I know this has been stated a thousand times in different iterations, but the internet and social media have fundamentally changed how we interact with music.
We’ve already covered how important it is to collect songs in the digital era and how virality has all but removed hit singles as a prerequisite to album success, but at the heart of all of these changes remains the artist-fan connection.
It’s a relationship that seems so simple. Artists make music, they introduce that music to an audience through a multitude of mediums, and the people either like and support it or they don’t. That seems like common sense, but for many artists, like Odd Future alumni and R&B force Syd, the road to building a solid and supportive fanbase has been cut short by the changing landscape.
In a recent interview with The Independent, Syd spoke on how the digital era has left some artists with abnormally high expectations:
I have a lot of artists friends, man, they drop an album, right, it’s fire. They get a cool 10,000 fans, 20,000 followers and they feel like that’s not enough and then they go and try something else… like, bruh… People’s expectations are too high these days. Artists' expectations are way too high these days. You can’t skip steps. I mean, you can, [Laughs.] but, it doesn’t usually work out in the long run that way.
While it’s crazy to think that scoring 10,000 to 20,000 fans would be cause for anything less than celebration, those same artists are looking over their shoulders to see peers achieving large-scale success milestones in rapid fashion, propelled by the power of internet virality.
When artists like Xxxtentacion are hitting the Billboard charts and racking up tens of millions of streams in a matter of months (despite unsavory personal lives) and the number of competitors is growing exponentially, I can certainly understand how the expectations for quick success have grown out of whack.
In the interview, Syd also reminds aspiring artists that her group The Internet has released three albums through a major label and just now started to receive mass recognition, and namedrops Future as another example of an artist that achieved success the traditional way—releasing plenty of dope music.
It’s hard out here but the key is make yo next album. Drop an album. Make another! Drop it. Make another one. That’s how Future got here. That’s his formula. [Does her best Future impression.] 'I dropped the mixtape so I got like 40,000 fans. I got like another 50-60,000 and then I dropped another one.' It’s common sense but it’s genius!
Although the “churn and burn” method might not actually be the best move for every artist, Syd definitely has a point. It can’t become a baseline expectation to reach the highest heights of success with minimal output, even if it seems to be happening with shocking frequency these days.
An artist looking to achieve lasting, real success still has to go through the motions of building a fanbase, both for the sake of the structural integrity of their audience, and the lessons and growth it offers the artist throughout the process. If you hit the viral jackpot while doing so, great, but if not (most likely the case) you’re still progressing and learning along the way.
Syd's right, it is hard out here, but by setting the right expectations and always staying focused on the next objective, aspiring artists can make sure they're setting up a solid foundation for success.