On a rainy Sunday, singer-songwriter Chelsea Cutler and her friend went to Michael’s craft store to get painting supplies. They spent the next several hours painting and happily disconnected from the world, but at the end of the day, Cutler began to think: Should she have recorded their artistic adventure? Could she have turned it into a TikTok video for his 187k followers? Her fans feel connected when they see snippets from her personal life – did she miss an excellent opportunity to make a post?
Social media is nothing new as a marketing tool for countless musicians, but the long pandemic has put more pressure on singers to also be content creators, pushing them away from the music industry so they can obsess over algorithms. With tour dates still frequently canceled and in-person opportunities few, there is a huge demand for singers to entertain fans through their phone screens, and to share parts of their lives. While it is sometimes entertaining for artists, it can also be a mentally exhausting task.
Cutler, a 24-year-old Connecticut native who left college her junior year to pursue music full-time, was thinking about this last week as she sat in her New York apartment. She’s grateful every single day for her career — she signed with Universal-owned Republic Records in 2019 and released two albums — but that doesn’t lessen the tension as she’s seen an increase in the need for continued activity on social media, or a meltdown. The speed with which singles are released that we hope will go viral, or the passing hits on TikTok that hardly give the listener a chance to get to know an artist. She started feeling like it was too much, and with the encouragement of her friend, Cutler began writing down her feelings and posted this on January 3rd:
“It’s scary to post this but I’d rather be honest as I imagine this is something a lot of people have been feeling lately. … as an artist I’ve struggled really badly in the past year or so with how to adapt to the way the industrial landscape has changed,” Cutler wrote in A long message posted on Twitter and Instagram. “It’s an exhausting feeling to constantly think about how to turn my daily life into ‘content’ especially knowing that I feel better mentally when I feel less time on my phone. It’s also exhausting for everyone in the industry to say that this is the only effective way to market music at the moment.”
Her social media anxiety has struck a chord all over social media — notifications started popping up as her posts were shared, texted, and circulated in the pockets of the music world. Her Instagram posts have garnered more than 103,000 likes (about three times her usual amount) and thousands of comments, which lit up with hundreds of blue-checked musicians — some of whom are A-stars — admitting they felt exactly the same way.
“I thought maybe there would be, for example, my friends and some fans saying ‘Oh, keep doing you, you’re crushing on her.’ … the kind of typical support you’re somewhat looking for when you vent online,” Cutler said in an interview. with him recently. “But I think maybe the next morning, a bunch of people were texting me saying, like, ‘The whole music industry is talking about this right now. And I said, “What are you talking about?”
Ryan Tedder, lead singer of OneRepublic, said, “This might be the most well-written summary of how I feel every week. … I don’t know what the solution is, but I know that’s not what I signed up for, and I know for sure that this doesn’t lead to Art” ” Massive.” So did country star Maren Morris: “It’s so easy to feel bad about everything about it when all you want to do is play your songs, but it made me feel visible.”
Many of Cutler’s notable colleagues at Universal (Niall Horan, Maggie Rogers, Zedd, James Blake, Julia Michaels) commented, and the post spread to other top and independent artists, offering their ideas. Millennial favorite Jesse McCartney: “Finally. Someone says it.” Lauren Gorgoy, former member of Fifth Harmony: “I feel like I’ve seen great.” Pop singer Hayley Kiyoko: “YUP.” Rachel Platten, Fight Song fame: “Wow. That’s it.”
Cutler was surprised by the magnitude of the response but not entirely surprised – this has been a conversation between artists for a long time behind closed doors. She admitted that she was “definitely afraid” of such vulnerability being publicized. “There’s a lot of pressure from our entire teams, whether it’s the label or the management, to be really active on social media… It’s definitely scary to express that to them,” she said.
But the response of her team, who said they received no advance notice of her position, was positive; Even industry executives have admitted that they feel equally overwhelmed in the current music scene, as they struggle to get the attention of their artists. (Although songwriter/producer Tofer Brown joked in the comments, “Dear Chelsea, with the recent viral success of this Instagram post, we were thinking you should find a way to turn your ideas into a TikTok dance to create more content and increase your fan engagement and reach.” Sincerely, the record label director who didn’t understand anything at all.”)
Things may not change, but Cutler is pleased to see other musicians take comfort in her post.
“It definitely made me feel like a little less crazy to see so many other people confirm what I was feeling,” Cutler said. “There is definitely no black or white solution for sure. I think the best thing to come up with right now is to just start dialogues and try to have actual conversations about it, rather than hesitating to talk.”
Her post resonated with Kelleigh Bannen, a Nashville singer-songwriter and radio host for Apple Music. Bannen said she’s felt like she’s seen her on nearly every Instagram story this past week, from musicians to those working behind the scenes. Seeing these concerns out in the open, Panin said, it felt like everyone was “breathing together instantly” and given permission to acknowledge that success in the age of social media is often so elusive.
“Even though you got into a creative industry like the music industry to write songs and add to the conversation, you are actually expected to contribute in all these other ways you often feel like you’re all-consuming and pouring it all out there is an expectation,” Panin said. If you’re not creating content as quickly as we’re seeing some of the TikTok stars rise, you’re missing out on the opportunity to continue making music in a real way.” “And that’s just counterproductive to making great art.”