Promoting Gro Touré

Play Gro Touré Here

This narrative begins in post-post-production. After the lyrics have been written, the guitars have been laid down, the beat has been assembled, the singing, the rapping, the vibing has been completed, and the recording, mixing and mastering has finished. In the neoliberal digital economy, the labor of the independent artist doesn’t conclude once the music stops spinning. In fact, it is arguable, that with the proliferation and abundance of music and recording technologies, the creation of music has become a minor step in the process of music and art creation. These technologies – fueled by the racial capitalist culture industry – while opening the door to artists who would have been previously excised from the production of cultural objects have decentralized and deconstructed the music industry from the inside-out resulting in anxieties high and low from people looking to make a living off of sound. However, this decentralized and deconstructed industry has not resulted in a purely positive advance for independent artist but rather the nature of this decentralization and deconstruction has given rise to its own forms of ambiguity. As Geoff Baker, Professor of Music at the Royal Holloway University of London states, “While it is undeniable that musicians have greater opportunities to take control over their careers than in the past, they are also taking on more tasks (Leurdijk and Nieuwenhuis 2012, 63). In the music business, as in the wider “creative economy,” labour, costs, risks, and pressures once assumed by institutions are now increasingly outsourced to individuals, dressed up as flexibility, independence, and control.”[1]

One of the principle aspects of labor, costs, risks, and pressure “once assumed by institutions” that artists have increasingly become burdened with is the process of promotion and marketing of one’s own artwork. This “disintermediation”[2] at the level of marketing makes the illusion of the artist outside of the network of late capitalism impossible. Whereas Marxist social theorist like Theodor Adorno work to contrast the pure spheres of music (i.e. Serious) from the Capitalist spheres of Music (i.e. Popular)[3], the collapse of shadow institutions in the form of marketing and distribution makes the façade of an “outside” to Racial Capitalism abundantly clear. The artist – as Classicist, as Mainstream, as Independent – exists within a Racial Capitalist Modernity. Navigation through this Modernity is always already either a mode of fugitivity internal to the field of racial capitalist relations and/or complicity with those racial capitalist relations. Discerning the nature of the either/or is a matter of sociality or politics not economics. For what was formerly the primary task of record labels and distribution companies has now become a central task of the artist’s “freed” from the restraints and constraints of centralization in the music business. Yet, what this “freeing” is, is the transformation of the entire field of social relations into a neoliberal constellation where to be is to be a business. In a paradigmatic twist of the words of the rapper Jay-Z, “We are not business men. We are a business, man.”[4]

This aspect of the artists’ labor will be the investigation of this auto-ethnographic experiment. To produce this experiment, I will take the two-track project written, recorded, mixed and mastered by myself and a friend, Gro Touré, and consider the ways an artist might go about promoting and marketing their music in this late racial capitalist moment. One of the central theses of this investigative experiment is the notion that late racial capitalism can be characterized as foundationally based in and through the Creative. In other words, late racial capitalism is fundamentally a creative economy.

This notion stems from an understanding that late racial capitalism is a capitalism influenced, modified and gravitationally pulled by precepts of the great pop artist Andy Warhol. Born August 6th, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Warhol’s influence on culture is well-documented and known. His merging of commercialism and artistry helped engineer the rise of celebrity culture in the 60s and the birth of the image of the Superstar. These trends, accompanied by Warhol’s affinity for and connection to, subcultures from within the American metropole, are crucial to understanding the way that racial capitalism has come to mobilize the image of the “Other” in commodity-form. Thus, while Warhol’s impact on culture is pronounced and exalted, his impact on the economy has yet to be reckoned with. The notion of “15 Seconds of Fame” which Warhol has become associated with is transformed significantly in the Digital Age where “15 Seconds of Fame” can very well become the basis for one’s entire branding. What one was for “15 Seconds” either in an Instagram video, a Twitter Post, a Facebook Meme, or a GIF in a neoliberal economy that allows for and encourages the branding of oneself can easily turn into the model for and of one’s business. These socio-technological shifts are at the heart of late racial capitalism’s media and communication based structuration. It is through paying attention to these shifts that I will later go on to develop the media theorist John Fiske’s notion of the “Popular Economy,”[5] in relationship to 21st Century socio-techno-mechanics and practices.

