In the late 1980s, access to our favorite soul and R&B performers was (by today’s standards) extraordinarily limited. We fell in love with them though their music, and our connection was intensified when we were able to watch them perform on television shows or during a live performance. It was through those spectrums that we got a taste for who the artists were as people. On some levels, we developed an understanding of their personalities; and when there was information we didn’t know, our imaginations filled in the gaps. For all intents and purposes, the artists lived in a world that was far from ours. They were too far to reach, but just close enough to crave.
The distance between the fans and artists absolutely diminished with the change in media coverage and increase in social media platforms. But did this change come at a cost, or does this shift work in favor of both the fans and musicians?
If you ask most people how they learned about a new song, the newest tour announcement, or even which singer is getting married, they will probably name a social media platform. This should come as no surprise. In fact, both fans and artists rely heavily on this method of communication to engage in dialog about new projects. Within minutes, a musician can inform millions of people about the release of a new song or album, and within weeks (or sometimes less) that album can go platinum. This level of power is undeniable. In fact, I would argue that this increase in the use of social media has the power to connect a talented artist to a fan base they would have never reached in the ‘80s. Promoting your music to an audience of millions without having to pay a third party executive is a power many R&B singers or rappers especially would have benefited from back in the day.
Social media exposure is constant and broad. Not only can a fan learn about a new project, they can learn who an artist is dating or fighting with, or what they ate for breakfast. And in some cases, a fan can communicate with them directly on social media. Where artists were once “a world away,” now they are as close as 140 characters.
In addition to an increase in exposure to a broad fan base, the rise in social media platforms also shifts the way mainstream media covers artists. Before a topic becomes the discussion on talk shows and in magazines, chances are it probably started on social media. In fact, some popular magazines hire staff to report on trending topics on Twitter. As a result, stories about the music industry are reported faster than ever before, and music reviews are published by multiple outlets the same week an album is released. It’s almost like a machine that keeps growing. The faster news is communicated on social media, the faster main stream outlets report it.
Fans have greater access to their favorite artists than ever before, but is it possible for fans to get turned off from the constant exposure? Or just as bad, is constant exposure producing a “right now” type of demand on the music industry, which could taint the quality of music being produced? Tweet us @SoulTrain using the hashtag #socialmediamusic, or leave a comment.
Shanita Hubbard is a mom, writer and social justice activist. Follow her on Twitter.