Why Social Media Perfectionism is an Artist’s Worst Enemy

Social media will be an industry mainstay for the foreseeable future, with 9 out of 10 users participating in a music or artist-related activity according to Music Watch. Social media have radically changed models of music consumption and distribution, and at Burstimo, we cannot stress enough the importance of any up and coming artist to actively engage with their social media strategy to build a loyal fan base and generate good return-on-investment. However, there are always two sides to an argument and artists have started to talk candidly about the challenges of social media marketing on their careers and personal lives such as feeling a need to be “perfect” all the time (i.e., social perfectionism) and finding one’s identity as a musician. 

Of course, it’s now part of an artist’s job to present themselves as best as possible online because this is essentially self-promotion. But music managerial and marketing professionals need to acknowledge their clients’ perspectives because firstly, musicians, like all of us, are humans (not perfect superhumans!), and have feelings about their work. And secondly, technological consumption has massive implications for artists who already face many other industry-related pressures. Together, all of these can be overwhelming for musicians that eventually they want to open up to someone, ironically, using their socials as an outlet for this. So in this blog, we’re going to explore some of the ways social media perfectionism influences an artist’s outlook, which will help you to better manage and understand your clients when you’re next discussing social media strategy with them. 

Trend and image-driven expectations 

The increased promotion of good mental health within the music industry has enabled artists to speak out more about their struggles with social media. In a 2019 report from the Record Union, 39% of independent artists reported that taking time away from social media improved their mental wellbeing. A number of famous faces have also talked publicly about the impact social media has had on them like Selena Gomez, who has spoken about becoming addicted to social media having had the most followed Instagram account, and having seen other people’s “perfectly filtered lives” online that don’t represent what real life is like. Ed Sheeran shared similar feelings of self-comparison on George Ezra’s podcast, having compared himself to “people like Justin Bieber or the One Direction lot,” “I was like, ‘they’re so photogenic and they’ve got six packs…and I should look like that.’”

There are various strategies artists can implement towards the pressure social media invokes to look a certain way or to be a certain kind of person. While there are artists who don’t care about what messages they see on their feeds, this is not necessarily the case for everyone and for many music practitioners, there are actions they have to intentionally implement into their routine to not let one post or comment destroy their lifelong passion for music. In last month’s blog for World Mental Health Day, we recommended several things such as practising positive thinking daily, scheduling content so artists can consciously have screen breaks, and strategically choosing what accounts to follow and controlling their settings to view content that encourages more positive feelings than negative. 

Again, acknowledging that social media advertising is a vital component of an artist’s work (e.g., influencers) will help your clients, and indeed yourself, see your posts in a more objective way. For example, it was recently disclosed that the average amount for a sponsored Instagram post in 2019 is $1,642 (£1,276) so invariably, the post has to look amazing in order to sell the product the corporation is asking the artists to promote.Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora are among 16 celebrity influencers who have agreed by consumer protection law to mention in their posts when they’ve been incentivised to promote a brand so these practices explicitly put industry-based social media marketing in a work environment.

But while it’s important to take your marketing work seriously, it’s equally important for artists to not take themselves too seriously. Case in point – while many users find themselves going down the rabbit hole of Instagram, Lewis Capaldi is tweeting about comparing his face to a potato smiley! JBut in some ways, a post like this is actually more relatable than artists constantly posting flawless, airbrushed photos because it shows that they’re human, or even “perfectly imperfect.”

Unhelpful thoughts about music creation and performance

Another area where social media perfectionism affects artists is their creative and performance practice. Returning to the idea of self-comparison, it’s very tempting for musicians to scroll through their feeds and see videos of their colleagues riffing or playing fast and feel that they’re not good enough. The previous Record Union report cites pressure to succeed, negative pressure, fear of failure, pressure to deliver and being evaluated by others as several factors that impact music creation, all of which are by-products of perfectionist thinking and expectations of social media marketing. But more than often, these are pressures we put on ourselves that are not based on factual evidence but our own opinions of ourselves, what we think music industry professionals think of us, or flashbacks to past/negative experiences. 

While it’s important to aim for high standards artistically in this competitive industry, striving for perfection creates unrealistic goals. Aiming for perfection also creates physical tension (e.g., tight throat, shaky hands) and mental block (“writer’s block”), the opposite of what we need to be creative, expressive musicians. On the other hand, aiming for an excellent, optimal or “good enough” performance is far more attainable as it takes into consideration the fact that there is no such thing as a “perfect,” social-media-facing performance, and that mistakes are to be accepted as part of life. 

There are lots of free resources available for musicians to help them better deal with performance anxiety and perfectionistic/social-media-related thinking, which I would strongly recommend artists to read and implement into their creative practice. Much in the same way as athletes or entrepreneurs regularly practise mental strategies to enhance their performance, this is just as important as physically practising your music. 

Additionally, perfectionistic tendencies are strongly linked to procrastination as people are scared about getting things wrong so they put off their work. But this creates a vicious cycle whereby users go on social media to procrastinate but then looking through other people’s “seemingly perfect” feeds frequently invokes negative feelings. This is counterproductive, which makes it even more important for musicians to take time away from their socials to fully focus on being creative and “getting the job done.” Your clients will need to use the Internet for their admin, work and music production so if social media is something that your artists find difficult or distracting to look at, the Freedom app is one brilliant tool which blocks sites and apps of their choice to allow them to work productively. 

“Vanity metrics”

We know that record companies and managers are now looking at artists’ social media follower count as one factor to determine their popularity, pre-existing fan base, and career success (also known as the “like economy”). However, even if an artist has a million followers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have it all. Many other ingredients contribute to a successful social media strategy such as sentiment analysis, reactions, algorithms, and now, it’s not uncommon for marketers to invest in paid advertising, curated content or sponsored branding to guarantee more followers. 

Moreover, in Nancy Baym’s recent paper on the implications of online data for popular musicians, several artists commented that despite their large count of followers, not all of them are actually engaging with their content or music. What matters more is the quality of engagement. However, measuring online value is still a tricky area, as Baym comments: 

“In some ways it is trite to point out that metrics cannot capture the emotional value of art, or that the emotions art invokes are beyond commodification. Yet at the same time, it is art’s power to give voice to such affect that motivates creators to create and audiences to spend money on those creations.”

In Conclusion

Even in today’s image and trend-driven culture of social media marketing, audiences are ultimately going to invest in artists for their music, not the way an artist looks or one Instagram post, although this will partly influence their purchasing decisions. 20 or 30 years ago, social media didn’t even exist, however, the music industry has significantly changed. So if your artists aren’t feeling great because of social media, or if you can sense that something’s not fine with them, it’s essential that you implore them to take practical measures. And social perfectionism can subsequently influence managers and promoters because we’re on the sites all the time. So as adults, it’s important to take responsibility for how we want to feel, think and act, especially with the many expectations posed not only by our feeds but the music profession, and indeed, ourselves. 


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