Yet, this world of ours is Post-Warholian since Warhol’s world invited one into the concept of Celebrity through association, request, consent and volunteerism, and our Post-Warholian world requires and necessitates celebrity as a determination in the development and assessment of not only personal value, but economic value as well. A clear indicator of this fact is the story behind the California-based record label (and home of rapper, Kendrick Lamar), Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), and their recent signee, the rapper, Reason. In an article describing Reason’s visit with TDE, the rapper notes the distinct difference between TDE’s signing practice versus that of the many other labels to which he shared his music with. He states:

Every meeting, all they talked about was my social media, my YouTube numbers, my SoundCloud numbers, and then we would play music for six minutes and that would be it… Top did not bring those things up once, and we played music for an hour and a half, and we see where TDE is. Because at the end of the day, you can do whatever you want, you can put glitter on it, try to make it shine, they gotta play the music. If the music isn’t there, it’s like, what else are you left with?[6]

To share one’s art such that one may make a living off of one’s art is to journey towards celebrity, and the neoliberal turn in the University, in the White House, in the World is nothing other than the World itself turned into a Post-Warholian Factory. In this factory, what matters is the numbers, not simply because in capitalism the numerical, the profitable, has always been central, but because in late racial capitalism in a Post-Warholian world, the symbolic currency of the number is indicative of one’s status as a Celebrity, as an Artist, as a Business. Indeed, the mantra of the Post-Sixties economy is: “Business art is the step that comes after Art… Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art… making money is art and working is art and good business is art.”[7]  The strenuous labor of creativity begins as soon as the record is laid down and the artist sits with themselves and asks, “How will we get the World to hear this?”

The anxiety which this question derives for the artist is an anxiety grounded in racial capitalist relations of which nothing can be thought outside of. Thus, in what follows, I start at that question as a means to unveil some of the ways artists, like myself, are grappling with these macro-structural trends. The hope is not to provide an exhaustive list of ways to promote and market music under these conditions, but rather to present an auto-ethnographic experimental analytic that details some of the process and histories of platforms being used by artist (such as TuneCore and DistroKid) to get music placed on streaming services like Spotify and iTunes. In addition, I hope to provide insight into mechanisms of promotion and marketing to be used on Instagram and Facebook to get music into the eyes and ears of the public. While the autoethnographic experiment lasted only for four weeks, I believe that there are interesting and important insights into the relationship between artist, the digital economy, and networked listening discussed. Underneath all of this investigation is the idea that what significantly defines late racial capitalism is the turning of its neoliberal citizenry into a kind of Warholian Creative where to share one’s work – as art, as business, as scholarship, etc. – is to partake in this economy of advertisement and celebrity, to seek growth in the form of Superstardom, and to exhibit oneself in the digital as the curation of a strategic and creative performance.

On Network Listening

In the early 2000s, the entire paradigm of sound and listening changed. The evental-emergence of the shift can be situated squarely within a seven-month period wherein a shift in the digital economy gave rise to what, Distinguished Research Professor at NYU, Kate Crawford, described as “network listening.”[8] Network listening is a form of listening generated in and through the proliferation of media communication devices and their intimate connection to social media networks. From the development of Apple, the iPhone, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and more, came an institutionalized form of networked listening, where, in a stroke of one button, of one page curation and creation, one could send messages, photos, memories, likes, comments and sounds all across the globe. Kate Crawford puts it this way:

The iPhone, along with other smartphones, opened the mobile from being a focused telecommunications device to being a media portal: connecting to several social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Friends, strangers, colleagues, news services, celebrities: all can be heard via a range of social platforms. Conversations, posting messages, images or videos can persist while on the move, away from a computer. Another pattern emerged: “tuning in,” the habit of checking the changing feed of posts multiple times during the day. For regular users of social media via iPhones, this becomes a “discipline of listening.”[9]

