T-Boz, Om’Mas Keith, Others On Pluses, Minuses of Social Media at Grammy Week Event

Left to right: Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy Theatre; Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins; music producer/songwriter Om’Mas Keith; Dorothy Hui, VP of digital at Roc Nation; Bill Werde, editorial director of Billboard; Alex Ljung, founder of SoundCloud.

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins went from hating Twitter to now seeing it as an integral part of how she talks to her fans. Watkins’ attitude shift highlights the way social media has infiltrated the music industry and become a part of the business, relinquishing its status as digital rebel without a cause.

That’s not to say that social media has been domesticated for marketing purposes. If anything, social media tools continue to morph in unpredictable, and sometimes challenging ways, according to a panel representing artists, producers, marketers and technologists hosted by the Recording Academy as part of Grammy Week.

Om’Mas Keith, whose work on Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” is up for two Grammy awards this week, said social media, which lets musicians directly engage with their own fans, has changed the way young artists think of record labels.

“Their desire to be signed to a label is at an all-time low,” Keith said on Friday at the Conga Room in Los Angeles, just a few hundred feet away from where the Grammy Awards will be presented on Feb. 10 at Staples Center. “The concept of a major label is almost foreign to them.”

Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles and co-founder of a social music marketing firm Adler Integrated, agreed that social media also has shifted the balance of power towards fans by allowing them a digital soapbox to broadcast exactly how they feel.

“With social, it’s now the fans that are inspiring the artists,” said Adler, who noted that he’s used social feedback to make the Roxy a better nightclub, for example, taking heed of the complaints he gets on Twitter. “It’s made the fan much more powerful.”

One of the ways fans are more influential is through SoundCloud, a platform used by 180 million people, including musicians who upload snippets of their works in progress to get feedback from fans or drive buzz. This iterative creative process is one of the biggest ways social tools are changing the game, SoundCloud founder Alex Ljung said.

“We don’t any longer live in a world where things are hidden from people until it’s done,” Ljung said of musicians who release their rough works on SoundCloud to get feedback from fans. “It’s being broken down into a longer public conversation. We live in a world that’s much more conversational. That change is massive because it affects everything we do. I call it the ‘Age of Play,’ because we can play more and learn more in the process.”

Although social media lets artists have a direct relationship with their fans, those connections can sometimes come at a cost.

“It’s a fine line,” Watkins said of balancing how personal she feels she can be and still maintain her privacy. “I have fans who love me and hate me at the same time. I get death threats from people who want to marry me. Some people don’t know where it should stop. That’s why some of us don’t like it.”

Social media also requires artists to be more multi-dimensional as entertainers, said Dorothy Hui, VP of digital marketing for Roc Nation.

“Gone are the days of having three photos being enough” for a marketing campaign, Hui said. “It puts more onus on artists to be multifaceted in their personalities. Music is now just one piece of their brand.”

That means having a continuous presence on social media platforms to engage with fans, not just when artists are marketing a tour or releasing music, panelists agreed.

“You have to be continually delivering content -- the music, the videos,” Keith said. Anything that demonstrates “that you epitomize the concept of you as the artist. They want to know that what you’re not being fabricated.”

But beware: Not all artists are writing those Tweets on their official accounts. “A lot of them don’t,” Watkins said. “Trust me on that one.”

(Additional reporting by Katie Morse in Los Angeles)