Perilous Future for Twitter & Tik-Tok Presents Challenges for Music

Platforms like Twitter and Tik-Tok have been instrumental to the rise of artists outside of the musical industrial complex by connection them directly with fans, and circumventing the need for major labels or mass media to help performers find a sustainable audience in many instances. But now these platforms and their viability is under threat like never before, leaving artists and their fans wondering how to navigate the impending future.

Tik-Tok’s Shaky Future

Without question, Tik-Tok has been one of the biggest game changers in music in recent history, and arguably it is the biggest development in the industry since the switchover to streaming as the primary avenue for music consumption. At this point, countless careers have been launched thanks to the app, and many other careers supported mightily without the need to sign a major label deal, or to wait for radio play or some big tour or festival booking for exposure. Even if a Tik-Tok star does sign to a major label eventually, they can do so from a position of power. The artists holds the cards now, because they’ve already made a connection with a fan base.

This has been both good and bad for music. Being able to create content directly for consumers and build your own fan base organically has put the power back into the hands of creators and their fans. But without gatekeepers, benchmarks, or litmus tests, it’s also given rise to viral artists that sometimes or often are subpar, but still get ahead from being savvy with the platform as opposed to substantive with their music. These artists also often disappear back into the greater populous once the viral moment has come and gone.

When it comes to country music, the Tik-Tok platform has rendered mixed results with seeding stars, converting them into long-term independent or mainstream performers, and offering anything of value to the public. Priscilla Block was supposed to be the next big thing in country after her song “Just About Over You” blew up on Tik-Tok. But after signing to Mercury Nashville, she’s failed to convert into a major country star, or re-create her initial success. Walker Hayes had one of the biggest “country” songs in the last few years with the massive “Fancy Like.” But like a lot of Tik-Tok phenomenons, it was one-off, and he’s since struggled.

More importantly though is the everyday interactions and engagement with fans that many artists use the Tik-Tok app for, to promote tour dates, song and video releases, merch drops, and just generally garner interest and convert listeners to fans. Seeing that go away instantly would leave a gaping hole that other apps struggle to fill.

The banning of Tik-Tok seems like a very real possibility. In an era when a political consensus can’t seems to be found about much of anything, both Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress seem to be gunning for Tik-Tok irrespective of the popularity of the app, if not because of it. Meanwhile, even advocates of the Tik-Tok ban have voiced concerns that the bill currently being considered called the “Restrict Act” also gives the US Government broad powers of oversight and censorship over social media companies, along with raising privacy concerns.

Ideas of divesting Tik-Tok from it’s Chinese masters and on-shoring everything in the United States have proven to be difficult to implement, while that still doesn’t assure that data centers back in China will be somehow restricted from accessing the data. Some artists don’t use Tik-Tok at all due to the fear of its intrusive nature and tracking/privacy concerns. But many who do use it rely on it heavily. The elimination or severe restriction of Tik-Tok could cause dramatic reverberations throughout the music world.

Concerns At Twitter

Twitter has a much smaller user base both in the realm of artists and their fans. But it’s not how many people are on Twitter that matters, it’s who. As the mother brain for much of American media and a hive for celebrity culture, Twitter plays an outsized role in discourse among influencers, journalists, critics, industry types, and some of the biggest artists in every music genre.

Similarly to Tik-Tok, some music artists have utilized Twitter to increase their fan bases by significant margins. Jason Isbell’s Twitter feed is what has made him such a celebrity beyond Americana music. Freelance journalists who are not native to any specific outlet also utilize Twitter as their de facto home base. Now all of the effort to create networks of reader, listeners, and fans is in peril.

Twitter is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but it is already dealing with major contraction and disruption after a host of polarizing moves and developments. After the January 6th, 2021 incident at the United States Capitol, scores of conservative personalities were banned from the platform, and after President Donald Trump was banned, many other conservatives left in protest. The opposite happened when billionaire Elon Musk took over the platform in October of 2022, reinstating many of the individuals who were previously banned, but causing liberals to leave.

Numerous steps by Elon Musk subsequently have now made the Musk regime at Twitter polarizing to people on both sides of the political aisle. In mercurial and sometimes petty moves that seem to be more motivated by trolling than true transparency, Musk recently took away the verified checkmark from The New York Times, and then labeled NPR as “state-affiliated media” before changing it to “government-funded media” despite the outlet receiving less than 1% of its funding from government sources.

NPR has since stopped tweeting from its 52 separate accounts, including numerous accounts in the music realm. NPR joins a growing list to media outlets, journalists, music artists, and other celebrities and influencers leaving the platform.

Despite Elon Musk selling himself as a free speech absolutist, he recently also banned links to independent journalism platform Substack after the platform rolled out a beta version of an internal messaging system called “Substack Notes” that some consider a Twitter rival. This move by Twitter ran afoul of prominent journalist Matt Taibbi, who had been instrumental to reporting the US government’s efforts to suppress speech on the Twitter platform, and the bias nature of suppression campaigns by the company, a.k.a The Twitter Files. Musk later said the suppression of Substack links was due to the company “illegally downloading vast amounts of data to pre-populate their Twitter clone” and reinstated the links.