The rise of network listening and listening through networks not only drastically shifted the culture and industry of music, but it redirected the attention and focus of marketing and promotion away from the record label and into the hands of the artist in the form of the iPhone. The beginning of this analytic starts here for the majority of the marketing and promotion completed in this investigation was done on and from my iPhone. Thus, further instantiating Crawford’s point that the emergence of the iPhone and with it, the disciplinary imperative of listening in a network, represents a highly significant moment for the Internet and the Digital more broadly. Crawford again notes:

Another reason that the iPhone has become closely associated with a wider cultural emergence of network listening is that the device emerged alongside the mass popularization of Facebook and Twitter. Twitter was first launched in July 2006, Facebook was opened to all users in September 2006, and the first iPhone went to market in January 2007. This seven-month period represents a highly significant moment for the internet, and the kind of usage patterns that would emerge. The iPhone operating system offered one-touch access to the networks that were capturing large user bases in a very short, critical space of time.[10]

Part of what it means to promote and market one’s sounds in the 21st Century is to “tune in” to one’s network, to engage in a curational process with one’s network, where the task is both as intimate as one’s personal cellphone and as infinitely spatial as the physical distance between myself and the billions of people I can encounter digitally. Yet, the question for the artist in the post-post-production stage is: How can I get my network to want to “tune in” to me? For while the digital economy swung open the doors for new forms of global assemblage, there is still a lot of labor involved in getting the assemblage to tap in to your own content.

Luckily, according to Kevin Kelley, editor of WIRED and author of the widely popular book 1000 True Fans, an artist only needs 1000 True Fans “to make a living as a craftsperson.”[11] Indeed, he writes, “To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.” The logic is mathematical, he states, “Here’s how the math works. You need to meet two criteria. First, you have to create enough each year that you can earn, on average, $100 profit from each true fan. That is easier to do in some arts and businesses than others, but it is a good creative challenge in every area because it is always easier and better to give your existing customers more, than it is to find new fans. Second, you must have a direct relationship with your fans. That is, they must pay you directly. You get to keep all of their support, unlike the small percent of their fees you might get from a music label, publisher, studio, retailer, or other intermediate. If you keep the full $100 of each true fan, then you need only 1,000 of them to earn $100,000 per year. That’s a living for most folks.”[12] Since my Instagram account at the time of the investigative experiment had over 1,000 followers, I started with Instagram and proceeded to see how one might go about generating interest such that one can obtain 1000 “true” fans and $100 from each true fan. Being as though the object that I had to bring into this market was sound, I found myself in an odd position. For as James Steintrager and Rey Chow state, “For sound to become object – since it could not be observed like a static visual object – required a chartable consistency enabled only by repetition: something to master or, at least, temper its temporal flux and ephemerality. This was accomplished by fixing and isolating a sound with a looped magnetic tape or a locked groove on a record. This process not only wrenches a sound from its source and context; as the loop or groove repeats a sonic event, the sound becomes an object for the listener.”[13] Thus since we had already transformed the sound into a chartable consistency, and its looped groove had already been made accessible to our personal eardrums, the task was to transform the sound object into a sound commodity where the hidden, unshared and privative sounds of the previous sonic event can become what Marx calls, “an object outside of us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another.”[14]

In order to realize this transformation, I had to get our sounds onto Spotify, iTunes, and/or Tidal. Typically, independent artist looking to upload their music onto platforms like Spotify, iTunes, and/or Tidal have to go through independent digital music distribution services, like TuneCore and DistroKid. Both of these platforms started around 2006-7. TuneCore is the more prominent with popular artist such as Daniel Caesar referring to its “emancipatory” potential for artist. Caesar, in an interview on the Rap Radar podcast states, “When you decide against going with a record company, you still need those services… You still need distribution, marketing, promotion, all of it. So that means you gotta source it yourself… We started making the right partnerships with people and we found that there wasn’t a limit to where we could take it… We got TuneCore and Twitter [laughs], that’s all you need.”[15] It’s all you need because TuneCore and DistroKid allows the artist to have 100% of their royalties. In an article written on the New York Times highlighting the limitless potential for independent artist opened up by digital distribution services like TuneCore and DistroKid, Ben Sisario presents statistical validation for the iconoclastic possibilities of these platforms. Sisario writes:

