Am I Going to Kill my Career if I’m Not on Social Media Anymore?

This is the question I asked myself in January 2022 after I decided to quit social media. The social networking platforms I used were Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I had a love-hate relationship with these services that provided me with little hits of dopamine and made minutes vanish. With Twitter specifically, it had become a hate-hate relationship. I started to hate Twitter for the way thoughts were expressed so similarly (e.g., “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but…”); the woke posturing; and the mob mentality.

But my next thought was, “What career?” I’m not a prolific performer; I don’t tour around the world, or even the country. I’m ending the thing that I founded over a decade ago, The Nouveau Classical Project, after finally listening to myself. I started composing music and making interdisciplinary performances only five years ago, so I have quite a ways to go with building my career as a generative artist.

So I guess the real question is, “Am I killing any potential of a career?”

In this blog post, I detail how my friend, choreographer/dancer/model Katherine De La Cruz gave me the courage to quit social media, but in a nutshell: my plan for 2022 was to look at social media less frequently as well as plan posts regularly. With the pandemic STILL going on, I thought that social media was the best I could do to get my work out there, and that I should use this tool to my advantage.

Since I don’t have a publicist, social media was the primary way I shared information about my shows, along with selfies, stories with #bts art-making, and when she was still alive, photos of my first baby, my tortoiseshell cat Coco.

“Shared” might be a stretch. More like, cast into the abyss and hoped someone would see.

Something I performed on IG Live in my past life. The title says it all: we’re all just trying not to be forgotten.

When Covid-19 broke out and concerts were canceled, Facebook, Instagram, and Zoom became our ersatz venues. My screen time increased a bajillion percent. I turned to my screen to stay connected with my amorphous artistic “community” and to feel like I still existed via posts. But this year, I wanted to figure out a way to streamline my usage. I have limited time to work now that I have a child, who recently turned one. I am able to work the three days a week he’s at daycare and on Sunday mornings, so any time I spend scrolling, tweeting, and then worrying about who I’ve offended with said tweeting occupies too much of my extremely precious mental space.

After exchanging several texts with Katherine, followed by watching The Social Dilemma on the same day, I decided to quit immediately. It reminded me of how quickly I became an atheist after reading Richard Dawkins for the first time; I realized that I had already stopped believing in something long ago.

Why now?

The big reason I didn’t quit sooner was that I didn’t think I had the privilege to not be on social media. Not yet. I believed in the growth of my career, and as soon as I got enough momentum, I wouldn’t have to be dependent on social media.

I also tried to think of Instagram as an extension of my creativity. It was mostly fun. Occasionally, I put more effort into my captions; longer ones where I elaborated on a given topic read like microblogs, garnering comments, DMs, and texts from people who know me-know me. Instagram had even gotten me some work, such as a fashion campaign, a commission, and dance performances.

Clearly there were benefits to my hashtagged existence. So why quit? Sure, the obvious time suck was unmanageable, as indicated by my futile attempts to set limits: tapping “Ignore for 15 minutes” and instead quadrupling my 45-minute daily allocation. But isn’t being active on social media simply a part of #BeingAnArtist in the 21st century?

Sugar Vendil--Photo by Julia Comita

Sugar Vendil–Photo by Julia Comita

Always Be Posting

It is common knowledge that we as a general population are addicted to our screens, that companies use algorithms to control what gets in front of our eyeballs, that our personal data is used to sell their products to advertisers, and that social media is responsible for the spread of misinformation across the globe.

Despite these ethical concerns, most professional artist development workshops will skip over addressing these issues and simply tell you: You must join social media to market your work. Major artist service organizations like Creative Capital and New York Foundation for the Arts have entire blog posts dedicated to social media strategy for artists.

