The Instagram Generation
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Is It Music’s Most Effective Marketing Tool?
IF you think about some of the most iconic…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Instagram images from the past few years; chances are a fair few of them will feature musicians! Beyoncé’s baby bump, posted back in February 2017, was a huge story and it was not tied to any marketing campaign. The photo was not shared as part of a promotion and few were expecting it: she was caught in a moment, albeit quite elaborate, and shared it with her 100 million-plus army. Look at the results of the top-three most-viewed Instagram images of last year and you can see how musicians feature:
“The result is perhaps unsurprising, given that the photo broke the site’s all-time ‘most liked’ record back in February, but the total number of likes has now jumped from 7.3 million to 11.1 million.
Elsewhere in the top 3, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo‘s photo announcing the birth of his twins has garnered 11 million likes since it was posted earlier this month, while Selena Gomez‘s hospital bed photo, which she used to reveal she had undergone a kidney transplant, comes in third with 10.3 million likes”.
The results show there is a lot of currency and draw when it comes to artists. Whilst huge artists like Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga use it to share big news and open up to their fans; in music, it is part of the marketing cycle. I am not on Instagram myself but have been advised to do so: it is a way of updating followers and presenting pictorial and video snippets of my work.
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I am currently on Twitter and Facebook but wonder whether people would follow any Instagram posts. I am not one for taking selfies – few people want to see my face! – but there is stock in posting my work on the site and taking a more image-driven and different approach. There are two sides to Instagram when it comes to modern artists. There is that aspect that ties in with Facebook/Twitter teasers and YouTube videos. They will post snippets of audio or tease photos to their fans; it is a way of connecting with millions all at once and, in a lot of cases, a more direct and accessible way of bringing people into their lives. It seems hardly a moment goes by without another Instagram shot of a slice of food or a drink; some random location or a selfie. It has become a monster that, for better or worse, is integral to our daily lives.
It seems the act of making music involves a lot of time thinking about your Instagram profile. Every single release comes with Instagram snippets, photos and videos. Whereas Facebook and YouTube can be a lot more difficult to push to the masses – it is easier and quicker getting all the information in one spot – Instagram provides that easy and community-led option where we can get all our news and snippets. Look at Beyoncé’s Instagram and it is a lot more full and frank than her Twitter account (it has only a few posts; one suspects that will change soon!). It is weird to think many artists spend more time on Instagram more than they do on all the other social media channels combined. When Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant took place; she did not think to call the news or have a big press conference – neither was it an event she could keep secret from her fans. She posted that photos to her fanbase and ensured people all around the world were informed and their minds at rest – the love and feedback she got was hugely impassioned and supportive. The personal and open nature of Instagram means big stars can share news about their health, life-changing events and the most mundane aspects of their days.
I love how Instagram has these two sides: the go-to portal for artists to share every iota of their day and the place where they can reveal big news and musical plans without circus and having the media/labels involved. I want to bring in an article, written last year, that looks at the way Instagram is used and how one can compartmentalise its uses:
“Across the board, Instagram is huge for music, serving as a uniquely addictive and organic conduit between artists and fans. Despite the social network’s roots as a photo app, four of its five most-followed accounts belong to music stars (Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift join Beyoncé in the top five). And of Instagram’s 800 million users worldwide, about 350 million follow 10 or more verified musicians…”
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“Not surprisingly, Instagram’s users are more music-oriented than the general population. They spend 30% more time listening to music each week and are twice as likely to pay for a streaming service, according to a Nielsen study commissioned by Instagram last year.
The app isn’t just a digital playground for Grammy winners and Billboard chart toppers, either. Artists of all stripes, from pop superstars to DIY indie bands and bedroom songwriters gravitate to Instagram to promote their work, document their day, seek inspiration, and interact with others. In fact, it’s rare to find an active band, singer, or other musical artist who doesn’t have an Instagram account.
"This music-focused use case may not have been what Instagram originally set out to do; it actually appears to be accidental. But the Facebook-owned company is now embracing its role in artists’ lives and working closely with the music industry to make the most of this unexpected relationship..."