TuneCore was founded six years ago by Jeff Price, a veteran independent label owner, as a service for artists working under the radar of the mainstream music industry. Without a label, most acts cannot get their music onto iTunes and Spotify, but for $50 a year TuneCore will place any album on dozens of online services around the world and route all royalties to the artist. That simple model — revolutionary when introduced — has made TuneCore one of the world’s major suppliers of music, and made Mr. Price one of the digital world’s most influential figures. In the United States, TuneCore represents about 10 percent of the 20 million songs on iTunes, and it accounts for almost 4 percent of all digital sales.[16]

There are three reasons why I chose against TuneCore for my distribution service. The first was intimate recommendation. When I first started uploading music on Spotify and iTunes in 2018, I used TuneCore because it was the program I had heard and read the most about. But, in conversation with an uncle of mine, who is also a beat producer and artist in his own right, I was recommended to use DistroKid instead. It was trust in his recommendation, followed by the coherence of his explanation that led me to choosing DistroKid as my distribution platform. Which leads me to my second reason for choosing DistroKid over TuneCore, the coherent information that I had originally received from my uncle was in regards to pricing. Both DistroKid and TuneCore charge the artist to distribute their music on paid platforms. Both DistroKid and TuneCore are relatively cheap. TuneCore charges an artist $9.99 per song and $29.99 per album. Whereas though DistroKid charges an artist $20.00 a year to distribute an unlimited amount of the songs. In both, the artist still receives 100% of their royalties. The final reason I chose DistroKid over TuneCore was DistroKid’s newly established relationship with Spotify. As a Spotify costumer and Spotify artist when the Spotify newsroom released a statement declaring a “technical integration”[17] with DistroKid, I garnered more confidence in the solidity of the service in relationship to my work. These three reasons combined to make DistroKid the platform of choice for the Gro Touré project.

While uploading one’s song onto Spotify can seem like the next step, reaching livability through streaming isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Lee Marshall, writes in his analysis on Spotify’s payment system that:

[Spotify] distributes money by dividing its total revenue by the number of streams played on the service. However, the amount of revenue Spotify generates relies mainly upon the number of subscribers it has (plus a little extra from advertising), whereas the number of times music can be streamed is effectively limitless. Thus, when this amount paid is compared to the overall number of songs streamed, the numbers look embarrassingly small – the broad average from the information posted online is about $0.004 per stream (0.4 or 0.5 cents per stream, although streams get different rates of return according to a variety of factors, most notably whether it is played by a subscriber or someone using the free service). Given the tiny figures quoted from musicians on per-stream basis, or the ‘30,000 streams only earned me $120’ stories, it is understandable that musicians might be concerned about the amount of money they are receiving.[18]

What this underscores primarily is that Spotify not only requires the artist to generate an enormous amount of streams in order to be able to reach the $100 per fan mark, but it additionally necessitates the artist’s own promotion of the Spotify platform in order to be able to generate revenue off the revenue that the artist may bring in. To detail the former statement, I’ll provide the following scenario. If the ‘30,000 streams only earned me $120’ stories are correct then, in order to reach Kevin Kelley’s $100 per fan mark, each individual follower on my Instagram would have to stream my music 25,000 times. Knowledge of this fact has resulted in artist’s communities’ requesting and urging friends, families and fans to stream music throughout the day and night, while actively listening or not, solely to generate higher stream numbers and receive a bigger payoff by Spotify.

