Riding the Waves: Social Media in Hip-Hop

Hi reader-

This is a paper that I wrote for a class, but I wanted to share it to get feedback, show the longer writing style I have, and just be able to share some opinions.

 

In today’s day and age social media is a necessity for any up and coming music artists. I have been a fan of hip-hop ever since I was a little kid, growing up listening to whatever rap I could get my hands on. This love pushed me to look deeper into hip-hop and the complex webs that control it. One of these webs is the social media teams and the internet strategies that artists use while they are up-and-coming artists and then how it transforms the larger of a star they become. Music-based technologies such as Soundcloud and YouTube allow artists to upload music and music videos for free, allowing them to grow their fan bases without having to deal with major labels. Social media technologies like Instagram and Snapchat give artists the ability to connect with their fans in a more personal way, giving fans inside views of their personal lives and driving even more growth of their brand. These technologies open up new pathways for music fans to connect with their favorite artists, follow them when they aren’t in the studio or on tour, making them feel closer to them and allowing a greater sense of community and connectedness. New network technologies have allowed artists to create a closer more personal relationship with their fans, grow their brands in multiple ways, and create a close knit community of fans, artists, and music lovers in general.

Hip-hop music has long been dominated by the major labels, such as Def Jam, Interscope, Death Row, Roc Nation and Cash Money. These labels have controlled the music that is on the radios, the albums that get released, and the artists that become superstars;  in addition, artists often had to conform to “industry standards” in order to have any shot at getting signed. Along came new network technologies, namely SoundCloud and YouTube. These new technologies allowed an artist to upload music or music videos for free, which changed the game because most up-and-coming artists are generally broke. With the apps/websites being free, it allowed artists with any budget to make music and give it out to the public. Getting their music out to the public affords artists the opportunity to be discovered by a major label, producer, or famous artist who could decide they like the original artist’s music and either help promote them or sign them. For many artists, this is really the only way to become a star unless they have a direct connection within the industry. For said artists, YouTube is also an essential way to give fans new music and specifically music videos. Music videos have been around for decades, across time and genres. Pairing the songs with music videos allows for a greater ability of the artist to grow their brand, as people who might not like the song or might not know it, could see it pop up as a recommended video or related video prompting them to watch it. Users of the site can also subscribe to specific artists which guarantees that the user will be notified of anything new that is posted by the artist. This subscription ability gives the fan the opportunity to feel as though they are on the inner team of the artist, being the first to know when things are posted, which helps to foster a sense of personal connection to the artist. This feeling of a personal connection could lead to the fan buying more music and merchandise, or also could lead to the fan sharing it with their friends and getting them interested in the artist.

SoundCloud, unlike YouTube, is not about the visual; it is about the music. It is an app that allows users to upload music for free. Users can follow other users and also radio stations that are set up on the app, like songs/playlists and save them for later, as well as comment on the music that is posted. When the music is given out for free as with SoundCloud it creates the feeling of a personal connection to the artist, and the closer of a personal connection the fan feels to the artist the more likely they are to purchase their merchandise and albums, go to their shows, and share the music with friends. These features combine to foster a sense of a closer community in hip-hop. A common activity for many hip-hop fans is to mine through SoundCloud looking for new music from popular artists that hasn’t blown up yet, or to try and find up-and-coming, small, local artists who might not be anywhere near them physically. In the past, before network technologies, one generally had to be in the same city as the artist because there was no way for the music to reach the rest of the United States without record deals/major label support—the networks were simply not there. What SoundCloud has allowed artists to do is grow their brand without having to sell out to a label, conform to industry standards, or have the money backing them. A perfect example of how to use these networks successfully is found in Speaker Knockerz. Speaker Knockerz was a hip-hop artist from Columbia, South Carolina who rose to fame and prominence from selling beats through SoundCloud before he passed away at the age of 20. He began using SoundCloud as a way to sell his beats to make money to continue to produce beats while also attempting to transition into rapping himself. It wasn’t until Speaker Knockerz sold his first beat to a Florida rapper that people really started to pay attention to him. As people began to catch onto how good his beats were, the status of the artists buying beats from Speaker Knockerz began an a meteoric rise. He would go on to sell all 250 beats that he uploaded onto his SoundCloud page, with the most notables sales going to veteran stars such as Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, Waka Flocka Flame, Chief Keef and more. The connections that he gained through selling these beats allowed him to make his way into rapping. It gave him credibility in music circles to have the backing of famous street artists, giving him a lot of fans that had heard of his producing work and now wanted to see if he could live up to the hype on the microphone. He released two or three album before his untimely death, garnering a lot of respect and fame and gathering a large fan base as well as bringing in a good amount of money for himself. Looking at the Speaker Knockerz story, it is easy to piece together the connection between these new network technologies and the way they enable artists in this new generation. They give artists the ability to get their music out there and pursue their dream, no matter their status in life, financial situation or connections within the industry.

