The New World for New Artists: Social Media or Die?

Share this article

    Twitter.  Facebook.  SoundCloud.  You Tube.   The list of social media platforms in which artists can interact with fans is growing quickly, as is its import.  The last thing many busy musicians want is to spend significant time away from their craft populating their pages on these platforms, however rewarding it may be to connect directly with followers.  Unfortunately, my recent experience as a music lawyer suggests that, absent evidence of a significant following on social media, it is nearly impossible to get record labels or publishers interested in your music.  

    It is now the industry standard to assess the viability of a new artist for a record or publishing deal in large part based on that artist's social media activity. The industry wants artists who already have generated their own buzz and a substantial following. The reason is simple:  Record labels, of course, are businesses, and given declining music sales they do not have the funds they once did to “build” an artist’s career slowly, to invest in a developmental period in which the label spends a fair sum to get the word out about the artist and help him or her find their sweet spot musically.   Labels and publishers are now very much risk averse and look only to bet on a sure thing, to “build” on an already established fan base.   That’s why so many independent labels -- particularly in the soul/R&B sphere – love to focus their signings on an artist who has been recently dropped by a major label, i.e., who has already built an identifiable audience. 

    With respect to new artists, it's a more difficult game. Both the major and independent labels (those very few even willing to take a chance on new artists), gauge future sales in large part on social media followers and You Tube plays.  This is a harsh reality, and in my view unfair, especially to artists without the time or inclination to work social media.   Many great artists have been and will be left out in the cold in this new era. 

    As an artist, you can rail against this new reality, or you can embrace it.  That decision is yours, of course.  But if you want to get your music exposed as widely as possible, and potentially to support yourself with your music, many in the industry believe (and I place myself among them) that label support is more critical now than ever before.  The ease with which virtually anyone can release music has created significant “noise” that overwhelms many hunting for new music, and it’s harder than ever to get your music noticed without the professional help that a label provides.   So please hear this message.  And please don’t shoot the messenger. 

    By Robb Patryk

    Robb Patryk is a partner with Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP in New York City who has represented Maysa Leak, Robin Gibb, and many other musicians.

    Video of the Month - Kinsman Dazz Band - "Wake Up"
    Song of the Month - Darnell Kendricks - "What a Wonderful Night"
    Listen Now! - The Fresh Soul Playlist