Leaving Social Media… to Focus on What Matters.
For years, music was the reason I stayed on social media. Now, it’s the reason I’m leaving.
At the start of my professional career, I landed a job at a business journal in my home state of New Jersey. My main beat was covering technology companies, but my bread and butter — and the thing that I found the most rewarding — was telling the stories of small businesses that were finding success against all odds.
One particular story we loved to tell was about a small business leveraging a social media platform to gain a wide audience. We’d even bring in communications experts to objectively validate this phenomenon. The prevailing wisdom was — and still is — that social media is a free tool businesses can leverage to gain new customers and connect with existing ones.
On the other end, there’s something writer and scholar McKenzie Wark wrote: “If you’re getting your media for free, that usually means you’re the product.”
Anyone who’s tried to utilize social media to reach a broader audience knows at least a few tools of the trade. Pictures with faces do better than pictures without them (and, if it’s a YouTube thumbnail, you might want to saturate the colors just a little). Posts with more comments go to the top of news feeds. Hashtags help you get seen by folks with similar interests (but don’t use too many). And so on…
My point is we (musicians, other artists, or “content creators”) can get so focused on these strategies that we forget our ultimate goal, which is to create authentic connections with other people. And, this is the fundamental problem with social media: If you are the product, then being on social media is inherently dehumanizing.
How can you create human connections on platforms that are inherently dehumanizing? As far as I can reason, you can’t.
I’ve always wondered, “If I left social media, how would I promote my music?” Don’t get it twisted: I love the process of making music, from songwriting to recording, mixing and even mastering. But the creative process alone isn’t enough. I also want to share my music with people.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’”
Music does this for me, and I imagine for most other musicians, like no other artform can. One of the things I love and miss — oh, dear god, do I miss it — so much about live shows is the sensation of sharing a space with a bunch of strangers while we all experience the same vibrations of air. At its best, it’s what I imagine — and hope — church must feel like to evangelicals.
The question then became, “How can I create a digital space that more accurately reflects the way I feel about music and my relationship to other people?”
I lingered on social media a little bit as I organized myself and got ready for the shift. I wrote a few posts, letting anyone who might be interested in following my musical projects off social media know what the plans were. Even in taking steps to communicate my new project, I realized how much time it takes to stay regularly active on social media. And, the quality felt so much worse, compared to what I’ve been planning.
With a newsletter, I’m able to spend the month making music, and what is made becomes what is shared. No angling against an algorithm; just making what feels right and showing my work at the end of the month.
And, instead of fighting that algorithm to capture the fleeting attention of a small group of followers for a brief moment, these emails will be going to people who all cared enough to give this a shot, at least for a month or two. Speaking with a friend of mine about this, they even pointed out something I’d never considered: He’s more likely to go back to an email when they have more time than to dig through social media for a specific post.
Every month, subscribers will receive a curated newsletter called “Hello, Monthly!” (taken from the umbrella name for my various projects, “Hello, Exactly!”). Each newsletter will include some variation of the following:
Music I’m working on: A few years ago, I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! and, as much as I wince at the idea of art being an entrepreneurial enterprise as it’s framed in this book, there is an idea that has stuck with me over half a decade: There is real human value in being open and honest about your process. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be sharing demos and mixes from my musical projects and discussing the process of making in these newsletters.
All of my projects, solo or collaborative, are self-produced and recorded on a home setup. While there are some tried-and-true methods to recording, this leads to a lot of experimentation and improvisation. Recently, for example, I was recording vocals when a low-flying plane passed by my neighborhood (I live a few miles from an international airport). I was able to sample that accidental sound, modify it through effects and make it one of my favorite details of the track. It’s a total shift in approach from traditional recording, but it’s something I’ve found works for me. A lot of my favorite details are, to quote Bob Ross, “happy accidents.”
Sure, artists are able to do this on social media but, because of the dehumanizing aspects of social media, these posts tend to be more curative by design (“Here we are in the studio!” for example). In my mind, shifting the platform to a monthly newsletter allows me to focus on the work and, what I complete or develop in that time is what’s shared. My hope is this is a more personal approach to Kleon’s ideas.
Music I’m currently listening to: Just sharing my own work wasn’t enough, though. My biggest fear was leaving social media just to do something that was still all about me, so I wanted to make sure I was making the space to highlight the work of other people.
Each month, I’ll be making a playlist on the BNDCMPR platform, which allows users to make playlists directly from artists’ Bandcamp pages. The newsletter will be sent out the night before Bandcamp Friday. My hope is to connect people with some new music, while also encouraging people to directly support independent and DIY artists.
Special features: One thing I love about the newsletter platform is the way various aspects are interchangeable. The plan is to make certain pieces different every month, through different features that I’m not committing to including monthly. I might do an album review to spotlight something I’ve really been loving the last month, or a dive into a guitar effect or some piece of music technology. Maybe one month, I’ll ask for cover requests and, the next month, I’ll share a recording of one. Honestly, I don’t know exactly. It really depends on everyone else. That’s what’s exciting.
A feature that best encapsulates this idea is something I’m calling Irregular Chats. These are short, 15-minute audio conversations with musicians, artists, writers or anyone else with a good story. Like the playlists, this idea is meant to be a platform for other people to showcase their work, ideas or a unique experience and perspective.
Leaning in to two different definitions of “irregular,” these can be about anything and won’t necessarily be monthly. There will, however, be one going out in the first newsletter, where I talk to mastering engineer Elaine Rasnake from Daughterboard Audio about the importance of the mastering process.
Mutual aid and community connection: Even though I think social media platforms are inherently dehumanizing, the internet is still a great tool for connection and collective action. So, my plan is to feature a few various causes, local and global, every month for anyone who might want to donate or otherwise get involved.
For the first month, I plan to highlight North Jersey Mutual Aid, a group in my own backyard that has worked to get meals to seniors through the pandemic. On the broad “global community” perspective, I’ll also be sharing information for Mutual Aid Myanmar, which supports pro-democracy protests against the military coup that occurred on February 1. I’m also asking for subscribers to reply with causes and charities that mean a lot to them, so they can be shared in the next month’s email.
All of this is still an extension of the thing I love most about music at its core: It’s a reminder than we’re all in this together. It’s one of the few things about life I’m almost certain is wholly, capital “T” True. Because I see social media as inherently dehumanizing, I don’t know if there’s a way to convey that feeling on these platforms successfully. But, I still see technology as a tremendous tool to foster human connection outside of these platforms.
For years, my music projects were the reason I stayed on social media. And now, I’m leaving, so I can better celebrate everything I love about music itself.
Andrew Sheldon (he/they) lives in New Jersey. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you’re interested, you can subscribe to the newsletter here.