How Social Media Burnout Affects Musicians
While many musicians daydream about touring the world, the reality and challenges of touring life are well-documented. One doesn't need to read too many interviews with famous bands to catch anecdotes about the levels of exhaustion that can exist alongside the allure of stage lights, green rooms, and adoring fans. That's why tours are scheduled with breaks and nights off—the need to slow down or pause for self-care is built in.
Social media engagement on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram have become a new kind of touring, in the sense that they provide direct point of access between artists and audiences. Emerging artists are constantly trying to create that elusive viral moment, while established artists work hard to maintain their momentum. What was once an artist’s choice to be digitally present has become a nearly universal expectation.
But the lines separating online from offline are notoriously blurry—as a creator, there is pressure to create infinite content to populate the infinite scroll. In fact, there's a strong chance that many musicians are using their nights off from tour to work on their next TikTok video. Enter the idea of "digital burnout"—the exhaustion and mental strain that can plague the extremely online.
Christopher Wares, assistant chair of the Music Business/Management Department, says that "social media management is both an art and a science, and becoming proficient can be a steep learning curve." Below, Wares discusses digital burnout and, much like dealing with many kinds of mental health issues, how self-care and awareness go a long way toward maintaining a healthy balance.
While the term “digital burnout” sounds somewhat self-explanatory, could you help explain what it means in the context of musicians?
Social media has become the primary means of building and maintaining a fanbase, driving streams and sales, music discovery, as well as unlocking marketing and financial support from labels and brand partners.
Digital burnout in this context refers to the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion as a result of prolonged stress and pressure to constantly create social media content, in addition to all of the other responsibilities of being a professional musician (e.g., songwriting, recording, production, performing live, going to school, working at a job, promoting new releases, etc.).
The reality is that artists can create and publish content that is authentic to their brand and aligned with their values without having to use features or participate in trends that go against those.
This kind of burnout affects artists at every level or stage in their career. Emerging artists need to be active on social media to start building their fanbase, as well as experiment with different types of content to develop their brand, persona, and even sound. It can also play a key role in helping them advance to the next stage of their career. TikTok reported that in 2020 alone, over 70 artists that broke on the platform received major label deals.
Established artists need to stay engaged on socials to interact with their fans, stay relevant, and most importantly, promote releases. Moreover, a roundtable discussion organized by the Music Managers Forum in 2022 revealed that many labels are now using social media follower and engagement statistics to determine marketing budgets.
In your experiences with students, what are some examples/indicators of digital burnout that you’ve observed?
You'd be surprised how many students I talk to that have voiced concerns about this issue. Some factors that have led to digital burnout have included ineffective time and priority management, not setting healthy boundaries, not seeking support, engaging with cyberbullies or online trolls, ineffective use of tools, lack of work-life balance; poor health habits (e.g., sleep, diet, exercises), etc.
Other indicators I've noticed have been not posting on social media for long periods of time, deleting profiles (or even apps), severe anxiety about posting, extreme fatigue and lack of motivation, rationalizations about how TikTok or Instagram does not align with their values or artistic integrity, focusing on aspects of their career that are not generating any tangible results (a false sense of productivity), etc.
How would you describe the growing relationship between labels and social media platforms, particularly TikTok?
TikTok has become an extremely powerful platform for music discovery, streaming, promotion, and fan engagement (for artists at every level). Labels are now evaluating whether or not to sign a new artist—as well as determining the marketing budgets for signed artists—based on number of followers or uses of music in user-generated content.
TikTok describes itself as occupying “a central place in the creation, consumption, and interpretation of modern music. [It] is a playground where artists and creators can interact, combining their unique sensibilities and talents to propel trends to the forefront of culture.”
The result therefore has been increased pressure—either self-imposed or from labels/management—to be active on these social media platforms and constantly create new content.
Some artists (and managers) have begun to speak out about the pressure to create viral moments on a regular basis. How realistic are these expectations?
Much like there is no magic recipe for producing a hit song, the same is true for creating viral moments. The vast majority of songs released do not become hits, nor do the vast majority of social media campaigns go viral. It is a highly competitive environment—that is oversaturated with content—where success is determined by a unique mix of talent, creativity, the right timing, and luck.
Social media management is both an art and a science, and becoming proficient can be a steep learning curve. Independent artists (or the managers of more established artists) are having to learn an entirely new skill set, in addition to their many other duties. All of these factors make it extremely difficult to make any kind of accurate predictions, thus skewing expectations and adopting “shotgun approaches” in the hopes that something does well.
What are some tips and strategies for musicians as they navigate this relatively new way of growing their audience?
The more we've learned about this issue, the longer the list of resources has grown. I'm certain that trend will continue, but for now, this is a good representation of healthy practices:
- Make use of each platforms’ health and wellness tools, such as TikTok’s Digital Well-Being features or Instagram’s break reminder.
- Take regular breaks (e.g., breath work, meditation, going for a walk, exercising).
- Learn about the best practices on social media (conferences, courses, etc.) to improve efficiency and increase productivity.
- Set objectives, but then focus on creating a system. In other words, create a routine (or set of habits) and schedule that is easily manageable.
- Utilize social media management tools such as Hootsuite, Sprout Social, etc.
- Create a space and workflow to easily set up and record content.
- Batch-create content to relieve the pressure of having to constantly be working.
- Get support from a social media manager, friends, or family. If in a band, distribute and assign tasks amongst the different band members.
- Address any limiting beliefs or misconceptions about social media. For example: “Success on social media requires having to participate in all of the top trends, regardless of whether they align with your brand and artistic integrity.” The reality is that artists can create and publish content that is authentic to their brand and aligned with their values without having to use features or participate in trends that go against those.
- Do not focus solely on creating highly produced content that requires large amounts of time and resources. A useful perspective is to think of “documenting” rather than producing. The behind-the-scenes, authentic content generally creates the highest level of engagement.
- Focus on meaningful social engagement and real connection instead of just likes or followers.
- Be aware of cyberbullying and online trolls. Negative or hateful comments are all-too-common online, and it is important not to take these personally or engage.