Social media has undoubtedly made changes in our society. Applications like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter have changed the landscape in which we communicate and consume content. In addition to prompting users to connect and share through digital profiles, social media has fuelled significant changes to the arts and culture landscape – specifically in the realm of music A&R.
Let’s loop back to 2011, when Rebecca Black released her infamous song “Friday”. The lyrics and production behind the song were borderline comical – but the single went viral. Despite receiving widespread negative backlash for the song, Black landed a spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and signed to manager Debra Baum's DB Entertainment. Black’s 15-minutes of fame proved the power of social media and its ability to snowball the success of online personalities by launching content into the “viral” stratosphere.
The number of personalities securing record deals in response to viral content seems to have increased with the rise of social media… pulling the good, bad and the ugly onto our Apple Music and Spotify discovery pages. Most notably is Danielle Bregoli, known under the rap alias Bhad Bhabie. Bregoli first appeared on our social feeds for her “catch me outside” tantrum on Dr. Phil, which quickly gained massive view counts and turned the teen into a living meme.
If Bregoli’s original television debacle wasn’t enough to make us stare wide-eyed at our screens, her 2017 record deal signing to Atlantic Records certainly was. The record label reportedly signed her claiming Bregoli was “a real star with undeniable talent.” Anyone else hear crickets? The signing coincided with the release of Bhad Bhabie’s first single, “These Heaux”, which gained over 2-million YouTube views in two weeks.
Whatever your reservations about Bhad Bhabie’s talent – or lack thereof – her success poses an interesting question for where we’re at in the world of A&R. Has social media changed the landscape of sourcing talent? Is music in our society now valued for its ability to garner likes and shares, rather than its sound and musicianship?
It can also be argued that social media has provided many talented artists with a platform to be discovered and to share their music with fans. For example, singer-songwriter Madison Beer got her big break after Justin Bieber shared a video of Beer singing Etta James’ ‘At Last’ on Twitter. The Weeknd, Alessia Cara and Shawn Mendes have all been credited with gaining their rise to fame through viral YouTube and Vine videos. These artists were able to leverage social media to share their music and build fanbases, which arguably helped sustain their success once they transitioned into the mainstream. Not to mention, there are thousands of talented underground artists that use platforms like Instagram or Soundcloud to distribute their work. The question now becomes, how do A&R teams separate the music that is trending because of its quality from the music that is viral because it presents a shock-factor?
Social media has undoubtedly affected the music industry. It’s affected how we are exposed to new music, how we consume new music and how new music is discovered by music label A&R reps. Now it's time to determine how we differentiate the good from the bad and the ugly.