“For artists, this is a real creative space where they can reach a community super effectively by expressing their visual voice in the most raw possible way,” says Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood, Instagram’s head of music partnerships. “They don’t need to rely on all the old-school forms of communication like radio advertisements. When they want to announce that they’re going on a world tour and tickets are available, a lot of them announce it first on Instagram”.
The artist can find this loving – not always – and inspiring place where they can share photos and news without having to worry about security breaches, hackers or trolling. There have been some cases of celebrities using Instagram to cause a bit of a stir – including Kim Kardashian getting naked or body-shaming – but the fact some of the most-popular people on Instagram are artists means it has a big role in the industry. To be fair, the big names are U.S. Pop artists: Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift are two immensely powerful female artists who have created a brand on Instagram.
IN THIS PHOTO: Adele (photographed in 2015)/PHOTO CREDIT: Alasdair McLellan
I wonder how much the artist gets involved with their promotion – whether the label and managers control their content. Consider artists like Taylor Swift and Adele, let's say and the posts they put out on Instagram. When a new single/album comes out, they have to ensure they drip-feed news and teasers; little photos of album covers or candid snaps – keeping the fans guessing, invested and hooked. I wonder, too, whether they have a lot of freedom when it comes to non-music-related photos/posts – them at home or on the move; relationship statuses and selfies of them relaxed. I guess there is a lot of monitoring to ensure nothing too risqué, controversial or revealing is put onto their account. People like Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood are assisting modern artists by ensuring they make the most of Instagram. Advice will include ways to utilise apps and best sell their tours and merchandise. She advises stars how to use the site to get the most out of their tours and new music; get ahead of the competition and timing: dropping posts at specific times and ensuring every move and post is well-timed and dropped to maximise impact and exposure. This sounds very rigid and business-minded but, to be fair, it is a good way for artists to promote themselves and ensure what they are posting, largely, has relevance and helps promote their music.
These teams and hired guns will listen to the music/new release and come up with ways to put a new spin and angle on it. They will devise strategies and connect with artists to ensure they can get the most from their photo and video output. Doing regular little videos ensures fans are informed and they do not lose focus; they are kept abreast of all the latest happenings and feel more involved with an artist – almost like talking with a friend and following their lives. These teams, admittedly, give reign to artists and allow them to collaborate. Some of the ideas (from the artists) are not great so it can be hit-and-miss when it comes to a fifty-fifty-split. Most of the big artists like to maintain their own Instagram accounts and prefer them not to get into the hands of labels. Instagram is used a lot when it comes to festivals and gigs.
Artists will post constant updates of their sets and experiences of gigs: so many musicians, in their own words, spend most of their lives on Instagram. It seems to hold more allure and promise compared to platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Of course; Instagram is Facebooks baby and most artists post Instagram updates from their social media accounts. There is that integration but, when it comes to real-time updates and the audio-visual posts; most views and comments come from Instagram. I am a recent convert and feel more connected with an artist by looking at Instagram. A lot of artists tend not to get too personally involved with their Facebook accounts – labels and management might – and Twitter tends to be word-based and is not as interactive.
There are features like Instagram Live which, like Facebook Live, allows artists to post videos of them at home or performing; they can shoot videos from their car or at promotional events:
“Since the launch of Instagram Live, fans have tuned in to live streams from superstars in scenarios that range from formal and promotional to lounging-at-home casual. Nicki Minaj used Live to tease her video for “Regret In Your Tears” in May, while more than 200,000 people tuned into Kendrick Lamar’s pop-up album signing in Los Angeles in April. Even when they don’t have something to promote, artists like Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber are known “go live” in more intimate, off-the-cuff moments–like this video of Chance the Rapper riding around Chicago looking for a RedEye newsstand after fellow Chicago rapper Noname landed on the cover. Or Rihanna watching her “Bates Motel” debut on TV. Seemingly unfiltered moments like these offer fans something MTV and VH1 never could: a sense of what it might be like to hang out with the artists whose music they love, and even communicate with them through live comments (which the stars often read aloud during the livestream)”.
