Article

Why I Deleted My Social Media Apps

Recently I had brunch with three friends, all fellow musicians. We were catching up and pondering what it means to succeed in music. One friend expressed that she’d been feeling creatively uninspired and paralyzed by self-criticism, and she felt that her use of social media was partly to blame.

“Big surprise,” you might say, “the dang millennials are all addicted to social media, which is a vapid, miserable void that is responsible for every bad feeling they have.”

When people say things like this, I know there’s plenty of truth in it, but it sometimes feels like someone has just made fun of my sibling. You can make fun of your own sibling because you’ve known and loved them for a lifetime, but you’ll come for anyone else who makes the same joke.

What I mean is that it’s very easy for people who became adults before social media existed to criticize it, and their criticisms may be true, but they often come coupled with a misunderstanding of social media’s role in our lives. My generation started using social media at the same time that we started learning to become ourselves and connect with others. Social media is like the air that we breathe – it’s all around us and so ingrained in our minute-to-minute lives that we barely notice it. For musicians and other creatives in particular, it’s become a compulsory part of building and growing our careers.

At its best, social media is an incredibly powerful tool for expression and connection. It can bring together people who are isolated, provide new ways of thinking and expressing oneself, serve as a free and democratic point of access for art and ideas to make their way to people who will find them meaningful, and even facilitate powerful social change. But, yes, at the same time, social media can quickly turn to the dark side and create isolation, low self-esteem, and a value system of surface over substance. Its addictive qualities are well-documented. Most of all, for me, it’s a black hole of wasted time. (And it’s not actually that democratic anymore, but more on that in a minute.) I’ve never heard of a better use for the phrase “double-edged sword.” For musicians, both edges of the sword are even sharper.

When I Googled “musicians and social media,” I found nothing but listicles (a format designed for our ever-shortening attention spans) with titles like “12 Essential Social Media Tips For Musicians” and “8 Ways To Build Your Band’s Social Media Brand.” I had to click past literally hundreds of these before I found a single article implying that musicians’ relationship with social media was anything but positive and necessary. Its necessity is difficult to dispute – social media now plays a central role in artists’ efforts to get their music out to the world. But this often comes at a cost to our mental health.

In the “old days,” when everything was done with physical newsletters and print media and posters, no one expected to hear from their favorite artists every day. But now that we’re all consuming and creating an endless stream of media at light speed, the industry expects artists to be active on multiple platforms, multiple times a day to maintain a “brand,” while somehow also finding time to book gigs, write songs, practice our instruments, and do all of the other administrative work necessary to maintain and grow a music career. I sometimes feel like my “music career” consists mostly of things other than actually playing music (Quadrant 3, for those who read my article on productivity).

It’s easy to cave to the pressure to stay in constant contact with your audience, especially for independent artists early in their careers. Social media sometimes feels like a competition taking place every second against every other artist for a shred of your followers’ limited attention. This also breeds negative comparisons to others. During our daily endless scroll, we have our peers’ gigs at cool venues and exciting collaborations and record deals staring us in the face, and it’s easy to sink into despondency. We know the full context of our successes amidst our many daily setbacks – the things we don’t post about – but we often forget that we don’t have that context for other people. Learning not to compare oneself to others has always been a noble species-wide struggle, but social media certainly hasn’t made that struggle any easier.

An active social presence does, in theory, have tangible benefits for musicians: Venues and festivals pay attention to how many likes or followers a band has. This does make sense, because it’s a quick and easy way to determine what kind of audience a band has. Facebook events, too, are a quick and easy way to get the word out about upcoming gigs. For the first decade or so, these avenues allowed independent and DIY musicians to get their careers going without becoming beholden to publicists, agents, and traditional media, who might have more rigid ideas about making “marketable” art. It allowed artists to create on their own terms.

In practice, though, these things are quickly ceding ground to that great root of all evil, money. More specifically, the dreadful “sponsored posts” and the truly baffling services that allow social media users to pay for likes and followers. On Facebook in particular, if musicians want their events and updates to be seen by more than a handful of their own followers, they must pay to “boost” the posts, i.e., turn them into ads. This, of course, will only show up for users who aren’t using ad-blocking software. I’m getting mad just writing about it. It’s undemocratic capitalist nonsense. I feel dirty every time I click “boost post,” but I’ve seen it get results.

So what to do? Personally, I’ve become a big fan of the newsletter format. It creates the connective tissue that we social-media users crave, but without the emphasis on racking up likes and followers like arcade points. My friend Aurora Birch recently started writing newsletters in a truly heroic attempt to circumvent the social-media promotional rat race, and her first letter was nothing short of delightful. A letter, even a digital one, feels more intentional and less image-conscious. I’ve noticed a triumphant return of the newsletter in the last couple of years, and it seems to me partly driven by our growing frustration with social media.

