re6ce photographed by Gabby Reese

Social Media Influencers: The New Leaders of the Music Industry

Making it big is the dream for music artists around the world– the question is, how much does the music itself have to do with artists’ odds at cutting through? Great music is a start, but a start rarely translates to world tours and Grammy nominations on its own. Continue reading to explore other key ingredients to modern stardom.  

The current music industry is inescapably connected to social media. The prevailing video-style content on platforms including TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube supports users in their sharing and discovering of music. The unprecedented speed at which this sharing occurs has made social media relevance a crucial factor for music that charts or is successful by any other measure.  

While all users play an important role in this process, there are certain individuals with increased influence who have emerged as new leaders in determining which songs and artists build major audiences. This role of social media influencers has become so important that some influencers have successfully signed artists to contracts, similar to what record labels have traditionally done, entitling them to a royalty split of the artists’ streaming revenue in exchange for content about their music.  

While these types of relationships are rarely successful, their emergence speaks to the power social media influencers currently possess. This article synthesizes the perspectives of successful individuals working in various aspects of the music industry to further understand this role and how artists can most effectively navigate the current landscape.  

Influencer Marketing

At the core of effective influencer marketing is the common thread throughout all great art: authenticity. Many social media teams and specialists make the mistake of relying on glamour or shock-value when designing campaigns. While these strategies are effective at times, they tend to overlook what draws people to the art in the first place. 

When asked to share advice related to his growth, re6ce’s response was surprising: “Show people that you’re a normal person who does normal things” [1]. While this may seem counterintuitive in the fierce competition for internet users’ interest, re6ce’s advice reveals an important truth about many successful influencer’s approaches.  

Social media marketing specialist and music artist manager Dante Ammon echoed this sentiment when asked about a recent influencer campaign he felt was especially successful. The campaign he chose relied on DIY-style content that users could easily recreate themselves: “A big part of a lot of strong campaigns is accessibility, giving everyone the opportunity to weigh in and contribute and not feel like they’re just consumers and nothing else” [2]. 

In support of Ammon’s views, early research suggests users most often consider “added value to personal lifestyle and perceived hedonic experience” when deciding which influencers to follow and trust [3]. This appreciation for authenticity places the musicians and corporate music industry at a relatively even playing field for the time being, but it is only a matter of time before machines are recalibrated with new targets in mind.  

Fans, artists, and music culture benefit most from a framework in which influencers share and co-sign music organically based on their own interests and tastes. Protecting the future of music and future musicians requires preventing the corporate music industry from monopolizing the potential of social media influencers. 

Musicians as Influencers 

The impact of influencers is not by any means a new phenomenon. Even within the music industry, the music shared and openly appreciated by individuals with increased status or power has always importantly affected the consumption of others. However, the development of social media has increased the reach of individuals who otherwise might struggle to spread a message. As early as 2011, studies have speculated and attempted to explain how the rise of social media contributes to artists’ “freedom from the controls of the corporate music industry” [4]. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube provide musicians with the opportunity to reach potential fans directly, decreasing their need to be in the good graces of influencers.  

On the contrary, researchers quickly identified that this same freedom would require artists to work hard in new ways to gain and maintain internet relevance. When asked about balancing these two roles and weighing their importance, re6ce shared the following: “Social media can always wait, and good music can never wait. Never be like, ‘oh that was a really good music idea. I’m gonna wait on that’ — never do that” [1]

The artist went on to share an anecdote about his label pressuring him to skip a recording session to make TikTok content instead. re6ce decided to go to the session, and he ended up making what would become one of his most popular songs, “brown eyes*.” The song went viral on Instagram when re6ce eventually put out content promoting it. Artists should work hard, certainly, but they should also remember that social media engagement isn’t the goal of creative expression.  

Professionals behind the scenes in the music industry seem to share the perspective voiced by re6ce. When asked about the role influencers play in creating viral songs, Dante Ammon explained that the artist-influencer interaction is a two-way-street: “There’s something for the influencers to gain in being ‘early’ to songs, but not so early that it’s too much of a risk to share it. There’s a balance” [2]. It is the artist’s duty to make art that resonates with them, and similarly, the influencer is responsible for creating content from a place of authenticity. This mutually beneficial relationship is only possible when honesty and genuineness underscores it.  

Make good art. Then make content from the same place the art came from.  

Art > Algorithms 

Successful producer, writer, composer, and recording artist Oscar Scheller contributes to this conversation in a unique way. Scheller’s experience working behind the scenes with major acts including Charli XCX, NewJeans, and PinkPantheress has allowed him to participate in projects that reach viral status without bearing the pressure of this goal himself. This work as a collaborator with a focus on assisting the artist in fully realizing their vision is perhaps more artistically pure compared to the experience of navigating the industry pressures described by re6ce earlier in this discussion. This detached but still very involved perspective further develops the image of how artists should navigate social media and the presence of influencers.  

In our conversation, Scheller was quick to bring up the word which has underscored this entire analysis. According to the platinum musician, “The intention and authenticity behind the art will drive it. Audiences resonate with that, and I think they are more intelligent and dialed in than ever” [5]. 

