Ours is a generation blessed with access to all kinds of information. Take any topic, no matter the obscurity and the odds are, you will find tons of actionable data on it, instantly, all thanks to a quick search. This golden era owes its existence in large part to the almighty algorithms dictated by the internet gods and while for the most part the rules of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SMO (Social Media Optimization) work well for both readers and quality creators, the newness of these systems bring with them challenges that these relatively old institutions fail to comprehend.
One of the old institutions that got infused with a breath of modernity with social media was the industry of artists and creators. The internet allowed artists, designers, painters, writers, musicians and other such people blessed with creativity to move away from seeking the patronage of big studios, agencies, corporates or wealthy individuals, and bring their talent directly to the people.
The platforms enabled creators to focus on what they do best and amplify their voices for a fraction of the costs, sometimes even without costs. The idea that someone can make a living playing Minecraft would be outlandish at any other time. This goes to show the massive benefits these platforms bring. However, sometimes the actions of these giants and especially the actions of giants dominating these platforms can be problematic.
Spotify & Musicians
Spotify, Apple Music & Prime Music, you’ve probably known, are bad for artists. Spotify makes musicians adapt their music to fussy algorithms and playlist-ability if they want to maximize streams (those help boost revenues) and the harms of Apple Music can take a post of its own.
These platforms incentivize producing more music— often at the cost of good music. To be fair, these apps are great for hobbyists, who want to display their talent to the world but for those who depend on it economically, things get murky. A critique of this argument also exists, one can say that artists and studios have long reigned on the top of the food chain and Spotify and Co. simply introduce competition and quality access to listeners, and that can be valid.
The artists and bands who have the most to gain from Spotify and Co. are the ones who are already wildly successful. Each stream generates about $0.006-$0.008 in royalties for the artist. The odds for independent artists are miserable but even established artists face the brunt of the new system. The revenues of high-profile singers have dropped in the age of streaming; this is because artists are not independent. While the front-end of the music industry has been accessible and cheap, the control of big studios often exacts a heavy toll on the musicians.
The reality is that our current low-cost music subscription is largely funded by venture capital and undervalued artists. This imbalance coupled with the notorious unprofitability of Spotify as a company shows how desperately the world of music needs change.
Instagram & Marketing
Like musicians, for the most part, the world of artists (used as an umbrella term of designers, digital illustrators, painters, calligraphers etc.) has also seen a monumental change with the advent of Instagram. It is extremely easy and rewarding to start a page, the community of designers and even agencies are largely helpful and collaborative for the most part. The impetus on quality content and aesthetic design has raised the bar and created a renaissance of sorts for digital art and advertisements. However, not all is well in waffleville.
Art by its very nature is subjective and to pass judgement on it is inherently wrong. It’s especially evil when those passing judgement can entirely change the perception for the rest. When someone decides the top 10 movies, it’s their top 10 and never THE TOP 10, but the sheer power of the review can change your perception for the film, to either positive or negative.
In fairness, the reviews and the judgements do help sometimes but what we see currently is problematic. The emergence of these content curation pages that are dominating the narrative on design, are in my opinion the worst aspect of Instagram.
Pages such as Mad Over Marketing, Social Media Dissect, Marketing Minds, Entrepreneurship Facts etc. are the first ones that come to notice. Running any successful page on Instagram is hard work, analyzing reach, hashtag research, post consistency and quality are not easy. Some of these pages are run by extremely talented and experienced people. But the virtues of the few can not overshadow the shortfalls of the many.
Reviewing design and art is tough and underestimated, but no artist or designer creates bad work on purpose, you do not have to be a great chef to review food, but you do need a deep understanding and experience in the industry to be a good one.
The issue currently is the paucity of good reviewers and an abundance of popularity with bad ones. Some pages have turned to downright billionaire worship while some have fallen further. Many of the people running these pages would never, in a million years, be capable of matching the capacities of people they review but since the benefits of getting featured are immense, all designers have to change their philosophy and style and meet the ones laid out by these pages.
The shallow rat race of viral trends is in part their doing. When artists and creators impose on themselves the judgement of a few, can they remain unique, true and improve in the long term? It’s convenient to confuse between fame and art but it is best for us to not. It is easy for people to follow a handful of these curation pages as opposed to following a ton of creators but the latter does more good both for the viewer and the creator.
Better knowledge comes from browsing the library, not blindly following an uninspired curriculum.
YouTube and Jimmy Kimmel
The idea of the Internet as a free, democratic and decentralized, escape is changing as it matures. We should be wary of institutions that seek to define a narrative, review or curate art, especially if they run paid posts and monetized collaborations. The basic premise that we want content for free creates problems either for the creators in terms of stress and reduced pay, or for users in terms of privacy. The flip side is also very nuanced and worthy but this is something that we should think about.