The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from nine-to-five middle managers to astronauts to house cleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s “building a platform” so that execs can use your existing audience to justify the costs of signing a new artist.
We like to think of it as the work of singular geniuses whose motivations are purely creative and untainted by the market — this, despite the fact that music, publishing, and film have always been for-profit industries where formulaic, churned-out work is what often sells best. These days, the jig is up.
Corporate consolidation and streaming services have depleted artists’ traditional sources of revenue and decimated cultural industries. While Big Tech sites like Spotify claim they’re “democratizing” culture, they instead demand artists engage in double the labor to make a fraction of what they would have made under the old model. That labor amounts to constant self-promotion in the form of cheap trend-following, ever-changing posting strategies, and the nagging feeling that what you are really doing with your time is marketing, not art. Under the tyranny of algorithmic media distribution, artists, authors — anyone whose work concerns itself with what it means to be human — now have to be entrepreneurs, too.
I am so, so happy that someone wrote this piece.
As a maintainer of a blog (hello.), promoter of a live event (hi there.), and host of a podcast (hey.), it’s quite sad and frustrating how much one needs to be capital-o Online to gain any focus or traction.
Sure, there are tools and processes to make things more decentralized, or focus on your most direct audience (this is why you get asked to sign up for a newsletter, for example), but it’s absolutely disheartening how much we are all expected to hustle just to make a blip on a radar.
I don’t know a fix. Rebecca Jennings, the author of this great article, provides some great suggestions like unionization and universal health care, which make just existing easier, but I don’t think it solves the disease — just the symptoms.
The genie is out of the bottle. And I don’t see a way back in.