Now, considering that I currently have over 1000 followers on Instagram, and that none of them are individually tuning into my Spotify for Artist page at the streaming rate necessary to provide a livable wage, I am tasked with not only bringing the attention of my followers and the world wide web to my individual music, but to the platform of Spotify as well. This aspect of network curation and interrelation is a fundamental aspect in which the artist stands in relation to Spotify as a producer of content, consumer of content and digital free laborer. As Blake Durham and Christina Born writes, “Agreeing with (Tiziana) Terranova, we suggest that this audience labour––a digital strategy commonly referred to as crowdsourcing (Brabham 2013)––along with the socialities engendered around playlist curation and sharing are at once core sources of the pleasure generated by Spotify music consumption and elements in the platform’s extended circuit of value production.”[19] Although, Durham and Born are speaking primarily on the labor of playlist curation in specific at this point in their essay, the requirement that one design and market participation in Spotify as a platform is a requirement and duty of any artist attempting to share and broadcast their music on Spotify. A necessary component of making oneself more prominent as an artist is to make Spotify bigger as a platform, and the quicker one recognizes the structural relationship between the artist and the platform then, the quicker the artist can develop a strategy of creative labor to bring fans into a collective network where Spotify serves as a nodal point for entry into the artist’s sound commodity. This is the aspect of the digital economy that Tiziana Terranova describes as “free labor.” In “Free Labor: Producing culture for the digital economy” Terranova writes:

The digital economy is an important area of experimentation with value and free cultural/affective labor. It is about specific forms of production (Web design, multimedia production, digital services, and so on), but is also about forms of labor we do not immediately recognize as such: chat, real-life stories, mailing lists, amateur newsletters, and so on. These types of cultural and technical labor are not produced by capitalism in any direct, cause-and-effect fashion; that is, they have not developed simply as an answer to the economic needs of capital. However, they have developed in relation to the expansion of the cultural industries and are part of a process of economic experimentation with the creation of monetary value out of knowledge/culture/affect.[20]

Once my song is uploaded onto DistroKid and through DistroKid distributed to all the streaming services and platforms on the web, I wait for the payments to ensue. But more importantly, I become a true creator-worker through the further creation of designs, advertisements, videos and content-creation and management in the form of promotion of the songs to come. Here, the artist becomes a “business person” but more specifically, here, the artist becomes a commercial artist or rather, an artist as commercial.

To get songs (potentially) posted on Spotify curated playlist, you have to submit your music at least eight-days before the upload and since I scheduled to have the songs uploaded twenty-eight days in the future, I had a chance to have my music on the playlist. Nevertheless, the chances to be on these playlist are slim for new artist. Paul Reskinoff, from Digital Music News writes, “The only problem is that the biggest playlists on Spotify aren’t organic, they’re bought-and-sold like radio playlists of old.  Which means it’s nearly impossible to get discovered with great music alone (just like before).”[21] What this meant is that I had to build my fanbase and through building my fanbase on other platforms, generate interest in checking out my music on Spotify, which in turns generates (unpaid) interest in Spotify. I say unpaid as a way to make a distinction between the fact that certain fans will encounter Spotify through my music and never really listen to my music much. Yet, once a person is brought to Spotify, the amount of value Spotify can accumulate from the individual person will always be unequal in value to that which that same individual person can give to me. This is the free labor of independent artist in relation to Spotify, iTunes, Tidal or any other distribution platform. We are not only marketing our music; we are marketing these platforms (for free).

Promoting Gro Touré

The process of promoting Gro Touré came to unveil two principle interlocking economies embedded within the curatorial process of marketing and promoting one’s artistry in a late racial capitalist modernity. These interlocking economies are the digital economy and the digital popular economy. Here, it should be noted that these economies are better thought as intra-active of one another, meaning as Karen Barad notes, they “don’t exist as individual entities,” but are rather, “the mutual constitution of entangled agencies.”[22] Without the digital economy, the digital popular economy would not exist. Thus, it is safe to say that the digital economy precedes the digital popular economy. But, the question of what precedes the other is not really the issue. As Barad notes, “the notion of intra-action recognizes the distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action.”[23] This notion of emerging-through when applied to the digital economy gets at the way that the digital economy is a recent emergence of a conglomerate of performative enactments specifically based in and through racial capitalism and, that the digital popular economy as a “distinct agency” emerges as a distinct agencies in and through a conglomerate of different performative enactments, one of which I argue is still racial capitalism.

