The dynamics of the music dissemination process have been completely altered by rapid technological advancements, and the open-access to various social media outlets which has ensued in the last two decades. The results are manifold and various dimensions call for a serious investigation which can by no means be exhaustive.

On the positive front, artists have gained unprecedented capabilities to produce themselves in DIY (do-it-yourself) manners through digital audio workstations, often in home-based music studios. Low end digital audio interfaces, a condenser microphone and headphones/speakers for the purposes of monitoring the audio signal, can be used to produce clear mixes. Of course, economic imperatives still dictate the state-of-affairs, and the more you invest, the grander your sound gets. In any case, without internal room treatment sound on the one hand, and soundproofing, on the other, the outputs you achieve will not meet professional standards, but it’s a good starting point. Moreover, there are no shortcuts to learning the craft - ear training and focussed practice are still prerequisites for pulling off of a decent performance, which can then be improved upon through various contemporary tools. YouTube has been a great revelation because of the wide range of lessons and tutorials online, but supervised human guidance is still advised to improve beyond a beginner-intermediate stage. This type of wide-ranging freedom to create music was impossible in older times, when studio time was extremely costly, and artists were required to be signed by record labels who would manage the recording process, marketing and distribution for them. Big studios still create crisper audio, and corporate platforms like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement, in Pakistan, are still the pipe-dream for most artists, because of the gargantuan size of their advertising budgets, which create an unparalleled mass audience. But independent musicians, who refuse to go corporate, suddenly have new avenues to record and publish their material. A good smartphone with solid audio/visual recording is all you need to project live performances. While Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter do favour the corporate model which can get better sponsorship, artists on the margins now have more agency than ever before. And some artists intend to remain on the margins, not willing to follow corporate trends and the dictates of mass culture. Serious hobbyists can now use social media platforms to project parts of their selves online, create an intimate following, and connect with like-minded artists from all over the world. Contemporary social media applications are extremely intuitive in gauging the nature of a particular profile and their algorithms are well-suited to connecting people with similar interests in a very effective manner - the scene has become increasingly global, something unimaginable in previous decades. All it takes is a relevant hashtag and you’re suddenly connected. #pickupjazz #wowmusicians #musicproducers #musicianslife come to my mind. How you handle the interaction is a conscious choice and might lead to a quick collaboration, or an even quicker block.

But there’s an obvious downside. While everyone has access to basic tools, all of the music being produced is not of great quality, and that’s obviously not a shocker. Artists run the risk of being caught in the seductive web of taking a vague following too seriously, and getting astray in the process. Even if one dislikes it, artists increasingly turn to their devices to seek social validation. Social media can trigger unnecessary anxiety and depression, and screen addiction is a serious disorder, increasingly recognized by professionals around the world. Privacy risks have also increased as impersonators, spam bots and predators, also, run amok in the circus, and you have to be very careful with the filtration process. Followers might like posts without actually having gone through them as they indulge in a cut-throat screening process of swiping up and down their feeds. In a global setting where we are increasingly moving towards post-modern trajectory which is channelled by the forces of neo-liberal capitalism, the lines between what is real, and what is not real, are getting increasingly blurred. The Madonna effect is at play in a way - she used to keep getting more popular because her popularity became popular. In the same vein, numbers matter more and more, as our human essences are disgustingly reduced to follower counts and reactions. Great artists on the margins become more cornered because of their lack of know-how of social media management, even though they might be putting in the right kind of hours and creating great music. Just because they have a limited following or they have not sold themselves in a catchy enough manner, their reach might suffer as numbers beget numbers. The basic logic behind growing your audience is to post consistently and frequently, which helps applications enhance growth according to trends - something that might often kill the standard of art. Instagram posts are limited to one minute and encourage showboating which might not be suited for all styles of music. Quantity, in a soul-crushing manner, matters more than quality - although this is not universally applicable. Niche audiences also develop for some genres and the intimate interaction which results from it can be extremely valuable.

Our preferences and browsing habits are being used to turn us increasingly tribal - we get to see more and more data of the nature that we’ve liked in history, and gain a false existential security by interacting with like-minded people. This effect was so painstakingly obvious, when in the run-up to the U.S presidential elections, analysts on “liberal” Twitter predicted a sure-shot Hillary Clinton win on the eve of the election, and the only thing left to be seen was whether she’d win 60% or more states. The results on the next night led to a state of shock and bewilderment for Democrat sympathizers who could not fathom the Trump-Republican win and the rise of a silent majority that disagreed with their posturing. Most times, it is a great self-checking exercise to engage with counter-narratives, and the automated nature of contemporary social media designs often refuses us that privilege. In a similar vein, the role of Cambridge Analytica in Brexit and the last U.S Presidential election is increasingly shady as it is alleged that Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. Extremely large data sets can be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions, helping corporations wield immense power.

In a witty response to a question about the function of contemporary social media, senior journalist Nusrat Javeed pointed out the 50-150 rule. He contended that no matter how big a social media celebrity one might think themselves to be, one is on average going to have 50 people on their wedding, and 150 on their funeral. However, social media is sticky. Even those 50 and 150 people might go on social media the next morning to like, tag and share images from the proceedings or be silent spectators, and might have been invited to the said events or have come to know about them through social media. And they might be your most intimate followers online, supporting your craft. Social media, now, is ubiquitous, like that.

The author is a freelance columnist.@irtiza_shafaat

While everyone has access to basic tools, all of the music being produced is not of great quality, and that’s obviously not a shocker.