The Musician’s Latest Hamster Wheel (Is This What We Signed Up For?)
If the recent drama between Halsey and Capitol Records hints at anything, it’s that artists are sick of certain content and social media expectations.
Here’s the gossip in a nutshell:
Halsey claimed that Capitol wouldn’t release a new track until the artist generated sufficient engagement on TikTok.
♬ original sound – Halsey
From the artist’s side of the story, the label was going to sit on a finished recording until Halsey met certain industry expectations (and the metrics that go with them):
Basically I have a song that I love
that I wanna release ASAP
but my record label won’t let me.
I’ve been in this industry for eight years
and I’ve sold over 165 million records
and my record company is saying I can’t release [the song]
unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.
Everything is marketing
and they are doing this to every artist these days.
I just want to release music, man and I deserve better [to be honest]. I’m tired.
Plenty of people have surmised that this video was ITSELF the “fake” viral moment the label had asked for. But since Halsey has denied it was calculated marketing, let’s assume the TikTok was an honest moment of frustration.
♬ original sound – Halsey
The video complaint went viral, not only because fans love a vulnerable gripe, but because many musicians felt Halsey’s pain. A host of other label acts, including FKA Twigs and Florence Welch, chimed in with similar sentiments. Then a million indie artists joined the chorus too.
And that collective anger is unsurprising; Famous artists already HAVE customers waiting for the product, so c’mon label, put the music out already! As for unknown artists, if a hugely popular act with a finished song and a large audience can’t (or won’t) deliver on TikTok, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Besides, we didn’t pick up an instrument or start making beats because we wanted to be “content creators,” videographers, marketers, influencers, or whatever else we are expected to be in 2022.
We want to make music.
But that’s just one side of the story.
At the same time, labels who need to see a return on their investment are hyper-focused on the tactics and platforms that drive the most success. Labels expect artists to be “team players,” same as they did back in the days of MTV, American Bandstand, and earlier.
Who keeps the lion’s share of earnings is another topic; what’s relevant here is that if a new release is going to reach people, it makes sense to go where people like to be reached, right? It’s the music “BUSINESS,” after all.
You use the buzziest bullhorn available. Today that means TikTok.
After a few weeks of public back and forth (and growing social metrics), the label announced it would release Halsey’s single.
Problem solved, maybe.
🔮 literally all I care is that you get to hear it now, thank u bye luv u
♬ So Good – Halsey
Of course CD Baby favors artists being empowered to make their own creative and business choices. And there are always exceptions to modern music-biz best-practices. Even more so when it comes to niche markets. If you don’t want to follow the latest trend, that’s fine.
But we should also accept reality: Musicians can’t disappear anymore. Sure, you COULD go dormant on social or wait a couple years between singles on Spotify. But you’ll spend a lot of time or money regaining lost attention.
As for artists feeling like they’re above a certain kind of platform or format, it’s worth a reminder: The most successful acts have always exploited the newest forms of mass engagement — from print and radio, to Ed Sullivan and The Old Grey Whistle Test, to MTV and MuchMusic, to MySpace and YouTube, to TikTok and Reels.
If artists like Olivia Rodrigo can crank out films and TV shows while simultaneously touring the world, releasing a bunch of new music, and staying active online,… you can make a TikTok once in a while.
#duet with @sevianfrang #ColorCustomizer #DontSweatIt
♬ She Make It Clap – Soulja Boy
It’s about posting smarter, not posting harder.
The world has moved online and it’s never going back. Social is the way you reach and keep an audience.
That being said, just because social can work for artists (and labels) doesn’t mean artists need to work for the platforms.
After 15 years of expert advice from social experts:
“feed the beast”
“be an early adopter”
… we’ve ended up in a place where much of our unpaid social efforts keep audience attention on-platform so it can be monetized — mostly for the platforms, sometimes for us — through advertising.
Time to pause and reassess? Yes, it’s possible to get off the constant hamster wheel of content creation while still using social content and tools strategically.
In this episode of the DIY Musician Podcast, we talk about exactly that:
Are you sick of social?
We want to hear from you: Are you doing things on social that get tangible results? If so, what are you doing on social to move your music forward?
Or has the social grind become a time suck and soul crusher?
Holler in the comments!