What makes the digital economy distinct from the digital popular economy? The first, while indebted specifically to the digital and the novelty of the digital economy more broadly, is more tightly wedded to traditional accounts of economics and capitalist institutions. The latter is more explicitly connected to what I have previously described as the creation of a Post-Warholian Factory. In his chapter entitled, “The Popular Economy,” from his 1987 book Television Culture John Fiske outlines what he considers to be “The Two Economies,” at work in “different though simultaneous economies, which we may call the financial and the cultural.”[24] The financial economy is thought of, in a traditional Marxist lineage, where the commodities in a market place signify value in accordance to its use-value and labor-time. Yet, Fiske argues that “the workings of the financial economy cannot account adequately for all cultural factors.”[25] To expound upon this idea, he develops upon the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital stating, “Cultural capital, despite Bourdieu’s (1980) productive metaphor, does not circulate in the same way as economic capital… There is a popular cultural capital in a way that there is no popular economic capital…”[26] While Fiske’s articulation of the ways the cultural economy exceeds the financial economy highlights a pivotal shift away from Orthodox Marxist fetishism of the primacy of the financial economy to that of all things considered “Cultural,” or “Identity-Based,” what it forgets is that the financial economy given to us is itself a cultural institution institutionalized by the culture of the West. Sylvia Wynter puts this best when she states:

[A]s studies of contemporary neocolonialism as well as of its predecessors colonialism and postcolonialism reveal, the West, over the last five hundred years, has brought the whole human species into its hegemonic, now purely secular… model of being human. This is the version in whose terms the human has now been redefined, since the nineteenth century, on the natural scientific model of a natural organism. This is a model that supposedly preexist – rather than coexists with – all the models of other human societies and their religions/cultures. That is, all human societies have their ostensibly natural scientific organic basis, with their religions/cultures being merely superstructural. All the people of the world, whatever their religions/cultures, are drawn into the homogenizing global structures that are based on the-model-of-a-natural-organism world-systemic order. This is the enacting of a uniquely secular liberal monohumanist conception of the human – Man-as-homo oeconomicus – as well as of its rhetorical overrepresenting of that member-class conception of being human.[27]

Starting from this perspective, we are not to be seeking out two distinct interacting economies: one cultural and one financial, but rather, we are instead, called, to look into the culture of/in the financial economy and the financialization of the cultural economy as well as how they intra-act with one another. In this way, looking at the digital economy and the digital popular economy one finds that, immanent to the financial digital culture, is the digital popular economy and immanent to the digital popular economy is the financial digital culture. But what is unique about late racial capitalist digital popular economy as a cultural commodity is the emergence of the capacity to purchase cultural capital through financial means. In other words, what emerges in the digital popular economy of the early 21st Century, is exactly what Fisk considers impossible in the late 80s, namely that, popular cultural capital becomes financialized in such a way that one could say that it begins to function analogously to the commodity-based economic circuit.

I will highlight two auto-ethnographic examples in order to reveal the intra-active distinction between the two economies and how they manifested themselves in the marketing and promoting of Gro Touré. The first example will portray the advertisement apparatus of Instagram. Instagram, like most social media enterprises, makes the majority of its money through advertisement. In fact, the digital economy that includes Google, FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram, are all ostensibly sustained and maintained through the advertisement apparatuses of these social media accounts. Greg McFarlane, a journalist for Investopedia notes, “Advertising isn’t just a way for Facebook and its ilk to perhaps earn a little bit of revenue in between hosting family photos and personal musings. It’s the very purpose of the site’s existence, and the same goes for Twitter and LinkedIn.”[28] Following a blunt capitalist rationale, McFarlane supports this remark by stating, “This isn’t a unique observation, but it’s a crucial one: If you’re not paying for the product, the product is you. The real transaction here isn’t you receiving enjoyment in the form of a free temporary distraction created by a media company at great expense, but rather, that media company renting your eyeballs to its advertisers.”[29] The artist attempting to market and promote their music in the digital age is structurally encouraged to participate in this leasing process. For $1 a day for one day to Instagram, the program promises to bring your post, your page and ostensibly your art into an estimated reach of 92-240 people. For $1 a day for two days to Instagram, the program promises to bring your post, your page and ostensibly your art to an estimated 180-470 people . For $1 a day for 30 days to Instagram, the program promises to bring your post, your page, and ostensibly your art into an estimated reach of 1,800 – 4,800 people.

