Social Media Sucks. It sucks your time, it sucks your energy, and it can suck all the fun out of being an independent musician if you’re not careful.
But social media also gives. It gives new friends, potential tour-mates, and access to a worldwide fanbase for your music. I’ve met best friends on Instagram, been hired for sessions via Twitter, and built an entire coaching business using only social media to reach clients. I also have days where the thought of Instagram makes me want to bury my phone in the garden.
Social media sucks AND gives because it isn’t inherently good or evil; it’s simply a tool, and it will be career-giving or life-sucking, depending on how you use it. The key to using social media as a musician is understanding how the platforms use us and then simply finding a way to use them back.
All social media platforms are for-profit businesses, and they make money by keeping our eyes on their feed as long as possible. It doesn’t matter to the algorithm how you feel when you’re scrolling, so long as you stick around, so it’ll show you what you’re likely to love AND hate, because either will hold your attention.
They monetise our most valuable commodity – our time – and often leave us feeling a peculiar hollow mix of emotional connection and crushing self-doubt. We repeatedly close the app only to find ourselves unconsciously opening it again four minutes later, like an alcoholic ordering their next drink while they’re still mid-swallow.
To use social media without losing your mind, you must work hard to create boundaries around your time, who you engage with, and how you let it make you feel.
So why not just walk away entirely? Because whether we like it or not, it’s clear that social media is necessary for building a music career. All industry experts agree that social media is now the best direct line of communication with fans and the easiest way to grow an audience as a new act. Publicists, managers, and bookers consider an active social media presence crucial when considering working with a band.
If you want to do it the old-school way, you can build an audience by picking up fans one at a time at gigs. But if you’re going to use social media to build a career, it’s time to get strategic.
The key to stopping social media suckage is to think of it like a tool and be very clear about your goal every time you use it. The goal can be anything you want, so long as you have one.
It might be learning a new skill like fingerstyle guitar, or staying informed about industry news. It might be networking with other bands in your local scene or reaching fans in a new territory you want to tour. It could be connecting with people to hire you as a session player or attracting new students.
My goals change often and include networking with potential employers, connecting with female musicians who could use my coaching support, and building interest ahead of a release or tour. The objective changes, but I always have one, and by using social media strategically, I reduce the emotional toll it has.
Once you’ve set your goal, be intentional about your time online. For example, if your goal is networking, choose five people to interact with and spend 10 minutes a day connecting with them. After those 10 minutes are up, get off the app before the zombie scrolling starts. Set a timer if it helps.
Having a goal doesn’t mean you are disingenuous in your interactions online, it just means you focus on people who align with something greater you’re trying to achieve. It allows you to get in and out quickly but engage in deeper, more meaningful conversations with a smaller group.
Ultimately, defining why you’re spending time on social media will help you focus your time and energy and stop you from being manipulated by the algorithm.
The final stage of using social media as a tool is to get the people you most connect with on it, to engage with you OFF it.
Your followers on social media are a rented audience, and you risk losing them one day if you don’t find a way to move the most engaged people onto an email or text list. Platforms come and go – RIP MySpace, Vine, Friendster, and maybe now Twitter – and sometimes people quit social media for personal reasons, even though they’re still interested in your music. Find ways to encourage your followers to join your email list regularly, so you’re not at the mercy of platform changes.
Another benefit of thinking of social media as just a tool in building a greater goal is that it takes the pressure off needing to be on all the platforms simultaneously. If your goal is networking, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it on Facebook or Tik Tok, as long as you’re connecting with people somewhere.
Social media platforms are designed to suck us in and keep us doom-scrolling, feeding the fire with enraging troll-filled comment threads.
If you keep using social media without a goal, that’s okay. But then don’t be shocked when you don’t build an audience, or when the friends who are more used to seeing your dog videos and vacation snaps aren’t filling up your notifications with likes and comments when you make a gig announcement.
When you use social media blindly, you’re just further lining the pockets of the Zucker-Musks. But by setting a clear goal and getting in and out quickly each day, you take your power back. Stop allowing it to use you, and start using it instead.
And then it starts to suck a lot less.
Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from NZ and is currently the musical director and bass player for Nashville Americana artist Brandy Clark and half of NZ-born duo, Tattletale Saints. She also writes Music Mindset on Substack – a weekly publication about the experience of being a woman in music and what it takes to realise the dream of a fulfilling and inspiring life in music.