We’re drawn to social media because it is free and relatively easy. When in doubt, post a gorgeous photo of yourself and wish everyone a Happy Monday for morning-show-host vibes, or be emo and go the “authentic” route. However, the regularity with which we feel the need to share — it’s definitely a feeling more than a need, as many of us aren’t influencers by trade — is a whole other occupation in addition to our gigs and day jobs and grant writing and project planning and our true passion: creating art. It can feel like a toxic job that we don’t leave because we think we have no other choice.

But what is opting to be on social media even offering us? It wasn’t really helping me achieve what I wanted, which was to engage people enough for them to want to see my live performances.

One of several passages from my journal. I’ve decided to quit something I’ve done regularly for over 10 years, so naturally I’m going to have a lot of thoughts on the topic.

Social media is all skewed perception. It makes us think we know each other and perhaps even subconsciously feel like we just ran into each other. It wears out our desire for genuine curiosity. How many people are really going to go to that link in your bio from the post of that video you spent an hour editing? Do most people even turn the sound on for videos?

Case in point: I posted a teaser without sound and someone commented, “Amazing sounds!” <violin emoji>. I graciously responded, “The sound of silence CAN be amazing!” And I’ll admit it: I, too, have double tapped without listening, and I know I’m not the only one.

Goodbye to All That

After I shared that I was leaving social media and asked people to sign up for my newsletter, my email list doubled. I don’t have a ton of subscribers (370) because I hadn’t been putting effort into growing my list over the last 5+ years, but I’m coming back to the tenet of “If you build it, they will come.” I’m going to make work, collaborate, work towards getting press, and cross-promoting shows and news with my friends. It is going to be a slow process, but a worthwhile one. I am also thinking of switching my newsletter to Substack since there are social engagement elements to it, such as sharing and commenting.

If someone is truly interested in what I do after seeing it or reading about it, and the only place they know they can get updates is my newsletter, perhaps they’ll be motivated to sign up. If not, then they don’t really want to engage with my work, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m done with the illusion that a frivolous number next to my name means anything.

The funny thing is, not being on social media doesn’t mean I’m not going to be on social media. What I mean is: I still have plenty of friends and collaborators who are active on several channels, so my work is still going to get shared!

I’m going a little old school with my outreach efforts. I love long-form writing, and while I know that is also “content creation,” writing is a significant part of my process. Everything I create begins with writing, as it helps me form and clarify my ideas. With my newsletter, I’ll talk about my process with my audience, which also gives me an opportunity to analyze my work. I think this will be more interesting, as opposed to posting fodder to please the algorithm.

Upon reflecting on the fact that I thought leaving social media required ‘privilege,’ I ask myself: Do I have enough to eat, a place to live, and can I make art without social media? Yes. So clearly, the “privilege” to leave social media actually meant ‘enough fame.’

After quitting social media, I noticed that I had more energy and mental space, even after a long day of caring for my child. I’ve been able to focus more during my studio hours. But I want to stress that I don’t believe that all social media or all things online are bad. Social networking has been a wonderful way to connect with people, and I am well aware of the myriad ways the internet has provided a great level of accessibility. I am simply eager to explore slower ways of sharing and seeing instead of churning out and scrolling past constant content.

I’m not even completely renouncing social media: blogs, newsletters, and Bandcamp are all forms of social media, and because I know I can’t change the generally-held sentiment that online profiles carry some weight of legitimacy, I’ve left my inactive accounts up as digital breadcrumbs.

Upon reflecting on the fact that I thought leaving social media required “privilege,” I ask myself: Do I have enough to eat, a place to live, and can I make art without social media? Yes. So clearly, the “privilege” to leave social media actually meant “enough fame.”

I’m not one for stereotypes, but in this instance, can we be iconoclasts again? The notions of the starving artist and mad genius are fading, as are the taboos of having a steady day job and having a family. So can we be contrarian assholes about the requirement to be on social media?

I don’t know who needs to hear this (me, still) but: We’re artists. We imagine, we create worlds, and hopefully, we’re still imagining and building one we want to be in, both on and offline.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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