Artists In Isolation: How Social Media Is Helping - And Hindering - A Suffering Industry
Updated: May 4, 2020
Just over 40 days ago, all bars, restaurants music venues were closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, and three days later a nationwide lockdown was enforced. Since then, the music industry has been turned on its head.
But that doesn’t mean musicians’ lives have been put on pause, although it’s unfortunate timing for many up-and-coming artists who were preparing for headlining tours and brand-new releases. Adamant on not letting these opportunities slip through their fingers, we found out how some are using every means necessary to keep that momentum up.
Take BBC Introducing newcomer Grace Rhodes for example. Now based in her hometown of Worcester as opposed to London, she’s been using Zoom to communicate with her producer, but also found community spirit elsewhere. Her creative friends and peers have come together to spur each other on during a time when many artists are feeling their least motivated. “We've been trying to use this time productively and see it as a moment to focus on writing and preparation for future work.” She said, “It's also a time to think and mood board fashion ideas, music video treatment plans and generally the direction of the sound.”. Electro artist and producer Jack Britten agrees, as he’s found creative inspiration from right under his nose. As a full-time musician, his day-to-day life hasn’t been largely affected as he still practically lives in his home studio in Yeovil, Somerset, and usually has a no-phone rule when working. Although, he’s found that his family’s change in situation has lead to some interesting collaborations. He explained “My sister and her boyfriend are quarantined far away from me but when they heard that I wanted new clap samples for my new track they didn’t hesitate to record themselves and send them to me.”.
With inspiration coming from the most obvious places, physical separation is causing us all to connect in a variety of ways; the most popular being live streams. With the cancellation/postponement countless gigs and festivals throughout the year, every artist from Gary Barlow to Charli XCX have taken to Facebook, Instagram and even Twitch to give fans a taste of what they’re missing out on.
Becky BB is a strong advocate for this as her whole career is centred around live performances. Now based in Costa Blanca, Spain, the vocalist is originally from South Yorkshire and has had to cancel all of her upcoming shows (in both Spain and the UK), and runs the risk of being fined for even leaving her home due to Spain’s extreme lockdown measures. She’s now part of the Imagine 2020 project, and has helped put together a charity single in aid of frontline workers at the Denia & Alicante hospitals. Also, she’s turned to Facebook to host a live show every week, trying to replicate the atmosphere of her gigs. Having a chat in between songs, she says it’s been positive in helping her international fanbase feel as close as possible while making her even more appreciative of live audiences. Although, she added she’s still been getting that in rehearsals by facing speakers out of the windows so the neighbours can hear and react in person!
Dream pop artist Conal Kelly is taking this to another extreme, as he’s started The 24hr Cover Project, which has lead to great exposure already. Reaching out to fans via social media, he’s been given cover requests which he records, mixes, produces and uploads to Soundcloud within 24 hours. This began just four weeks ago, and so far he’s uploaded eight covers as well has made his BBC radio breakthrough as a solo artist. BBC Radio Bristol selected his rendition of Amy Winehouse’s Valerie as their track of the week and got him on the show to discuss the project too.
Although artists like Kelly are using social media to their advantage during this time, Luc Garrett has more controversial opinions on the way it’s being arguable overused. The solo singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland states “I really do think social media has got very overwhelming with music and promotion lately. I understand why it’s happening, and I don’t blame anybody for what they’re doing either. […] When the lockdown first happened, I tried doing Instagram Live but I wasn’t getting any satisfaction or joy from it so I gave that up quite quickly. […] Artists have got caught up in social media so much that they're more so becoming content creators rather than an artist.”. Canadian-born country musician Joey Clarkson agrees that it’s getting overwhelming to use and that artists should “allow your audience to breathe” as they’re still finding the right balance in streaming and posting. In her case, the COVID-19 has impacted her music career in another way as she was due to have surgery on her wrist which has stopped her from playing at all. Since the pandemic began, this has been postponed until further notice but she’s been using Twitter to practise gratitude and make the often-negative platform a more positive space.
This oversaturation of social media has left many musicians feel the competition too, as metal band Sertraline commented that engagement on their organic and sponsored posts were declining. However, their mailing list to be their saving grace as they could contact fans directly and bypass the algorithm this way. Clarkson added that email marketing is the only tool that will stay consistent in a world of every-changing platforms, and Garrett summed it up perfectly: “It separates the followers from the fans". This could be something many who are feeling the strain of social media could turn to, especially while it’s not something younger bands/artists seem to consider anymore.
A great summary was made by RnB singer-songwriter Nicole Leaskk, who was in the middle of promoting her new single Tough Love and has suffered the loss of her weekly gigs which is affecting her financially. While there may be other musicians out there constantly posting and appear to be thriving with all this new-found spare time, as she puts it “Motivational levels differ each day. Some days you’re okay and some days you’re not and it’s being comfortable enough within yourself to know that that’s okay too”.