It seems there are so many facets coming in and Instagram, as it gets wealthier and bigger, is providing greater versatility to its users. This extends to non-musical users who can do more with their posts. It seems musicians are setting an example and showing just what can be done on Instagram. Whether it is video-sharing or photography; hour-by-hour updates or utilising the latest apps; it is drawing in new users who want to follow their favourite artists.
Whilst it is hard to quantify the monetary value artists’ posts have and whether they add to album sales; it is clear the ‘Instagram’ campaign and tool is overtaking the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Acts like DJ Khalid use it more and feel its reach it broader and more varied. Consider the fact a photo of Beyoncé or Taylor Swift can garner millions of views/likes – that translates to more streams and greater investment in their music. It is hard to compartmentalise and separate the musical/monetary impact and the personal aspect of Instagram. Whilst that might be frustrating for marketing men and the labels; new artists are using it more to promote their work. At the start; Instagram was reserved for the mainstream stars and it was a slow revelation. As more became aware of its scope and multi-faceted potential; it became this bigger thing that has grown more tentacles and introduced new apps/technology. Before long; fresh and unsigned acts were using Instagram in the same way: promoting their latest work and posting snaps of them at gigs/on the road. The much-quoted article I introduced near the start (and have peppered throughout) talks about the benefits, limited as they are, of Instagram for newer acts:
“Even if they’re not as obsessively active on Instagram as some—posting everything from previews of new songs and boredom-killing moments from the tour van to funny memes—musicians often benefit from the organic, FOMO-inspiring buzz created when fans post clips from their shows. Even for users unfamiliar with an up-and-coming band or artist, a flurry of Instagram posts from their friends can be enough to create a sense that the artist is worth checking out”.
With all the brilliance and vastness of Instagram’s galaxy come the downsides. Various artists have deleted or deactivated their social media accounts and one has to be aware of the consequences and results of posting certain things. I hear of members of the public in various countries who face imprisonment or worse for posting photos. Those nations with strict laws around nudity and religious morals monitor the site and harshly punish those they feel are taking liberties. Musicians have a less harsh time but there is still the risk of trolling. I maintain there is less strife and vitriol than you’d get on Twitter or Facebook; if they post various snaps and videos then they will get the expected haters and trolls that will have something to say. Whether that is a semi-nude photo or something minor – they are never immune from the downsides. Facebook are making changes regards data-sharing and protecting its users. I feel there needs to be greater protection for artists who share statuses and images to Instagram. Most have a fairly easy ride but the bigger you are, naturally, the more you are going to face hostility and trolling. Artists like Lady Gaga have expressed their reluctance when it comes to the amount of time they spend on Instagram (and social media). Whilst some might post about mental-health and the bad sides of social media; others feel it necessary to document every movement and thought. You get caught in a web where you feel obliged to notify fans of each motion – this raises anxiety and means, every time you tap to share a post, you are opening the floodgates to the anonymous haters.
I maintain there are bad aspects of Instagram and we need to urge bigger stars to spend less of their time on it – too much use increases depression and can lead to anxiety. Who knows the pressure big acts face where they feel Instagram is an oxygen source and competition – monitoring how well their rivals are doing and what they are missing out on if they ‘neglect’ their fans. I guess there is always going to be that risk of using something where, at the click of a button, you can share life-changing news or drop an album announcement. It is always going to be a case of judgement call and risk-assessment when any artist, big or small, shares something on Instagram. If a well-timed post or statement can create a buzz and get positive press; putting something ill-timed and ill-judged can backfire and have a devestating effect.
Those posts goes to masses (millions, sometimes) and it goes out there; there will be positive comments and those less impressed. Artists need to be conscious how much of themselves they are sharing - personal information and their own flesh – and they need some downtime away from it. When it does work well, and they have teams behind them, it can be a hugely effective tool; one that is more potent and trending then YouTube and Twitter. The site is used by everyone from beauty bloggers to authors but, in entertainment terms; Instagram is becoming more about musicians and that side of the culture map – whether it is reacting to a Popstar’s latest snap or discovering when the latest Beyoncé/James Blake album is coming out. As Facebook faces struggles and Twitter’s validity/flexibility continues to come into debating circles; it seems the market share and importance of Instagram…
CONTINUE to grow and grow.