The existence of social media has also made online self-promotion a more or less fundamental aspect of forming a band, no matter how modest its ambitions may be. This initially played out as bands becoming weirdly continuous with their MySpace pages. The site Hipster Runoff has served as a more or less continuous commentary on how indie bands are obliged to play online media as one of their instruments, suggesting that their music is basically by-product, subordinate to the real performance: the band's orchestration of online image and hype. The subversive implication of HRO, I think, is that most bands are better enjoyed as Barnumesque image mongers. The multimedia identity spectacle they manage is a newer, more comprehensive kind of art. In fact, this is the sort of art that the logic of social media would inspire us all to enjoy and to make ourselves -- the managing of different audiences and leaks of information to project a fluid yet coherent self as a masterwork. Any of us can be just as much of a microcelebrity as a band is. (This Rhizome essay about camgirls is suggestive on that front, how monitoring the flux of online attention can become a medium, an art.)
Anyway, even in the traditional music industry, the need for bands to self-promote and build a "platform" has become institutionalized, which has to a degree crowdsourced the A&R function. This article from last week's Economist gets at the dialectics of this shift:
A&R men used to be alchemists, discovering base talent and turning it into gold.... These days they are venture capitalists. Particularly at big labels such as Universal, A&R executives increasingly expect acts to have built a self-sustaining, if modest, business before they offer them a recording contract. Large numbers of Facebook friends and Twitter followers help show that a band has traction. But record labels have become wary of social-media indicators. They know that desperate bands may chatter about themselves or hire marketing firms to inflate their online metrics.Bands are less artists than entrepreneurial startups, manipulating online social networks to gain leverage with potential investors. The product they sell doesn't need to be good if the market for it can be posited, and the structure of the industry encourages musicians to focus their talents on that sort of market making. As certain social media metrics get corrupted, new ones will be established, because they serve as an essential proxy for the one metric that will never be perfected, the one that quantifies talent in the abstract.