To purchase advertisement on Instagram is to use Instagram for what Instagram is for. For, even if social media’s primary marketing pitch is connectivity and social life, “the real transaction here isn’t you receiving enjoyment,” if anything that is secondary outcome of the primary necessity to attract advertisers to a large, centralized and data-specific digital public. Once you decide that you’re going to purchase an advertisement, the creative labor begins again when you have to think about creative content to post on Instagram to get advertised on Instagram as a means to lead Instagram’s product (people’s attention) to your post, your page, your music. Thus, I designed a graphic to promote Gro Touré and decided to post the same graphic three times on Instagram: twice without paying for advertisement and once while paying for advertisement. Important differences in the post that should be noted are: A) Each post have different captions aimed in the same direction. B) Each post have an abundance of different hashtags. While both of these factors are important to note, the stark difference in audience engagement with the advertised post versus the non-advertised post can only be attributed to paying for the advertisement. The non-advertised post combined for a 60 likes, 7 profile visits and a reach of  444. I paid $2 for 2 days of advertisement and the solo advertised post alone garnered 91 likes, 16 profile visit and a reach of 500 people.

This aspect of social media promoting and marketing is the digital instantiation of the ethno-cultural financial institution of this late racial capitalist modernity. Put differently, this quite simply is the function of the digital economy. This relationship between general business and “small business,”  – the general business of major corporations, federal, state and local politics as well as the “small business” that I am always already mapped into as an artist in these neoliberal times – and “advertisement” finds its precursor in social media’s most immediate predecessor, namely, the television. As MacFarlane notes:

For many people, that truth manifests itself most clearly in television. CBS (NYSE:CBS) doesn’t come up with a new episode of “NCIS” every week strictly to please you, the demanding viewer with a limitless capacity for being passively entertained. It’s because you and 18 million other people will watch that episode, and thus pay at least subconscious attention to the 16 minutes of commercials that are interspersed throughout it. For a car manufacturer or fast-food restaurant, there are few more efficient ways to grab customers’ attention, something CBS and its rival networks are well aware of. Media companies are interested in pleasing the brewer before the viewer.[30]

To be an artist in these times is to toe the line between brewer and viewer, purchasing cheap ads to be posted on the digital newsfeed like local businesses of old did for the newspaper and small businesses still do now for television. But, what emerges new in this digital economy is the potential to purchase cultural capital in the form of virtual audience and popularity. This aspect, that I call the digital popular economy, is a market inside of this advertisement market run predominately by sketchy and shadowy Instagram accounts targeting artist and businesses on the rise. This “new market” arises in a Post-Warholian moment where cultural capital and financial capital are increasingly indistinguishable. This indistinguishability is made possible as a result of the increasing financial feasibility of making money as an Influencer. While the idea of the Influencer generated a “new entrepreneurial spirit” it also opened the door for the purchasing of popularity. Influence becomes quantifiable. It is the numerical accumulation of friends, followers, likes and reach. Throughout my time of posting and promoting, numerous accounts – whether they are real or not is not known as I did not follow through on their request – reached out to me on Instagram to offer a product of their own – the direct purchasing of “real” followers and “real” streams. Often for a higher price than advertisements on Instagram, these shadow accounts offer fame for a literal price thus distorting the idea of “the price of fame” from cultural idiom to financial fact. While I did not purchase any of the request, it has become a controversial conversation in the music industry about artist increasingly “purchasing” followers and streams as a means to “gain clout,” or rather, assumed the veneer of Influence. Rather than engage in a moralism based on the presumed truth or falsity of authenticity of the act of purchasing popularity, I want to suggest that both forms of economies of the digital disarticulate the capacity for authenticity in the artist. Indeed, it is the entire digital economy and its molded emergence within racial capitalist modernity which occludes any clear demarcation between being authentic and “selling out,” staying “true” and being “commercial.” In a world, where we are all plugged into the network, and the product being sold in this network is you, there seems to be no way to disimbricate the artist and its paradigmatic situation. We are all – willingly or unwillingly – commodities commodified in this paradigm of entertainment, influence, popularity and marketing. We are all here in Warhol’s Factory now.

