S uccess should actually come on its own. According to current data, there are two billion users on Facebook and one billion on Instagram, who are supposedly all waiting to click on the next single or album project. In the end, according to Medium.com, the only thing left to do is to tap into this huge target group and „promote your own songs like crazy.“ As more and more musicians are now discovering, this seemingly simple calculation does not work out. Although they dutifully do several posts every day, their accounts look more like graveyards. When the British electronics duo Swayzak wondered on Facebook a few years ago that they had 10,000 fans but were selling practically nothing, They were treated with malice in return for this honest disappointment. Since then, a new era has dawned, Swayzak have largely disappeared from the scene and their colleagues have learned from the episode: Nowadays, almost no one dares to complain, so despite the lack of feedback, they continue to post what they can - often without even a single fan reacting. Readers who recognize themselves in this situation are not alone. Of course, there are still mega-profiles where the operators can no longer struggle through the seemingly endless number of comments that pour over them with every sign of life. But if you make the effort to analyze the accounts of musicians or music magazines on social channels for a few minutes, you will quickly find that this is the exception. Even artists with over a hundred thousand followers regularly barely get past a few thumbs pointing upwards per post. The situation has worsened over the past few years, with the result that some experts are now talking of the “death of the organic reach”. What exactly does that mean?
Victim of their own success
Anyone who opens an account on Facebook and establishes the first contacts assumes that each of them represents a potential new fan. In truth, however, a like is only really worth something if your own posts actually appear in the timeline of the respective listener. It should be common knowledge that this is rarely the case. In a certain way, Zuckerberg‘s company is a victim of its own success: If you only follow 100 other profiles, you will soon find yourself unable to navigate the flood of posts. Most of us, however, have many more “friends”. FB therefore deliberately reduces the amount of what appears in the timeline and sorts it according to relevance. Posts referring to content outside the network are rated as less important; posts that receive more reactions (in the form of comments, likes, and shares) are prioritized. This provides more clarity for the end user, but causes headaches for musicians and labels. This is because their ability to reach the end customer without expensive advertising campaigns falls flat. This ability is called „organic reach“. If it is 100%, everyone receives everything and the message disappears in a flood of messages. If it tends towards 0, as is currently the case, it does not even appear to the fans - even if they are really interested in the content. The more FB has grown, the more the organic reach has crashed. For many musicians, this means that they simply no longer reach anyone on social media. The development in social media is part of a wider development. Because, as can be very easily understood, a lot has also changed in the search engines. On the one hand, the number of visitors to very many pages is falling. The reason: Google is increasingly answering questions already on the results page. For example, anyone interested in the weather can find the answer directly on Google. If you want to know who produced Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller”, you will also find it there. Just like Facebook, Google is in the process of becoming a so-called “walled garden”, a fenced-off garden that ideally (for Google) no longer needs to be left. It fits to this tendency that Google would prefer to „see“ if the URL line, in which the name of the current web page appears, remains empty. In the first version of the current Chrome, by far the most widely used browser in the world, this radical step was initially implemented, until Google finally gave in to the angry protests of the net community. It can be assumed that Google will not admit defeat with this, however. The goal remains: Users should get a seamless experience the feeling that they never really leave Google. What is even more serious: The increasingly dominant mobile search functions work according to its own rules, which are clearly disadvantageous for smaller websites. As in the standard search, many questions are already displayed on the results page. In the mobile sector, however, this consists of just one single result. This means, for example: There are millions of lasagna recipes on the net. But if you search for one on your mobile phone, only one of them will be displayed or read out by the automatic system. The whole diversity and, above all, the depth of the Internet, which, as confusing as it may sometimes be, was its real magic, is watered down, shortened and reduced to short, easily digestible headlines.
Dominance of the brands
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Increasingly a few pages attract the vast majority of all clicks, while the others get nothing. It‘s a phenomenon that has caused the SEO industry - which deals with the optimization of search engine results - quite a few headaches. In the meantime, we know that Google specifically rates the pages of well-known brands better than those of less well-known competitors. Although this has tended to be the case in the past, this trend is increasingly taking on a life of its own. So it happens that when you search for “sports shoes” you prefer to end up with “Nike” or “Adidas” and not with any significantly cheaper no-name sneakers.
One might suspect evil machinations behind this, but most of the time we simply don‘t want it any other way. In a world where even choosing a carton of oat milk has become a matter of faith and there are more types of cereal than you can count on two hands, we are all looking for the familiar, for the things and names we recognize. The operators of online music magazines know this problem all too well. They all start with the intention of giving unknown artists a chance and then discover that nobody clicks on the carefully researched and passionately written articles - precisely because nobody knows them. Brands and stars provide exactly this familiarity, even where we cannot assign any specific qualities or value judgments to them. Even there, one might add, where we do not attribute any particularly positive value judgments to them. If you‘re in the mood for a trap, you simply choose Drake again on Spotify instead of getting involved in something new. Or you play Armin van Buren on Tidal instead of a promising new trance artist. And when the Italian piano bard Ludovico Einaudi advertises his new album on Facebook, we are inclined to click on it even if we think his compositions are rather smooth and greasy - simply „to have a listen“ or „to have a say.“ So the goal for every musician is to become a brand. But what exactly is a brand anyway? Google uses a simple criterion: names that are often typed in directly and not via related search terms (“Nike” instead of “sneaker”, “Porsche” instead of “sports car”) are brands. And what causes searchers to preferentially enter these names? On the one hand, big image campaigns whose only goal is to aggressively push their own name. And on the other hand, awareness via social networks (and this includes the leading streaming platforms), so via large follower communities. The more pots you have your fingers in, the more extensive these communities are. And so it is that Lena Meyer-Landrut is still one of the most successful German „brands“ today, even though her musical career has long since passed its zenith internationally: By means of her jobs as a model, voice actress and „influencer,“ she reaches almost four million users on Instagram (but the account, interestingly, is currently idle). In practice, this means that if you are a brand on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you are also a brand on Google. If you‘re not there, you‘re very unlikely to be anywhere. And so the strategy of the labels - and also, one might add, their strength - is to plow all social platforms with a corresponding financial investment in order to maximize the brand awareness of their own artist catalog. Content, identity and brand can no longer be separated from one another. Virgin senior marketing manager Liberty Wilson has pointed out that content today includes everything a musician brings to the public, from tweet about album and Instagram post to interview, from online ad to fan meet and greets. All the more of it, the better: It takes 26 songs these days before you can make your breakthrough as an artist, and even such ubiquitous acts as Ariana Grande add a new single almost every month in order not to be forgotten and not to lose their brand status. Does that mean for you as a reader that one has to put down one‘s arms and surrender to the superiority of the majors? Not at all. Rather, musicians today have more opportunities than ever to find their own audience. More on this in the second part of this article.
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