Over the aforementioned brunch, my friends and I discussed all of these ideas, and then the four of us made a pact to take a break from social media. Before we left the café, I had already deleted Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from my phone. I didn’t imagine that I’d feel better instantly, but I did. And I got a lot done that day. (Several hours after The Big Delete, I remembered that I am responsible for posting from No Depression’s Instagram account, so I re-downloaded Instagram. But I didn’t log in to my personal account, and I moved the app from my “Social” folder to my “Work” folder. So it still counts.)

Social media is often referred to as an echo chamber, but I think it’s sometimes more like a megaphone. It amplifies humanity’s best and worst impulses. Facebook has been around for 14 years, Twitter for 11, and early social-networking sites (Myspace, Friendster) launched right after the turn of the millennium. Some of the trends I’m seeing point toward the idea that we’re starting to come out of an adolescent phase of excess with social media. I’m trying to remain optimistic that that’s true, and I do believe that this particular pendulum can swing back, if we push it back. There’s a balance to be found, somehow. Newsletters for everyone!

Artist Isa Burke

As I sat down to write my weekly Broadside column for this site (as usual it’ll arrive past deadline....sorry Stacy), I just read yours. While not a pro musician who needs to utilize social media tools to promote myself, I spend quite a bit of time working on my own website, my daily updated roots music Facebook page and Flipbook e-mag. Lately I’ve been asking myself if the time-suck is a fair trade off for the addictive need to get more followers and likes. The answer is clearly no. Over my nine years as a contributor here I’ve tried to not only promote my columns, but to trade on the ‘Easy Ed’ brand. And not for money or fame per se, but that feeling of acknowledgement one gets when thousands of people read and enjoy my efforts. But more and more I’m feeling less satisfied with my efforts versus satisfaction. So while I’m not quite ready to shut it all down, every day I’m getting closer and closer. Your words help frame my thought process, so thanks for sharing. 

Thanks for your thoughts, Ed! I've certainly gotten a lot from social media, despite the time suck and negative mental-health effects, so I think I'll be back eventually. I just need to go cold-turkey for a little while to recalibrate my relationship with it. Like I said, I think it can be a powerful tool, but I think we all need to be a bit more careful and deliberate about using it in a positive way. I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

Excellent and thoughtful article Isa...kudos for you for being able to take a break...and for being able to see both sides...the 3rd paragraph is really nicely said, and illustrates the conundrum someone my age, and your age,  feels...Ed and I are about the same age...I watched my kids grow up with this and it is like "the air that we breathe" for them...it's wallpaper almost, they don't consciously even think about it most of time...whereas people like me still work but grew up without it...most of us recognize that it's here to stay, and are trying to figure out how to interact with it and utilize it while still retaining a measure of independence from it because it feels omniprescent to us...it wasn't there for a lot of our lives and now it's very hard to get away from it...work has become 24/7/365...you are (almost) always accessible...it's understandable I would criticize it and lament over how things used to be, and why someone your age would look at me and think "you old fossil" ...a balance would be nice, but it is incumbent upon all of us to participate in finding that...

Thoughtful and well written...

Good luck with the digital diet!

I always disregard the talk about “generations” because I believe human nature hasn’t changed since we started walking upright.   Our great -grandparents would be looking at their phones 82 times a day if they had them as well.    The new technology only exacerbates tendencies that are already present within us.     You would be like me if you were born in 1963 and I would be like you if I was your age.   

Your column has a lot of reasons why Social Media can be a pretty rotten place for people (and I agree) but I think it is necessary evil for musicians and anyone who wants or needs to create a brand.   I am not on Facebook and am only on Linkedin because people were constantly sending me requests so I am not an expert on this topic but the ways to reach mass numbers of people have changed and I believe Social Media, and sites like this, make music discovery much easier than it was in the past.   Now, instead of sharing music with friends down the street, you can share music with friends around the world.   

As you pointed out though, Facebook is a business and you don’t “own” your fans and friends.   Facebook does.   They can allow you as much or as little access to them as they want and since they are trying to make money, bet on the latter unless you pay.    The key is to try and get them to your website or to give you their email address so you can touch them another way that you control.    But like the Willie Sutton line about robbing banks because that is where the money is, Social Media is where the mass of eyeballs and ears are so you have to have a presence.     

Attention is the most valuable currency of the 21st century and it is hard to get and nearly impossible to keep for a length of time.    It has made a family who created and distributed a sex tape multi millionaires and a Realty Show Con Artist President.   The fight for it is only going to get nastier, cruder, more outrageous and more desperate.    I don’t envy people that have to compete in that atmosphere but if you want to be successful, it is an area where you have to be.      

I agree with what you are saying here Rudyjeep, though I work for a couple of people who refuse to have anything to do with it...if they need to send an e-mail I send it...if they need to re-up annually for insurance, I do it for them...one of them is retiring in July, the other at the end of the year...the first thing the one retiring in July says he's going to do is get rid of the cell phone, which he only has so he can be reached 24/7...so not everyone gets addicted...some people refuse to adapt...but one can only overcome their basic nature it they want to...most of us don't want to...
And yes, the fight for attention is likely to get worse (though it may seem impossible that could happen)...grim forecast, but likely true...

