It’s a tired cliche, but it’s true: social media has changed our lives for better and for worse. Everything from politics to dating is impacted by a set of ones and zeros. New technologies also offer the opportunity to connect with virtually anyone at the click of a button, giving people unprecedented access to those who they love and hate. Whether it’s Wondagurl producing for Drake after sending an Instagram DM or fans swarming Rihanna’s social media asking for new music, the proximity at which fans and artists now coexist on the Internet has changed how music is listened to, promoted, created, and perceived. What does this mean for the music itself and the artists who make it?
Before the explosion of social media, criticism was primarily reserved for music magazines, fanzines or blogs, and forums after a song or album’s release. Without the public pressure, in part due to limited accessibility, the way to learn the latest news of an album or song being released was by signing up for a fan club, watching television, or listening to the radio. Label executives and the artists themselves hoped that the fans would enjoy the promotional material enough to invest in an album. Another element of a musician’s litmus test was playing unreleased songs at a tour date, hopefully to be preserved in a bootleg recording that was then circulated widely between passing hands and file sharing. Then, social media and music sharing platforms changed everything.
The accessibility and ease of uploading music onto MySpace or Soundcloud to share with fans was revolutionary. Social media sites like Instagram and Twitter with time restraints on videos became new avenues for music promotion. Shorter versions of both finished and unfinished projects could be uploaded directly from a cell phone for thousands to see and comment on in seconds. Thus, the promotional middleman was cut out. Instead of waiting until after a release for public feedback, artists are now able to field opinions on new material instantly through snippets.
These 30 seconds or less clips take on lives of their own, providing open ended possibilities to what the future could sound like. Screen recording capabilities and video downloading extensions preserve these pieces of music that even the most persistent of managers cannot scrub off the Internet. This exchange of music for feedback, done entirely for free, can determine album placement or even create entire careers. Just take a look at TikTok and its predecessor musical.ly, both of which served as launchpads for the stardom of DaBaby, Jack Harlow, and Lil Nas X with short clips of songs that are repurposed for memes and choreography. However, the expectations set by these clips can lead to disappointment.
Gothboiclique founding member fish narc says, “I feel like I owe [the fans] the song they want exactly.” The Internet has not only influenced how we listen to music through streaming services, but also what that final product sounds like, if it ever even comes out. Over time, snippets and leaks have unintentionally become a stand-in for full songs, satiating hungry fans for months to years. Isaiah Rashad, one of rap’s more elusive figures, is particularly known for releasing snippets without follow up. His fan subreddit has collected over one hundred unreleased snippets and leaks complete with downloads, producer credits, and quality level. Despite Rashad’s last project being released in 2016, the community surrounding the preservation of this material has held over hungry fans for the past four years. “There’s the main releases and the archive,” fishnarc explains. “People identify strongly with being archival […] because it gives another identity within an identity.”
In many ways, it’s a smart marketing decision, whether intentional or not. Creating the idea of exclusivity and mystery to be built by fans through online communities is what can separate Isaiah Rashad or underground favorites Death Grips from fading into obscurity, by breaking from the expectation for new material on a regular schedule. However, the grandiose expectations set up by snippets and leaks can create an overwhelming loop of feedback and anticipation, which can morph into entitlement.
It has become easier than ever to create an account in seconds and immerse oneself in a community or conversation instantly. A quick glance at PC Music darling Charli XCX’s recent post of a video of her dancing has comments asking for new music announcements, album repress requests, and deluxe versions of her recent album How I’m Feeling Now, released in May. Asking for new music from your favorite artists seems innocent enough, but it becomes overwhelming when artists just want fans to enjoy something they may have spent months or years working on.
Chattanooga-based rapper bbymutha released her highly anticipated Muthaland in August exclusively on Bandcamp, both for free streaming or a paid download. After a fan tweeted about releasing the album on larger streaming platforms, the rapper, real name Brittnee Moore, replied:
A few weeks prior, in response to fans complaining over the twenty dollar price tag for her download, she said, “anybody tryna make me feel bad for charging is just part of the reason why i quit. a bitch dont be feeling valued by the same n****s who demand access to my shit.” Moore is just one of many musicians pushing back against the entitlement bred by social media, and she is one of a few who have quit music because of it.