have coexisted for centuries, of course, but the combination of modern social media and today’s music industry (with its profit-oriented business model) has resulted in the exploitation of music for profit becoming the focal point of their work – to the neglect of the quality of that music. Of course, I don’t argue that every record endorsed by a major record label is shallow or artistically empty. There are still great bands with a unique sound and authentic message like Radiohead or Daughter. In this article, I intend to explore these concepts and wish to argue in favour of the importance of quality in music and the arts.

Social Media
The main idea that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all other social media platforms are built on is that being popular means everything. The more likes one’s posts get and the more followers one has, the more valuable a member that individual is, according to the algorithms that the above mentioned platforms operate by. All of these algorithms put popularity into focus, the more reactions a post gets, the more profitable it is for the platform since that is one of the major ways for the company to earn a financial income. Is being popular more important than being right? In other words: does popularity overwrite the importance of the quality of a certain post? British comedian Ricky Gervais also refers to this phenomenon in his stand up show Humanity (2017)

Credit: Sean MacEntee

Music Industry
The importance of popularity has always been essential in the music industry as well. The more popular a song is, the more profitable it would be. However, if we look at the history of music before the 2010s (when Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram took off), we are more likely to find musical acts of great quality. 

Credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity Photography

For instance, in the era of Beethoven, music and business already coexisted, even the greatest composers in human history had to make a living, yet music came first and business followed. The same phenomena occurred with jazz musicians  in 20th century America:  it was about experimenting musically and finding their own unique sound. Even though the exploitation of music for profit was a part of the music industry, still music came first and business followed in second place. 

But we could mention the period of grunge music in Seattle during the late 80’s and early 90’s too. For bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam, who were exploring and experimenting with new sounds, they didn’t really care about what the vast majority of people wanted to hear. Even in the early 2000s, the quality of musicianship and content seemed to be more highly valued than the popularity and the profitability of the music.   

Credit: Kris Krug

Then in the 2010s, the selfie phenomenon took off and with it the craving for popularity and image-obsession became parts of the culture in developed countries. It clearly had an impact on the way the music industry worked as well. The business model of Spotify, for instance, works in a  similar way. Even though the algorithm of Spotify was designed to help emerging artists too, recognition and success are still illusive for them. Really, it’s only financially beneficial to artists who have a massive fanbase and have already reached commercial success. The more reactions a song generates, the more chances that record will have to be heard by thousands of people. The artist who is popular, wins the game. 

Music is Magic, Not a Product
As I already mentioned in the introduction, I am not stating that every artist or band that is in the spotlight plays shallow, artistically empty music. Not at all. My problem is that today there are fewer artists and bands in the spotlight who put their main focus on the quality of their music. This is primarily the fault of the music industry, since the exploitation of artists for profit has become the most important factor. Today, an artist and their music are nothing more than products in the eyes of major record labels. When it comes to art, I never liked the expression entertainment. An artist should never be pushed to entertain the public, but rather should be encouraged to be bold and  artistically free to create something that can have their listeners spellbound. 

I think the music industry should undergo major changes, in terms of its business model, and should be distinguished as much as possible from the way social media platforms work. This is, of course, the way I personally see the matter. With this provocative tone, I only intended to trigger an argument since this is also another important subject to be discussed. Does the quality of music matter more than its profitability ? I think it does. I think it should. 

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Aron Debreceni
Aron is a journalist and a student of Utrecht University (NL). He has been doing his own singer-songwriter project 'Aron D' since 2016. Besides music, he is open to write articles about politics, education, health, history and travel.

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