I deleted all my social media and then felt lonely, a void, a hole in my heart. What were my friends eating? What are the 100 best albums of 2012? What did Dildo Donald tweet today?

And then I found the following site which supplies coffee shop background noise!   Remember as John Donne famously sang on his debut album, "No man is an island"!

https://coffitivity.com/ 

 

If your friends were into music though, I don’t see how they could tune out Jim.   

I had heard of Michael McDermott but hadn't checked him out and probably wouldn’t have till I read your post about Willow Springs being your favorite album of the year.   Now I've been all over him.   A musician needs that kind of exposure and referral from trusted sources.

Speaking of a grim future, with KP out for up to 12 months (and I’m betting the over) there is no light at the end of the tunnel anymore for Knick fans.   I'm not as enamored with KP as most (he gets a lot of blocks but that is because no one is hesitant about taking the ball to the hoop against him) but in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.   If they build through the draft it is going to take a LONG time but at least there are no half measures anymore.    They only have the one option.         

Yep, if you are into finding new music you have to be tuned in, but as you know Rudyjeep, many folks our age only listen to the music they grew up with...

Glad you like "Willow Springs"...McDermott is one of the really good ones...I was stunned to find out he'd been making records since 1992, 3 on a major label, and I completely missed him...what he's doing has evolved some over the years, but you can hear it even in his early records, and you can still hear it when he was abusing substances heavily, and now that he's clean, you know that the myth that you have to be on drugs to make great music isn't true, at least for him...all of his past records have some great tracks even if they are uneven in places...he's got "it"...if you haven't picked up the Westies records that he (and basically the same musicians as are on "Willow Springs")  made in 2015 and 2016 ("West Side Stories" and "6 On the Out"), those are phenomenal too...I play "West Side Stories" more than any record I've heard in a long time, it's been in my car for a year now and I still play it all the time...of his solo records leading up to "Willow Springs", they all are worth having, but if I'm recommending a few, I'd go for "Michael Mc Dermott" (3rd album, last on a major label, CD available used on Amazon, download from website), "Last Chance Lounge" (which is good all the way through, but has "Unemployed" and "Spark" back to back, two of the best songs I've ever heard), "Ashes", "Hit Me Back", "Hey La Hey"...his new one will be out soon..."Out From Under" is the title...same players and producer as Westies and Willow Springs...can't wait...you can probably still order it from Kickstarter...

I felt bad for KP (who definitely put it on my Pacers last time they played, I think he had 38), and for the Knicks fans, because you've had it rough for a long time, Dolan has been a disaster for the Knicks, and Philip didn't exactly do great work there...I saw where not too long ago KP complained of being fatigued, which you don't want to hear from a guy who is playing a game for a living and making a lot of money, but big guys like him get a lot of abuse inside, and he was carrying such a big load offensively anyway, and let's face it, they play way too many games...I realize those things don't necessarily lead to an ACL, but you could almost see it leading up to something...unusual for a young guy who clearly loves to play to say out loud he was exhausted...they do only have the one option...tank and build it...hopefully they can do it faster than Philly, who seems to have finally arrived after about 7-8 years of the "process"...

The Pacers did make as much hay out of PG leaving as they could have...Oladipo appears to have finaly evolved into a player worthy of a 3 pick, and Sabonis is a great pick up as well...Myles Turner is only 21 and by all accounts a very hard worker...he may not be KP or Towns, but I think he will be really good down the road...they need a couple more pieces...and we do have the NYC legend Lance Stephenson, who is very popular here, and nowhere else...his family lives in Wanamaker, IN...you'd never believe a kid from NYC would live there...it's the sticks man...maybe we land 5-8 in the playoff picture if everything goes right...we were lousy defensively early on, and we are awful rebounding...the defense is much better now but the rebounding isn't improved much at all, and that's roster makeup, not coaching...the effort is great though...they are fun to watch...so much better than watching PG sleepwalk through games half the time...shame...PG is a gifted player...

 

 

They are all on Spotify, even the Westies, and they are some good stuff.   Again, thanks for the referral.      

I thought you got fleeced in the George trade but you did pretty well especially if PG is a one year rental.   You’re happily ensconced in the playoff picture too.   Lance is a guy you can’t really figure out but the one place he seems to perform is Indy.   Overall though, this is a weird year in the NBA which is probably a good thing.       

A friend goes to Vegas every March and we put money down on an anybody but Golden State flyer.    I think we’ll go Boston and Houston but I really hate Dantoni.   May have to bite the bullet unless it looks like Lebron can will the team back into the championship.                     

Yes, I completely agree with you about generation gaps. The pace at which culture and technology changes makes us think there are more differences between generations than there actually are.

And I perhaps should have been clearer in the column – I'm not going to stop promoting my music on social media, I'm just taking a break in the hope of developing a healthier relationship with it.

Thanks for reading!

I still yearn for the enticing smell of a copy fresh out of the ditto machine!

I love that scene in 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High" where the teacher passes out the mimeographed exam and every student takes one and sniffs those glorious fumes...