[1] (Forthcoming Publication) Geoff Baker, “‘In the Waiting Room’: Digitisation and Post-Neoliberalism in Buenos Aires’s Independent Music Sector,” in Digital Musics: A Global Anthropology, ed. Georgina Born (Duke University Press, 2020), 15–16.

[2] Baker defines “disintermediation” in “In the Waiting Room,” as “the marginalisation of middlemen as musicians use the Internet to take more control over their work.” Baker, 15.

[3] Theodor Adorno, “On Popular Music,” Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 1998, 197.

[4] Jay-Z writes in his song, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” with the rapper-artist Kanye West, “I’m not a business man. I’m a business, man.” The connection between these lines and neoliberalism has been discussed more deeply in the work of the Black political scientist Lester Spence. For more see: Lester K Spence, Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics (Punctum Books, 2015).

[5] John Fiske, “The Popular Economy,” Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 1998, 504–22.

[6] Yoh Phillips, “A REASON to Believe: The Inspiring Story of TDE’s Newest Signee Achieving His Dream,” Djbooth, 2018, https://djbooth.net/features/2018-10-10-reason-tde-interview.

[7] Andy Warhol, The Philosphy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), First Harv (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1977), 92.

[8] Kate Crawford, “Four Ways of Listening with an IPhone: From Sound and Network Listening to Biometric Data and Geolocative Tracking,” in Studying Mobile Media (Routledge, 2012), 221–36.

[9] Crawford, 218.

[10] Crawford, 219.

[11] Kevin Kelley, “1000 True Fans,” The Technium, 2008.

[12] Kelley.

[13] James A Steintrager and Rey Chow, Sound Objects (Duke University Press, 2018), 8.

[14] Karl Marx, “Capital: Volume 1,” 1999, 17, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch26.htm.

[15] Claire-Donna Chesman, “Daniel Caesar’s Manager on Not Signing with a Major: ‘We Got TuneCore & Twitter,’” Djbooth, 2018.

[16] Ben Sisario, “Out to Shake Up Music, Often With Sharp Words,” New York Times, 2012.

[17] Spotify, “Spotify for Artists Annouces Upcoming Integration with DistroKid,” Spotify Newsroom, 2018, https://newsroom.spotify.com/2018-10-17/spotify-for-artists-announces-upcoming-integration-with-distrokid/.

[18] Lee Marshall, “‘Let’s Keep Music Special. F—Spotify’: On-Demand Streaming and the Controversy over Artist Royalties,” Creative Industries Journal 8, no. 2 (2015): 182.

[19] (Forthcoming Publication) Blake Durham and Georgina Born, “‘Online Music Consumption and the Formalisation of Informality: Exchange, Labour and Sociality in Two Music Platforms,’” in Digital Musics: A Global Anthropology (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), 11.

[20] Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy,” Social Text 18, no. 2 (2000): 38.

[21] Paul Resnikoff, “Major Label CEO Confirms That ‘Playlist Payola’ Is a Real Thing…,” Digital Music News, 2016.

[22] Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Duke University Press, 2007), 33.

[23] Barad, 33.

[24] Fiske, “The Popular Economy,” 506.

[25] Fiske, 506.

[26] Fiske, 508.

[27] Sylvia Wynter, “Unparalled Catastrophe for Our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations, “ Edited by Katherine McKittrick, Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Duke University Press, 2014), 21.

[28] Greg McFarlane, “How Facebook, Twitter, Social Media Make Money From You,” Investopedia, 2014.

[29] McFarlane.

[30] McFarlane.

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