The past decade has marked monumental shifts within the creative sector. The UK Department for Culture, Media, and Sport suffered cuts to the tune of £1bn in November 2015, and the global music industry has seen economic downturns and the introduction of music streaming platforms that caused revenue to decrease steadily from $25.1bn in 2002 to $15bn in 2015.
Regardless, the industry has touted its fierce adaptability through major-label acquisitions and through the resilience of live music ticket sales to the hardship, with Billboard Boxscore citing that its most popular 25 concerts in 2015 grossed at almost $360million, up from its top 100 concerts in 2001 collectively raising $350million. The capacity of the industry to adapt to environmental changes has become tangential to a world that has an exponentially increasing space for social media - with its effect on how we digest culture becoming more and more ingrained in the human experience.
We are constantly surrounded by a bubble of information that we want to see. Think of focused news articles, art accounts on Instagram, public figures on twitter, and our capacity to indulge in art and information. All of these increase every day. So why is it that artists are finding it harder to break into this world?
Social media and marketing potential
The marginalisation of new art outside of social media is becoming more and more apparent. Nobody craves the Soundcloud links of strangers in the street, and the average person tends not to spend their free time scouring their city for the next Jack Sachs. The integration of the internet and social media in our hunt for culture is now more of a necessity than an aid.
That is not to say that this is a bad thing. I, along with many others, would whole-heartedly agree that the internet has introduced me to art, music, and cultures that otherwise would have never have had an impact on my life. It allows for connection between artists and lets the online global community for culture-lovers thrive, and yet we are seeing the difference between online and ‘real’ success diminish. For sectors such as fashion design, graphic design, fashion promotion, and music, there is increased necessity for an online presence.
The integration of the internet and social media in our hunt for culture is now more of a necessity than an aid.
From a corporate point of view, if an individual is able to express an ability to gain an audience and hold their attention through what they produce then they are a valuable asset in terms of marketing and public relations. While there may be no metric to measure the talent of an artist, a designer with 20k Instagram followers and a loyal audience for his artwork has a lot more corporate potential than one with 20, regardless of how good their work is. It might be said that the artist with 20k has a natural ability that far outweighs that of the artist with 20, and that the audience they have acquired over their time producing work has a direct correlation with their talent and should therefore be the metric used to analyse their success. Sadly, a closer look at the workings of social media dispels that believe fairly quickly.
Inequality in a world of networks
The importance of an online following has been important for years, but it is only recently that it has started to become a detriment to new, emerging artists. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have not been sleeping on the idea of the corporate potential of an artist with a following. When you create a Facebook page for your business (be it yourself as a musician, artist or otherwise), you can attract fans. This can happen organically - through people sharing your page, which attracts your friends to like it, which attracts their friends, and so on. This is applicable to most major social networks - a retweet on Twitter, a regram on Instagram.
A belief in this domino effect as a way to spark ‘internet success’ is common, yet it is much less effective than many think. In reality, the domino effect of social media only works well if those who are sharing the page already have a giant following of their own. For people with less than 5000 followers on any of the major social networks, their average (organic) follower interaction averages between 0-10 per cent of their total audience pool. In 2016, BrandWatch reported that the average amount of Twitter followers is 208; The average amount of Instagram followers is 150; and most people have between 200 and 400 Facebook friends.
Social media giants charge artists for advertising in the same way they charge businesses. Even if an artist manages to capitalise on the domino effect and gain an audience, Facebook will not allow posts to reach all of the audience that have liked the page without a fee. For a campaign to reach 30,000 people, artists are looking at a fee of around £50. While it wouldn’t break the bank for everybody, it has to be remembered that out of those 30,000 people who will see their post on their timeline, less than 10 per cent will engage with it. Even less will go on to like the page, and even less than that will share the post on your behalf. This ‘paid’ reach is extremely restrictive in the cultivation of emerging talent and can be felt throughout all of the big social media sites.