This quote was part of Scheller’s response to a question about maintaining artistic integrity amidst a digitally driven music industry. He explained that catering to such factors is not the answer: “Good music prevails, so I don’t worry too much about that. Sometimes it just takes a bit more time for people to be discovered” [5]. 

Scheller’s words come as a healthy reminder of the value of patience for artists still finding their audience. The complexity of modern social media algorithms and the speed at which internet culture moves create too many variables to reduce our creative output to a time frame or schedule of any sort. Make your art the way you know how and do so consistently. 

In the discussion of musicians adopting the role of influencer, it is worth noting that artists with a strong internet presence may be unlikely to identify with the term. Scheller clarified the difference between the two: “Musicians influence people with their music, social media influencers promote lifestyles and trends. I don’t think I work with any musician that would identify as being an influencer” [5]. 

At its core, comfortability posting oneself and one’s art online reflects personality traits like extroversion and confidence. Ashnikko, a frequent collaborator of Scheller’s, has built a large following based on the combined forces of great music and captivating content. However, the image portrayed by Ashnikko has never been forced or unnatural: “Ashnikko has always been very confident and naturally self-assured with her persona online. The key [to successful content] is self-awareness and knowing what your strengths are” [5]. 

This advice is invaluable for artists attempting to find their voice on social media; the process is the same as the one involved in finding one’s art style. This is challenging in the sense that it is different for everyone, but the answer is already inside of us.  

It is a matter of channeling our truest self. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Focus on finding what feels right.  

Trust Your Gut! 

Shifting power balances in the music industry have redefined what is possible for artists. If musicians and record labels have been the primary actors in the past, social media influencers have emerged as a third key figure in determining which songs and artists reach large audiences. 

The ideas covered in this article clarify that it isn’t always necessary for artists to be influencers to build sustainable careers as musicians. However, it may be helpful to think of adopting aspects of this role as occupying 2/3 of the real estate rather than 1/3.  

Those who can sustainably balance an internet presence and their artistic integrity have access to opportunities not otherwise available. At the largest scale, success in this balancing act has made it possible for an artist like Taylor Swift to successfully re-record and re-release albums in her discography to claim ownership over her masters. Swift’s social media presence creates direct contact between her and her fanbase, allowing her to direct audiences to re-recorded versions that support the artist more directly. Researchers explain this is just one example of an artist taking advantage of the independence and power provided by direct communication with their audience [6].  

This communication offered by social media also creates a valuable opportunity for feedback and research in deciding which music to release and when to release it. Scheller said the following about this process:  

“It’s a bit like how artists used to make songs and then give it to a DJ to try out in the club and see how it landed. I love the speed and energy behind that. It keeps it feeling free and liberated. The less shackled the music, the better in my opinion” [5]. 

Utilizing social media in this way requires clearly defined taste and artistic identity. Quickly sharing a short snippet from a new piece can be a useful method so long as the artist’s feelings about the piece don’t depend on the reactions of other users. Scheller warns against overvaluing online engagement: “Art has existed outside of online metrics for centuries and will continue to do so. Be about culture and community and good music” [5]. 

Musicians should not abandon projects they feel passionate about simply because they didn’t reach a certain number of likes or views. An expert in this field trusts their instincts, using social media as a tool to maximize the value of their art.  

Do you have to post Instagram Reels and TikToks to be a musician in 2024? Of course not. You don’t even have to release music to be a musician. In fact, if no one else knows you make music, and you decide to keep it that way, you’re still a musician. This is a matter of power, opportunity, and independence. At the very least, artists should understand what they’re capable of.  

The power of social media influencers can be intimidating for artists who are struggling to build a following. However, aspiring artists should find comfort knowing the best path to follow is one we all have access to: our own. When asked about maintaining authenticity and integrity engaging with social media as an influencer, re6ce shared the following:

“What people are really going to connect with the most is what is authentic to the art. Be yourself. You’re in this position for a reason. You make art that people value so they’re probably going to value you, too.”   


Written by Channon Schuerger

June 10, 2024


[1] re6ce. Personal Interview. 24 May 2024.

[2]. Ammon, D. Personal Interview. 14 May 2024.

[3] Balatbat, M. S., Cabungcal, M. A., Centeno, M. B., Fabrigar, J. R., Garfin, A. B., Blasa-Cheng, A., Vergara, R. A., & Vergara, K. C. (2023). TikTokers turned influencers: iGeneration’s perceptions toward their ‘preferred’ TikTok influencers to follow. International Journal of Multidisciplinary: Applied Business & Education Research. 4(10), 3674-3696. 

[4] Suhr, H. C. (2011). Understanding the hegemonic struggle between mainstream vs. independent forces: The Music Industry and musicians in the age of social media. International Journal of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 7(6), 123-136. 

[5]. Scheller, O. Personal Interview. 06 June 2024.

[6] Tribulski, E. (2020). Look what you made her do: how Swift, streaming, and social media can increase artists’ bargaining power. Duke Law & Technology Review, 19 (1), 91-121.