Social Media, the Music Industry + Longevity of Careers

Justine Long

Is being a musician every influencer’s calling? We saw it with Grammy award-winning musician Shawn Mendes, and are seeing it now with popular TikTokers Addison Rae and Dixie D’Amelio. Why do social media moguls look to establish success in new industries, and how do their audiences typically respond?

In October of 2019, The Boston Paradise Rock Club sold out for the weekend. I was there with over 700 fans, standing in the crisp city air, making friends with strangers over music. That concert was one of my favorite memories. It was an unforgettable atmosphere that I got to experience with my best friends. Most would guess I was seeing an upcoming artist or a well-known singer with a few hit singles, but I paid for tickets to see Scotty Sire, a popular “YouTuber.” Even though YouTube is his main platform, he branched out into music around 2017 and now has two albums with millions of streams. It felt weird to show videos from the performance with friends or post them on Instagram. Was it a “real” concert, or was I there to see someone who was a mere social media star?

With today’s music, unconventional ways to attain fame are more normal than ever before. Gen-Z is growing up with artists that have a completely non-traditional way of sharing their music and connecting with audiences. The same creators who reign over the pop music charts were discovered on social media and have just as many followers—and sometimes, millions more—as long-standing musicians. It’s fascinating to look at the progression of their careers and how seamlessly they transitioned into mainstream music and other entertainment areas from the Internet.  

Growing up, musicians were musicians, and actors were actors. Celebrities having Twitter or Instagram was almost funny, because no one in the early 2000s was jumping industries. Music had to be shared more traditionally before apps like Vine, Youtube, TikTok, etc. As time passed, a new generation found ways to make connections with followers online. The threshold was broken as soon as singers like Justin Bieber and Charlie Puth gained record deals and worldwide fame after posting YouTube videos of them singing covers. This was a new concept to grasp for many. Having kids who were just singing in their bedrooms one day and then playing on the radio the next was wild. This could not be more true for Shawn Mendes, one of the biggest male artists in the world, who began his journey on Vine in 2014.

Vine made its debut in 2012. The platform allowed users to create six-second videos that could be shared with anyone. Mendes began to gain a following after posting covers of his favorite songs from artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele. The videos were filmed in Pickering, Canada, sitting on his bed in his childhood home. Ironically, the singer learned how to play both guitar and piano from YouTube and then began posting himself for thousands to see. By October of 2013, he had 200,000 followers and millions of “loops” on his videos. With just the click of a button, manager Andrew Getler discovered Mendes and immediately flew him out to California to record “Life of the Party,” which was his first single. Flash forward eight years later, Mendes has 15 billion streams globally, three number one albums, and has sold out Madison Square Garden and London’s O2 Arena. He is the perfect example of a modern pop star where the new music business meets the old.

Being an avid music fan over the years and following pop culture, I have noticed one distinct thing. There are influencers who gain a following because of their music, and  then there are others who dive into music to access a new revenue stream from a pre-existing follower base. Vine skyrocketed other influencers such as Cameron Dallas, Jack & Jack, and Gabbie Hanna, but in a different sense than Mendes. All of these names were huge Vine stars who specialized in comedy or just making videos with friends. As the audience got bigger, they transitioned into making music in an attempt to gain the same success as people around them. Dallas, who was 16 years old at the time, had 8.1 million followers on Vine that soon shifted to Instagram. He released some music in 2018 and just recently an album in 2020. In cases like this, listeners are usually part of a cult following from Vine. Just from his original followers, he is racking up thousands of streams. Jack & Jack, a musical duo from Nebraska (Jack Gilinsky and Jack Johnson), had a similar experience. They dominated Vine, released an EP back in 2014, and are now producing music and still singing in 2021. Also known as “The Gabbie Show,” Gabbie Hanna came out with more pop/rock music these past few years after her major success on Vine, then Youtube. All of these social media influencers took the opportunity and ran with it, but a lot of their work is not reciprocated by people outside the community.

This line is being explored more now that TikTok has dominated with artists like Dixie D’Amelio and Addison Rae. Like users from Vine, this new generation is taking their fame and using it to their advantage. D’Amelio released two songs, “Be Happy” and “One Whole Day,” in the past year that combined over 100 million streams globally. Rae made her TV debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to sing her new hit single “Obsessed,” which has 20 million views on YouTube. The two teens are clearly successful but also have been through their fair share of criticism. Audiences believe they have bought their followers or do not deserve the recognition they are receiving.

Once creators have a solid following on one app, they want to prove themselves outside of that in order to avoid reliance on one app. They often attempt to translate their talents into either music or acting, not just in 15 to 60-second videos. A good amount of influencers seek to move into other projects besides posting or making videos. These projects include music, television, film, podcasts, and even Broadway. Since they have already gained a fan base, it is easy for influencers to transfer their audience. Although some find this disrespectful to artists that work their whole lives for opportunities, no one can deny these influencers aid in shaping pop culture and trends. Younger kids feel they can relate more and build up a kind of trust with someone they admire on social media. Either way, for their careers as a whole, social media creators are making smart decisions and gaining publicity that will eventually blend them into global icons.

Justine Long
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