October 31, 2016:Is social media bad for musicians’ psychological health?

The always-on culture of social media and its increasing demands for musicians’ time may be bad for their psychological health, according to Cooking Vinyl owner Martin Goldschmidt.

“One of the big changes that has happened is that artists have to be incredibly engaged in social media – and this has been a massive [shift] for artists over the last 10 years,” he said, speaking on a The Future of the Music Industry panel at the BIME conference in Bilbao.

“They have to be on several social media platforms and I am just wondering if the next stage is if they are going to have to visually record part of the recording process. Not only will you be able to stream the new release, but you can also see it in VR.”

Goldschmidt was backed up by Gerhard Behles, CEO of Ableton, who was speaking on the same panel.

“An artist 30 years ago was very proficient in one facility or two; they might have been a fantastic writer and play an instrument very well,” said Behles. “Most of the people we deal with now have to be proficient at writing, performing, recording [and so on]. That is just going to expand. Now they have to be really good with their social channels. I wonder what kind of personality can survive that.”

Goldschmidt added: “In the 1980s, fan engagement was shagging groupies and scoring drugs from the front row of a gig. Now it’s horrendous what an artist has to do. The pressure that is put on an artist when they are 24/7 exposed to social media and the internet; that is massive psychologically and it causes massive psychological problems, actually. And it is going to get worse because of VR and the way that things are going.”

Moderator Scott Cohen, the founder and VP of international at The Orchard, said that the hype around disintermediation in the music industry a decade ago has fallen flat. The irony, as he sees it, is that there are more – not fewer – hoops that artists have to jump through to reach their audiences.

“10 years ago, if this panel was happening, the buzzword of the day would have been disintermediation – that we won’t need all these people in the industry, it will all collapse and it will be about artists going direct to fan,” said Cohen. “10 years on and there are not fewer people in the middle of the transaction – there are more people in it.”

While technology may be making things more arduous for artists, there was a sense that the industry has finally made peace with the technological disruption that caused it so many headaches from the turn of the millennium.

“We have had a very bumpy 15 years but I now think we are cool with technology,” said Alison Wenham, CEO of WIN. “We can embrace it and we can work with it. There is less friction.”

She did, however, say that the some in the music industry were, at this time of huge disruption, not merely Luddites – they were utterly clueless about how things worked and why they worked that way.

“I sat in a meeting with a guy from a very big record company who insisted that the [European] Commission ban the internet,” she revealed of how the industry was collectively trying to transition online in the early 2000s. “That was 15 years ago and that was the then-solution that was being proposed – seriously – by one of the senior figures in the music industry.”

Push to name and shame the individual in a question, she declined, but felt it illustrated just how far industry thinking about digital has progressed in the past decade and a half.

Wenham was not, however, sold on totally utopian thinking around tech here. “I think the access points are a worry because you can still manipulate consumer taste through access points,” she said. “That to me is the big five-year flag – is if the major companies try and manipulate what people get to listen to. Technology is now very much part of our everyday lives.”

Goldschmidt picked up on this issue of access points and suggested that the defection in the past year of key Radio 1 staff to Spotify and Apple Music/Beats 1 was not just a HR shift – it is also a structural and conceptual one.

“It’s now just like pitching to Radio 1 now when pitching to Spotify playlists,” he said of where the new centre of promotional gravity has moved to. “There is a similar thing happening in America with Spotify and Apple. It’s weird that it used to be algorithms and now human curation is becoming bigger and bigger. It has become like Animal Farm; it is just like pitching radio again.”

Eamonn Forde
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