Forget about the dance floor, some DJs seem to be making a career out of being good at Facebook. Going around with photographers, putting manicured pictures up, playing at parties in Ibiza and creating the impression that they're absolutely smashing it. In reality, though, how many of them are actually making it, and how many are just dropping major cash on promoted posts? And if it's the latter, is this the real way to get ahead?
For years now, Facebook has allowed artists to build up online fan bases as a way to gauge success. In a very unsophisticated way, it's an incredibly easy to way to instantly assess the 'popularity' of an artist. DJ X has 1346 fans, DJ Y has 13,460 fans, ergo DJ Y is more popular. Easy, right? Kind of. They may have thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Facebook 'likes' but is anyone really listening? And are they actually communicating with their fans?
To avoid a scroll through your feed feeling like one long advert, the site is now charging for sponsored posts. Unless they're a massive star already, artists can end up paying anything from 20 quid to thousands of pounds to guarantee their post gets noticed. If they don't, and the post isn't hugely popular organically, then algorithms can choke the exposure it gets.
But who cares about a few measly Facebook likes? DJs, obviously. "For some, I think the importance is overstated, and for others I think it's absolutely key," says Murray Gray manager of Edu Imbernon and T Williams. "With some artists we don't even touch their Facebook, some we merely execute the posts for them, and for others we create, execute and monitor all their social activity."
Social media is used to advertise music, and success, as we all know all too well, can be built on hype. "The new system really makes you think about what you're posting," said one DJ, who preferred not to be named. "You don't want to upload something that just dies up there with no likes because, unfortunately, promoters do look at people's Facebook pages to see whether the engagement is good. It's not the absolute be all and end all, but it is one factor to see if this is someone people are buzzing about."
Xxxy, aka Rupert Taylor, who has almost 80,000 likes on Facebook, thinks that the more fans you have, the less people see. "Videos work, but anything with text related to your gig doesn't. You get notified that only 100 people have seen it so Facebook say 'why don't you pay £50 to get more exposure?'"
He added: "My personal preference would be for everyone not to pay and then Facebook would just give up on it and everyone would see it [the content in question]. This is how it used to be. I mean, these days you could just buy likes and then you can sponsor the post."
Not everyone agrees with Taylor's utopian stance on how artists should use the social network. "Why should it be free? I don't have anything against Facebook charging, it's a bit sneaky and it's a bit annoying but that's the way it is, so if you look at yourself as a business then you have to pay to advertise sometimes," said an unnamed DJ.
For Murray Gray, it comes down to a simple idea: artists being aware of how much they have to market themselves. "If we are talking about whether artists should feel comfortable marketing their posts, I would venture many posts are advertising in some way anyway, all you are doing is boosting the audience of the post."
Oliver Hackett, social media manager for Manchester's Warehouse Project and Parklife festival thinks that no matter how many likes a page has, artists need to back up their messaging with spend to reach their audience properly. "I've seen quite a few people who've just bought a load of Likes from a dodgy website," he says. "That doesn't really make sense to me, as it just increases the chance of reaching a load of random fake accounts rather than real people who are genuinely interested."
According to Facebook, the site works hard to make sure everything on your newsfeed is relevant to you and to avoid people feeling like they are seeing the wrong ads, or too many. By charging for the posts, they say, it actually helps keep Facebook relatively ad free. Which is nice of them, isn't it?
One of the most direct consequences of this change in how Facebook fundamentally operates, aside from the surge in popularity of other social media outlets, largely Instagram—which, lest we forget, is owned by Facebook—is that artists, and their social media managers, are gravitating towards clickbait as a means of driving engagement levels. When THUMP spoke to George Fitzgerald last year, he noted that a posting photos of his cats would generate more 'numbers', I.E. Facebook likes, than announcing a new record did.
Which leaves us in a position where artists are no longer 'just' musicians: they're content generators, just like the rest of us. Silence is no longer golden and the gaps between releases have to be filled with something, anything, to keep up virtual appearances. The uploads roll on ceaselessly. For some, understandably, this is a real bone of contention. As UK producer Midland recently tweeted, "I am going to get on with making music and try not to spend 2016 worrying about a website that has zero investment in anything creative."
The problem with Facebook is that it has become a ball and chain. Artists know how important it is and getting it wrong can prove disastrous. It's about doing a post, getting it right, and then getting it off their chest for ten days. Twitter, on the other hand, offers more direct communication and a slightly more seamless sense of promotion. For real feedback on a gig or a new track, Twitter mentions, arguably, count for more than a Facebook like. But who's counting them?
So whilst some are saying to hell with the whole thing, others are playing the game. We've already got artists on top of mountains and DJs in the desert. Where will it end? We're not sure, but remember, whatever happens, please, please press 'Like.'
Tess Reidy writes for the Guardian. You can follow her on Twitter.