With the ubiquity of digital tools like social media and YouTube, it’s easier than ever to share art, ideas, and ourselves with the world. These platforms have been beneficial for musicians who can now—with relative ease—find and connect with their audience. Unfortunately, many of us experience a number of downsides from using this technology—especially how much of our time and attention is pulled away from our real lives. But because of the value we receive from having an online presence, we are reluctant to leave it behind. Fortunately, there is a way to take control of our digital lives so we can use these tools in a way that supports our music, instead of detracting from it.
Generally, there are two primary schools of thought on using digital platforms: either you use them and reap all the benefits, or you don’t and risk falling behind. Given these two choices, most people opt to be included—despite how this diminishes the quality of their lives. Cal Newport, an author and computer science professor, offers an alternative: a philosophy he calls “digital minimalism.” In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal describes this as: “A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” For musicians, this would allow us to only pick the specific platforms we know will serve our music, while leaving the rest behind.
To get started as a digital minimalist, Cal prescribes a 30-day “Digital Declutter.” For 30 days, you will remove optional technologies from your life and instead fill your time with meaningful activities like working on music, going on walks, reading a book, or connecting with friends or family. At the end of the 30-day declutter, you can reintroduce these tools back into your life by selecting only the ones that will “deliver massive and unambiguous benefits.”
Once you have decided which ones you will use—if any—then you can set boundaries around how you use them. This might include having designated times when you post to Instagram each week, or a limit on how many YouTube videos you allow yourself to watch in one sitting. In an interview with Cory Wong on the Wong Notes Podcast, guitarist and composer Yvette Young explains how she maintains a healthy relationship with Instagram: “I just don’t do the infinite [scrolling] thing. I’m actually rarely on other people’s pages. I have a couple of close friends that [I check out], but I’m not going to let the algorithm spit things out at me… I just kind of post and leave and then I check up on my friends.” This allows her to reap the benefits of sharing her music on Instagram, without it becoming a destructive presence in her life.
Experiencing our ideal musical lives does not happen by accident. We have to be intentional about everything we do in order to support our music making—especially when it comes to the social platforms designed to rob us of our time, attention, and satisfaction. Consider trying out a digital declutter, and if, when you’re finished, you choose to continue using social media or YouTube to promote yourself and your work, make sure to do so on your own terms. This way, you can reap the rewards of being accessible to a wider audience, while maintaining the focus, happiness, and time required to produce high quality work others will want to experience.