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Death Star Trash Compactor: Making Music in Streaming/Social Age

Introduction: Social/Streaming Compactor

“How should I put it?  It's like the trash compactor scene in the first Star Wars film. The walls are coming in on Independent Artists, and we have to brace them with as much content as we can scramble to make. But the water is rising, and rising ever faster as the walls continue to come in. Oh, and there's a creature in there with us, trying to drag us under the water [every scammer, con artist and "DM me for promo" guy].”

Northern Exposure Magazine had shared a post by Melbourne based artist Batts, in which she conveyed the frustrations and fears of the modern music artist.  In turn, I talked about the Death Star trash compactor. Take a moment to read Batts’ post here.

Social Streaming Compactor

Chapter One: The Walls are Coming In

We live in the era of the algorithm.  In the 1993 movie, “Carlito’s Way” Al Pacino remarks, “The street is watchin'. She is watchin' all the time.”  And so it is for independent artists, the algorithm is watching all the time.  Our social media accounts, websites, and profiles/catalog on streaming platforms are in a perpetual state of review.  If we are not actively building upwards, we are falling back. We, desperate rats in a maze, set against each other to compete for the favor of the algorithm god.  The walls are ever shifting inwards on us, as there is always someone working harder, better, faster, stronger.

The Walls are Coming In

Chapter Two: Brace with Content

Like a shark that has to constantly move forward or it will die, independent music makers are obliged to constantly make content to brace against the encroaching walls.   Long gone are the days when artists would disappear for a year to record an album [Yes, I know Lorde.  But we are not all Lorde]. The all-powerful streaming algorithm demands regular sacrifice.  Artists are compelled to release new work five, six, or more times a year at a minimum.  

The creation does not begin and end with music.  Instagram stories must be updated.  Microblogging sites like X, Threads, and Bluesky require a steady stream of posts throughout the day.  Short-form video site TikTok demands long-form videos, while long-form video site YouTube demands short-form.  Text, image, and video must be created and uploaded daily.  Tastes, trends, and terms & conditions must be heeded, and adapted to when changed. Upload or die.

Brace with Content

Chapter Three: The Water is Rising

Doubt creeps into a person’s mind like rising water.  It seeps in through the cracks in our confidence. And nothing chips away at confidence quite like the omni-present hum of low level rejection.  Every social post ignored, every video skipped, every release passed on for playlist, blog, or radio show.  Each one chips away, just a little bit, opening up and expanding cracks in our confidence through which doubt seeps in.

Doubt wells up from the uncertainty that dwells deep within all of us.  An uncertainty with which internet trolls are so practiced at chiming.  Not that they chime every time, or even half the time, but even a stopped troll chimes twice a day.  Eventually, one of their comments will resonate with something laid all but dormant inside of us.  A proto-evolutionary lingering of doubt preserved in the permafrost of the back of our minds.  

Doubt soaks through the hastily patched gaps in our knowledge and inevitable flaws in our plans.  And as we stumble and fall, it begins to saturate us and make our movements heavy and fatiguing.  As it slows us, so does it rise faster and, in so doing, slows us even more.

As it slows us, the walls keep moving inward.  The tick tock of the algorithm continues to keep score.  And so doubt rises even faster.      

The Water is Rising

Chapter Four: Drag Us Under

Lest we forget the legions of scammers, out to drag us under the already rising water.  So common is the con artist in the life of an independent artist, it is akin to walking in the drizzle.  We barely even register the steady soaking of Soundcloud scammers, half-baked pay for social shares, and the ever-present bottom feeder of bottom feeders, the Instagram “DM me for Promo” guy.  

Then, of course, there are the elaborate scams that arrive like downpours in the life of an independent artist.  The pay to have your music heard by “top industry professionals” scam, or the entirely worthless “Pay to Enter Contests”, or the “your music has been selected” scam.

Each one, intent on dragging us down under the water in order to make an easy/quick buck.  Each one must be ignored, filtered out, muted.    

Drag Us Under

Chapter Five: R2D2 Where are You?

If only we could shut it all down.  If only we had a utility droid to access the Death Star systems and shut down the ever-encroaching 24/7 algorithmic evaluation, the resultant need to brace with content, the rising doubt, and the bottom feeders compelled to drag us under.  R2D2, where are you?

If we want to share our music in this streaming/social age, we probably can’t shut it down completely.  But we can, at least, turn it down.  We can take breaks, schedule time away from the great social carousel.  We can consciously limit our access and awareness of the social compactor.  I, for example, only have social apps on my tablet, not on my phone.  My phone has email and messenger apps and requires a Wi-Fi connection to access the Internet.  In this way, when I am out walking my dog, I have no access whatsoever to the compactor.

In a sense, we can be our own R2D2.  We can power down systems as and when we need a break.  More than that, we can also be each other’s R2D2.  When we see a fellow music-maker struggling with the crush of the social/streaming compactor, we can give them some perspective beyond the analytics and algorithmic.  We can suggest they take a break, that they power down the system.  When we see an independent artist caught in the crush of the social/streaming compactor, we can quietly say to them, let me be your R2D2.  Let me shut it down for you.  

R2D2 Where are You

Death Star Trash Compactor: Making Music in Streaming/Social Age

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