A healthy alternative
There is increasing demand for platforms that allow for artists to grow organically - a space that does not charge to grant you access to an online community of like-minded individuals. These spaces have existed since the internet became home to a lot of the culture we absorb, but are needed now more than ever to combat corporate suppression of emerging talent.
One young, yet increasingly prominent online collective in Manchester is giving young creatives in the area a space to expand organically. Louis Haynes and Jake Macleod’s “Cluny and The Scourge” houses several branches of creative talent from in and around the city. The site features music, poetry, illustration, film, and photography from some of the best emerging talent in the region, and is actively seeking new contributions. With over 10,000 hits in its first six months, the space demonstrates incredible potential for growth.
The ability for an online collective to retain its artists and pool their individual fan-base allows for an exponentially increasing audience, free from the unreliability of growing an audience through a social media domino effect. By using social media to promote the external website, the cost of advertisement per artist is dramatically reduced, with the costs of advertising left in the hands of the founders. Haynes and Macleod’s plan for the collective is extensive, with their long-term goal to be for each major city to have its own branch of the Cluny network, and for the collective to also transition in to a physical space, able to host events that showcase the talent of its artists.
The connection between Cluny and other projects in the city can be seen through the volume of collaborative pieces and bilateral promotion. “[Collaboration] allows us all to grow and share our artistic expression as well as having a shared goal to work towards," said Matt Leaves, co-founder of The Gravy Photographic Magazine, when interviewed by THE MANCHESTER MAGAZINE.
Leeves discussed his plans for expanding into physical studio space in the future, with a dedicated contributor pool for collaborators and like-minded individuals to meet in an informal setting. He tied his plans to that of Cluny’s, with belief that the projects can mutually benefit from spaces that would draw in a real-world audience.
The problem that is produced by this kind of collaborative venture is the idea of artist identity blending in to that of the collective. It could be said that while the artist is gaining promotion from the growth of the collective, the platform is the real winner in the long-run, since each artist is only a small component of the overall mechanism of growth.
The ability for an online collective to retain its artists and pool their individual fan-base allows for an exponentially increasing audience, free from the unreliability of growing an audience through a social media domino effect.
Those in the industry often disagree with this claim. “I can see why you might think that in grouping artists together under the name of one release might steal individuality, but one only has to look at collectives in other areas of music to see that this not the case," says Joe Taylor, founder of online music and arts label Warm Laundry, speaking to THE MANCHESTER MAGAZINE.
"Take jazz for example, while you have a bandleader who tends to be the face and name of the show, the musicians and soloists are also known in their own right - people went to see Duke Ellington, but also knew the names of Harry Carney, Sonny Greer etc. The same can be seen in hip-hop collectives: A Tribe Called Quest is known as its own entity, while those that make it up all share their own individuality. I think that the artists each bring something unique to the table, and for that they are differentiated.”
This was reiterated by musician Sid Quirk, who acknowledges the beginnings of now-global music phenomenon beginning in small collectives, whether online or offline: “You look at cultural histories and they all start with these kind of platforms, from Man Ray and the Dadaists in New York to the youth of South London in the early 2000s; people like Skream and Benga pioneering Dubstep.”
Cluny’s collaboration and bilateral marketing relationship with student-led independent radio station Limbo has continued to allow both entities to grow massively since their conception. Limbo’s aim is to showcase underground talent within the Manchester electronic music scene. Communications between Limbo and Cluny have allowed for opportunities for emerging artists in all sectors, with electronic artists showcasing their talents on both platforms, and allowing for a direct link to the array of Cluny’s photographers and set designers that can be used for Limbo promotional campaigns and upcoming city-wide events.
The cultivation of the creative domain for emerging artists comes not as a new phenomenon, but as a direct link to the marginalisation of emerging talents and the subsequent lack of resources allocated to such talent in their early days. The current climate in Manchester and London continues to celebrate artistry regardless of corporate appeal, and so the evolution of the artist continues to unfold. Perhaps the scene for emerging individual artistry isn’t as accommodating as in previous years, but the response from creatives within the city is overwhelmingly in favour of the artist, even if it is a more collaborative venture to begin with. TMM