There is a revolt brewing among artists over the pressures they feel they are under to service an ever-growing roster of social-media platforms. It was summarised neatly (and bluntly) in a series of tweets yesterday by Rebecca Lucy Taylor, aka Self Esteem, one of the breakthrough artists of the past year or two.
“Social media for me has long been another arm of my overall art practice. it’s another form to play with alongside music and visuals to further my point/put meat on the creative skeleton,” wrote Taylor, before getting to the heart of the problems that she sees.
“Demanding more of it, giving briefs (viral trends), laying the blame on the artist for not doing enough or following said briefs to reach major mass audiences (likes and follows) erodes the very fibre of what the artist set out to do with their work in the first place.”
“The other thing at play here in the great tiktok debate is that this continued ACCESS to you, is not for everyone. it can have real psychological push back when you base the worth and success of your WORK on you having given enough of yourself,” she continued.
“Labels are businesses and the market is such because of society and all that shite. They aren’t to be blamed- having a tiktok do well really is great for streaming numbers etc. but the industry as a whole needs to understand the toll it is taking on artists and help to think of solutions to support that isn’t asking for a good post for the #ratemyshit trend.”
(Public service announcement: don’t browse that hashtag if you’re eating your breakfast right now.)
Taylor’s comments follow the complaint this weekend by another artist, Halsey, who complained that their label was holding back their latest track until they (in her words) “fake a viral moment on TikTok… Everything is marketing, and they do this to basically every artist these days.”
Halsey’s label, Astralwerks-Capitol, has since issued a statement to Variety that somewhat sidesteps the claim. “Our belief in Halsey as a singular and important artist is total and unwavering. We can’t wait for the world to hear their brilliant new music.”
It’s an individual dispute that sheds a light on the bigger challenges around the music industry, social media, and the demands being placed on artists. It’s something that was explored at the NY:LON Connect conference in January, as summarised by Empire’s Matthew Maysonet.
“We’re asking artists to do a lot. They’re not just recording and touring. Now they’re expected to understand crypto and NFTs, and expected to be using TikTok on a regular basis, and be on their Twitter feed, and on Instagram, and creating content and engaging with fans,” he said then.
“It’s a huge task! They’re holding multiple jobs in addition to creating art, and I think a lot of times, people forget that music is art, and it takes a certain mindset and level of focus to create that itself, let alone commercialise and monetise it. We do risk burnout for some artists who are using all these socials, including having to worry about the algorithms on different DSPs.”
As more artists weigh in to the debate this week on the back of Halsey and Self Esteem’s decisions to speak out, there is more talking that needs to be done within the music industry: not just about the benefits social media can bring for music and musicians, but about the load being placed upon artists as a result, and how that can be addressed.