Network technologies used heavily by musical artists do not always have to include music as their main focus point. Artists use social media websites to interact with their fans, and share their personal lives in an effort to become more connected with their fanbases. It is a strategy that usually works by giving fans a feeling as though they are connecting with the artist on a personal level. Snapchat is the perfect example of a new network technology that gives the artist the ability to connect at a personal level with their fans. Snapchat is an app that allows users to send pictures and videos that last up to ten seconds, and then the media is deleted. Users can also post “stories” that stay up for twenty-four hours and then disappear, and these stories can be viewed an unlimited amount of times until then. It is within the realm of posting stories that artists have truly grasped onto Snapchat as a network technology that they can use to grow their brand and connect with their fans personally. The way that Snapchat is generally used is as a way to post interesting things people see, or funny events that happen, and it is posted generally without much thought behind it in the spur of the moment. Artists will post videos of them in the studio, teasing new music, beats, or collaborations which are then viewed by fans hyping the fans up for the new music that is coming. They will also post pictures/videos of what they are currently doing throughout the day. This access to their favorite artists, actually being able to see what they are doing throughout the day, week, month, year gives fans the feeling of a deep personal connection to the artist. A fan could view the stories while in a class in school, and while they may be physically stuck in school they can feel as though they are right there with the artist. This inevitably grows the artists brand and creates a deeper fandom which will most likely lead to more album sales, and greater merchandise sales. Snapchat is also useful because it can show different sides to the artist that the fans may not be able to discern by listening to the music. These different views of the artist are useful because it gives the artists the ability to connect to potential fans in areas that are separate from music. If, let’s say a mom, were to view the Snapstory of an artist who is hanging out with their children they would be more likely to view the artist’s music in a positive light, and allow their children to listen to the music. Without a doubt, this will grow an artist’s brand and allow them to reach greater levels of wealth, fame, and success.

A second example of this new social media technology wave comes from Instagram. Instagram is a social media site that allows users to post videos and pictures, comment on and like others pictures, and follow who they like. Artists often have a presence on Instagram long before their goal is to sell out arenas or become platinum selling artists. It is an app used by a large portion of the current and previous generations, crossing those generational gaps. In this way it opens the artists up to the potential for an even greater fan-base that may have never known who they are, if someone happens to stumble across their pictures, is intrigued, and then decides to investigate deeper into the artists music. Artists may also decide to post short clips of their music videos, or new music as teasers to generate a buzz around the release or to re-hype an old song or video. In fact, Instagram made this aspect gain even greater potential when they lengthened the time that a video can be from ten second to a full minute. Now artists can post a solid segment of their song or music video and it gives the fans or potential fans more time to evaluate the artist on a smaller scale before deciding if they want to go find their music on another site. ASAP Rocky is one artist that has fully captured how to capitalize on the potential of Instagram. His Instagram page is always changing up, with different themes and pictures being posted. One week his team decided to do a full art installation on his page, using 168 pictures each posted individually in order to create the effect, when looking at his Instagram page, that one is looking at different full paintings that cover multiple rows on his page. This was a planned stunt by his team, in order to generate hype for his upcoming album AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP. The art installation on his Instagram worked by drawing people into his page, flashing dozens of pictures across their feeds, people wanted to know what the reasoning behind these pictures were, so they went to his page, giving him the exact result he wanted. He has done this sort of promotion/marketing multiple times since then, each time with a different theme. This could potentially be brushed off as a one time fluke, if other artists had not started to follow his model, using their pages to create full size images or murals in order to draw fan interest the same way ASAP Rocky did. The repetition of use of the strategy proves that it is one that positively influences the growth of an artist’s brand and creates a feeling of personal connection with the artist from the fans perspective.

Just as important as the actual artists and their involvement in the process is, the teams that back that are just as important. Most artists that are at a level of success that is even somewhat will have someone that helps them to create their social media pages, maintain them, and create strategies to make them better. These people are often younger people who have a large grasp of social media and the way that it works. They generally have been able to gather large followings themselves on these sites and they use these talents to then help the artist. They can also go to school to learn these sorts of techniques and strategies. The best social media directors can draw new demographics of fans into the artist’s sphere while also keeping all the old fans interested and present.

New network technologies have allowed artists to create a closer more personal relationship with their fans, grow their brands in multiple ways, and create a close knit community of fans, artists, and music lovers in general. It has allowed artists to get their music out to the public for free which has given opportunities to many new artists. Many of these new artists are people that fans of hip-hop would have never heard of if it weren’t for SoundCloud or YouTube, as they didn’t otherwise have access to the funds to become a nationwide star or the connections to the industry/being signed and forced to conform to a major label. Speaker Knockerz utilized these new apps to their fullest potential, creating an entire career off of staying independent, selling beats through SoundCloud and then using those connections from selling beats to create a very successful career in hip-hop. In addition, it created a deeper sense of community in hip-hop. Fans are now more connected to their artists and other fans more than ever. This allows for greater discovery within hip-hop, for deeper conversations to be had and papers to be written, and to expand the circle of people who consider themselves to be hip-hop fans. A person now doesn’t even have to listen to the music to be considered a fan of hip-hop, they may be considered a fan just because they look at the artist’s social media on a daily basis. It created connections that would not have been possible in the past, while at the same time creating an even closer knit community that feels like it has personal connections to the artists. These personal connections grow the artist’s brands, which positively influences their income, fanbase size, as well as pushing them into new levels of fame.

At the end of the day, artist’s who do not utilize these new technologies (Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and SoundCloud) will not be successful in this new era of hip-hop and music/art in general. Without them, artist’s would be unable to create those personal connections that fans crave and that truly drive an artist’s album and merchandise sales and keep them relevant in the game even when they may have fallen out of the national limelight. As a result of these technologies hip hop is a close knit community of people who have the same tastes in music, clothing, and lifestyles. People would feel disconnected to the artists, especially in a world today in which humans are constantly connected to each other, which could lead to lost fans and a regression of their brand instead of progression. This trend is one that is not going anywhere quickly, and it will no doubt evolve as new network technologies are introduced. Maybe someday fans will be able to have holograms of their favorite artists that they can interact with and ask questions too, summoning them at will. Or maybe it will become a custom for artists to not only put the ten second clips of studio time on their Snapstory but to livestream their entire time spent in the studio so that fans can feel like they are in the booth with the artist. The possibilities are endless as long as artists continue to push the boundaries of possibilities with the new network technologies that emerge in coming generations.

 

Jake Zinda

23 years old, from Wisconsin Hip-Hop Journalist @CMAG N.S.C.T.D.

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