Nonetheless, many perceived the spat to be the petty suppression of a potential competitor on the site, and it has continued the erosion of trust in the platform. So has the implementation of the Twitter Blue program where people must pay $8 for the coveted blue checkmark, and to have their tweets show up in the same places they previously did for free. And far from a true identity verification, virtually anyone can pay for the privilege.

But beyond the specific gripes over Twitter’s moves, all the consternation has compounded into Twitter just being less useful to users, either to find stuff they’re looking for, or for music artists or media entities to draw attention to their content. In an article posted in Tech Crunch called “Twitter Is Dying,” they state,

The value that Twitter’s platform produced, by combining valuable streams of qualification and curiosity, is being beaten and wrung out. What’s left has — for months now — felt like an echo-y shell of its former self. And it’s clear that with every freshly destructive decision.

Musk has applied his vast wealth to destroying as much of the information network’s value as possible in as short a time as possible; each decision triggering another exodus of expertise as more long-time users give up and depart.

Saving Country Music can verify this from its own experience. Though it has always been a love/hate relationship with the platform due to the toxicity its algorithm sows, Twitter has been the best source for aggregating news and monitoring the doings in music compared to any other platform. However, over the last few months, there are fewer reasons to be on Twitter, while platforms like Instagram and even Facebook are better for ferreting out important news stories and finding other information, and for drawing traffic to stories.

Many music artists, journalists, and media outlets are wondering if they should succumb to Elon Musk’s plan and pay the $8 for Twitter Blue, or just abandon the platform entirely. From Saving Country Music’s experimentation, the $8 is far and away worth it for the increased visibility, but only if Twitter is a valuable platform to the user in the first place, which it’s quickly losing due to the incessant drama, not just on the platform itself, but from the Elon Musk leadership.

People leaving Twitter based on sheer principal from both sides of the cultural divide is completely understandable. But ultimately, if you’re a musician just looking to attract new fans, and to get bigger artists and the media to pay attention to you, fully abandoning the platform may not be in your best self-interest, while fans may still find it the best way to stay in touch with music. Remember, Zach Bryan’s meteoric career very much started with a Tweet from Parker McCollum.

What Should Music Artists, Fans, and Media Do?

Diversify. Whether you’re an artist trying to connect with fans, a fan trying to stay in touch with your favorite artists, or a label/manager/publicist/journalist/media outlet, relying on just one or even two social media platforms to stay connected with your important friend/fan network puts you on shaky ground. Tik-Tok could go away tomorrow, and Twitter could continue to lose value. People have already been spending less time on Facebook overall, and as Instagram continues to attempt to emulate Tik-Tok, it’s usefulness continues to be devalued.

What About Instagram?

Despite Instagram trying to compete with Tik-Tok and taking away from the original value of the platform, unlike Twitter and Facebook, Instagram continues to see growth in both its user base and engagement, and unlike these other platforms, tends to be much less toxic, while also offering some rather incredible music-centric features, including allowing you to embed or overlay actual music tracks with posts in the feed, story, and reels formats. It is no MySpace—which back in the day presented the ideal for networking in the music space—but Instagram is arguably the best way to stay connected to music, while also not running the risk of all the effort you put into building a profile on the platform being pulled out from under you like Tik-Tok.

Those who were around for the MySpace implosion probably don’t need to be warned about relying on just one platform. And even though they may seem outmoded, simple things like an email list and even a standalone website are conventional ways to ensure you will always have a platform to share information with your audience.

Don’t be afraid to start a blog on your own website to share info, and to send out regular newsletters when it is warranted. And if you cultivate these things, fans and media will frequent them. If you’re a fan, seek these things out. They guarantee you will see stuff from your favorite artists as opposed to relying on sketchy social media algorithms and spurious platforms.

Some artists spend virtually no time on social media and still succeed. For others, social media is integral to their strategy. There is no right or wrong way, and it really depends on the style of the music, and the personality of the performer. If what an artist does lends to social media posts, lean into that strategy. If mystery is what makes the music or artist interesting, don’t impinge upon that by posting too much, or being too many places.

But either way, we’re likely within some of the most transformational moments in the musical social media realm since the emergence of Tik-Tok in 2016. To survive, artists are going to have to diversify, be willing to adapt, be quick on their feet, and make sure to give fans the ability to follow and find them no matter where they’re at.

And since grassroots fans are willing to go beyond passive fans to support their favorite artists, be sure as fans to follow along wherever your favorite artists go. Following, commenting, liking, and sharing content on social media can be critical to your favorite artist’s success, especially early in their career. Make sure if they disappear from Twitter, or Tik-Tok disappears entirely, you’re still around to enjoy and support what they do.

© 2024 Saving Country Music