How To Be an Artist on Social Media Without Destroying Your Soul
Because you probably need to advertise.
Something I’ll commonly see people stress over is this:
“I recognize the detrimental effect social media is having on me, and I would like to quit, but I need to have these apps for my art (or business, career, etc).”
To which I say, well… yes. Yes you probably do. I know many of you probably expected me to go with “delete that shit you are lying to yourself”, but hear me out; yes, a lot of the reasons social media gives for needing to post there are absolutely not true, and in many cases —such as implying that it’s for y’know, being social— the complete opposite of reality.
But if you want to be a (let’s go with) musician who makes money from their music, and you don’t have a sugar Momma/Daddy willing to finance it all? Yeah, these days you kinda need to be on social media.
Because Social Media is for Advertisingrecently asked the question “What is social media for?” It’s a good piece and also a relevant question to this discussion. Before signing yourself up (for well, anything really), it’s healthy to ask “what is this for?”
For the consumer, social media is almost always for “looking at entertaining things”. But why post? Facebook and Instagram say they’re for sharing with friends and family. Twitter is for all your big-brain takes your friends politely ignore. TikTok is actually pretty blatant about what it’s for, which is “a chance to go viral”.
If you are an artist who isn’t trying to sell anything, then yeah, you probably should delete that account. You are not a brand. Acting like you are, and selling yourself can only hurt you in the long run1. Social media platforms have many layers, but deep down at their cores, what they’re for is advertising.
And Advertising is Work.
In the movies the way artists make money is by becoming famous. In the movies, the artist starts off as your average conventionally attractive person out there vibin’ in the New York subway with an acoustic guitar, and eventually someone notices them and after a brief montage the artist is magically able to pay their rent on time every month.
But as any working artist can tell you, making a living from your art is about ten percent making art and ninety percent running a business. And running a business is work. There’s a lot of “accounting” and “networking” and general “getting yourself out there”. It’s work.
And Work Sucks
There’s a phrase I say a lot (I think I may have made it up?) It goes like this:
If it was fun nobody would have to be paid to do it.
The gist is this: if you hate your work, that’s perfectly normal. There are exceptionally few people who would continue put up with their same jobs in the same way in a world where money didn’t exist. Social media sucks. Promoting yourself on social media also sucks because it’s work and work sucks.
So Treat Your Social Media Time Like it’s Work.
Establish boundaries. Social media is engineered to get inside your head. Don’t let it.
Re-vizualize your accounts, not as yours, but as your business’s.
Unfollow (or mute) friends, family, and any distractions. Try not to feel bad about it. Accounts are not people, and you already wanted to delete it anyway, right?
Network! Follow accounts in a similar field and interact with them. You can do this authentically without being weird.
Schedule dedicated work time for managing the accounts, making posts, responding to DMs, etc.
Possible methods include:
Setting a screentime or digital wellbeing timer to prevent lingering after the “work” is done.
Uninstalling the app when done “working” for the day, and reinstalling it when needed.
Checking in only from your web browser, where you can block ads and other distractions.
Use third party software to schedule posts.
Using a second phone (or tablet, you probably won’t need a data plan) as a “work” phone that won’t be carried with you everywhere. Keep the bad apps on that device.
Encourage your existing followers to follow you somewhere less toxic.
Newsletters are the hotness right now, and platforms (such as) allow for easy monetization for your fans to directly support your work.
Be careful not go anywhere that won’t let you bring your followers with you if you leave.
Open the app
Post your shit out there, you rockstar.
Check your DM’s
Log off before the algorithm can get its tendrils into your brain.
…Which brings us to the most important part…
For the love of God, don’t fret over likes!
Social media algorithms want to nudge you into making generic art by rewarding it with likes. They want to trick artists into generating simple, easy-to-digest-content that will keep the other users hooked without challenging anyone intellectually. Don’t let them get away with it. It’s one thing to Airbnb-ify your art for money, it’s another to do it for imaginary internet points that also make your art boring.
Remember: Like counts are not tied in any meaningful way to how much people actually like your work. The companies decide what posts get seen and what doesn’t. The “game” is rigged. Writer Corey Doctorow recently compared going viral on social media to a carnival game and it’s very astute:
The peach-basket is a rigged game. The carny can use a hidden switch to force the balls to bounce out of the basket. No one wins a giant teddy bear unless the carny wants them to win it. Why did the carny let the sucker win the giant teddy bear? So that he'd carry it around all day, convincing other suckers to put down five bucks for their chance to win one.
The carny allocated a giant teddy bear to that poor sucker the way that platforms allocate surpluses to key performers—as a convincer, a way to rope in other suckers who'll make content for the platform, anchoring themselves and their audiences to it.
Don’t let yourself be anchored!
Know your limits
A few months back I made an account on Twitter account in order for Stay Grounded to “have a presence” on the famously addictive platform, and my goodness is it a toxic pit. Even compared to Reddit which is really saying something. Eventually I decided for sanity’s sake it was best to cut my losses and delete the account. I have a Mastodon account now. I look at it for maybe ten minutes a day and I don’t dwell on it after.
The point is, work always sucks, but if it’s destroying your soul, move on and don’t overthink it. Especially if you’re an artist or someone who needs their soul intact.
Maybe one day we’ll be fortunate enough live in a world where artists don’t need to advertise on social media in order to make a career out of it. It sucks that these platforms lie to us about what they’re for. But also maybe we should count our blessings that the path towards monetization no longer runs exclusively through big agencies and creepy Weinstein-esque gatekeepers. Yes, the business of art is still work. And work still sucks, but it could certainly be worse.
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Well, unless it’s on LinkedIn I suppose. But also no healthy person is on LinkedIn because they enjoy it.