The Gap Between Fans and the Platform
Hey, I’ll admit this week’s post is a little wild, so def let me know if I’m a bit adrift. In the same thread thanks for dealing with my double email last week, things should be back to normal. Y’all should know the drill always open to criticism/feedback so hit me up and spread the word if you like the newsletter.
I spend too much time thinking about rappers on Instagram. The photo sharing app replaced the music video as the easiest to peek into the life of an artist. The perfectly posed photos, the shaky club footage, behind-the-behind-the-scenes shots of music video shoots, and often poorly film concert footage; 80s MTV executives would've dreamed of such unfiltered artist access. Beyond the gateway into rappers’ lives, I often look at the app as an imprecise, but fun, way to gauge popularity.
Album sales and streaming number are increasingly speaking to such different markets it’d hard to really see great value in those stats. The same applies to Instagram, but I like adding more factors into to the equation. The app, unlike streaming services, allows for slightly more organic contextualization of fandom, rather than the top down approach of a platform’s gatekeepers telling one to accept 6lack into their eardrums and heart. Still if one were to be converted to his tired moans through an Apple Music playlist their fandom stops at streaming. The platform doesn't offer any pictures to like, no merch to buy, or even a way to communicate with fellow fans.
That limitation of choices sparked me to further mine the gap between streaming and social media platforms in regards to the artist to fan relationship. Now do artists directly make money through Instagram? Not really due to lack of monetization options—I’m ignoring sponsored content though it does happen—but it’s the best way to actually connect with fans. Apple Music or Spotify offer the inverse, where music is available but without any social features. The top down approach suits Spotify’s playlist driven perspective, but it ignores so much space that’s offered by platforms like Instagram and Twitter, where the artist fan relationship can exist beyond musical contexts.
That’s why I started to look at these platforms increasingly by where they fall between this gap and teased out a little spectrum:
Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Pandora (Monetization, No Communication)
SoundCloud / YouTube (Monetization, Moderate Communication)
Bandcamp (Intense Monetization, Limited Communication)
Facebook / Snapchat / Twitter / Instagram (No Direct Monetization, Intense Communication)
Twitch/ Kickstarter (Intense Monetization, Intense Communication)
6lack is a musician, but a peek at his Instagram page shows fan comments, comments from other artists, and overall sense of community. Spotify does offers ticket sales and merch for some acts—Apple Music offers none of those options, but those interactions are limited. Spotify last year slowly removed its few social features; yet when the music’s biggest rising stars are constantly live streaming, uploading early version of songs, and all kinds of highly sought after content it feels so strange to open a music app and feel such distance from what makes an artist so vibrant.
The arbitrary spectrum gets more interesting as it moves towards the middle: Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and YouTube. Vastly different platforms in audience, feature, and size; but they take a hands off approach in fostering artist to fan relationships. There is a reason all three of those platforms are often the origin points of where artists start their careers. Not only in ease of use, but it’s easier to grow an organic fanbase when the platform allows for direct creator to fan connection.
There was a reason that despite Lil Uzi Vert receiving a ton of support for Luv Is Rage 2 on Apple Music and Spotify he tweeted last year: “I miss only having SoundCloud.” He understood who made him popular and that it was on the platform that didn’t require a coordinated marketing push. He thrived on just posting songs and letting fans run away with the content instead of closing it off from them.
Every platform offers editorial oversight, but Spotify's hitched its wagon to playlists. They are the platform's preferred way of one engaging with music, but on Bandcamp one directly goes to an artist page, the happens on SoundCloud and YouTube. Fans are encouraged to engage directly with an artist or curator, not the platform; people may enjoy their Discover Weekly playlist, but it doesn’t hold the same weight of the Trap Nation channel on YouTube, who scores hundreds of thousands of views per video upload no matter the artist. Traditional fandom attaches the users of these platforms that allow for fan cultivation rather than an algorithm. The user experience of Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and YouTube closely roots fan to the artist in way the other major streaming platforms can’t quite compare.
Next were the major social media players of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. All of these platforms are so different in how they function in music, so it’s hard to paint with a wide brush. Snapchat’s intimacy isn’t duplicated on Facebook and there is a directness to Instagram Live that even Twitter doesn’t quite capture. Still last year I wrote a piece about trying to use Instagram as a barometer of popularity, because traditional music consumption methods appeared to be losing their relevance. My hunch of looking at the like per post to follower ratio felt solid, but perhaps wasn’t the most interesting observation. Instead, I should’ve focused on how communities are forming these spaces, because their openness allow for fans to establish their own unique for fan appreciation.
A few years ago Amanda Palmer made headlines using Kickstarter to fund her album and so did the beloved r&b group TLC. Those endeavors I slot at the furthest end of the spectrum, because they directly ask for fans to support in exchange for music with there is no immediate return for music in this interaction. Twitch, though I’ll wait another week to really get into it, holds similar potential with constantly subscribing and donating to creator while they create perform in real time on screen.
Each platform effectively give money to artists for either simply living and for potentially producing more music. There is a way where it feels like the opposite of a streaming, where the thought is constant playing of a song will eventually pay out real money. The agreement with these models is that the money comes up front and now the fan/community will hope that the end product will justify their money spent. I’ll admit it isn’t a perfect comparison, but one it’s one that feels far more inline with the fragmentation of the internet than the monolithic gatekeeper approach.
On one hand most of what I’ve talked about exists across these platforms and others so why talk about it in the context of streaming? I talk about in that way, because the idea of these platforms only existing as a service feels short sighted—or boring, prob both. Control over centuries of recorded music is interesting, but is hardly a unique selling point across legal and illegal paths. The question I wonder is who attempts to control the deeper artist to fan relationship beyond viewing music as a utility. Music can hold that quality, but it’s survived centuries because it can be so much more than simply that.
Links 2 Read
Spotify Has Filed For Its IPO--Report - Music Business Worldwide
First off they didn't file for an IPO. Spotify is going to try and directly list, which is slightly different and something many many places got wrong. I won’t lie that this week’s newsletter isn’t just about Spotify going public is probably an oversight I should correct—makes a note.
YouTube’s Unlikely Peacemaker Plan To Make Musicians Rich - Bloomberg
I don’t just want to say lol, but also lol. Lyor Cohen gives amazing quotes I still have no clue how YouTube will make a streaming service work. I also don’t know if they get what makes their product compelling to people on the creator side. That may be fine in the long run, but like I wrote above it feels like they got a good niche right now that they don’t make the best use of.
There Were 4 Times As Many Paid On Demand Audio Streams As Free Ones In The Us Last Year - Music Business Worldwide
This is a really interesting headline and piece. Sorry, I won't go much into this right here, but I think that fact that paying streamings are the ones leading this pushing into a post-streaming world might be an interesting sign when it comes to how people look at the freeium version of certain platforms.
The Future of Social Media: Don’t Follow Me
Hadiyah Daché wrote a nice piece re-imagining Twitter as a place that centered around conversations rather than playing the game to get the most followers. Now, what does this have to do with streaming music, honestly nothing. I’ll just say that this line: “Followers is the worst thing to happen to social media.” Rings ever so true.