Way back in time, before social media, musicians used to create demos to win credibility with record companies. Others played gigs to create a fan base and attract a following. These ‘traditional’ routes remain important – music publishers still have a role today. However, neither of these routes applied to my song Shine at Christmas. Although I had attended for open mic sessions in the UK when I was working as a social work lecturer at the University of York in 2016 and 2017; and had previously sung at concerts and other venues in my native country of Malta, I relied almost extensively on social media when it came to marketing Shine at Christmas.

When in England, I attended for training courses hosted by the Song Writing Academy in London. I was told on the first day of these courses that there are two sides to music, namely the creative side and the business side. The two sides are complimentary and unless songwriters are competent at both songwriting and business, they are setting themselves up to fail. To succeed, they necessarily needed to be competent in both.

Different lecturers at the Song Writing Academy explained how social media has changed the way music is marketed today in comparison to some ten years back. Social media has taken over music marketing in many ways. They pointed out that this reliance on social marketing, however, is to the advantage of songwriters who are relatively new to the scene of songwriting (and that includes me) since it has given new acts an easier ride on the road to fame. Personally speaking, I could not agree with them more. Jake Joseph Paul is an American actor and YouTube personality who rose to significant fame on the now-defunct video application Vine. Justin Bieber is also attributed to have achieved much of his initial success through social media.

Marketing textbooks distinguish between commercial marketing, which is essentially offering goods, products or services for sale; and social marketing. In the fourth edition of their book on social marketing, called Social Marketing – Influencing Behaviors for Good (Sage Pubications, 2011), authors Nancy R. Lee and Philip Kotler explain that “social marketing is focused on influencing behaviors that will improve health, prevent injuries, protect the environment, contribute to communities, and … enhance financial well-being.” This definition is very much in agreement with the satisfaction of needs, particularly as classified by Maslow.

Social marketing would aim to promote such activities as people exercising at least three times a week, drinking fresh water, eating fruit and vegetables, going for an HIV test, volunteering, and resisting negative peer pressure. Likewise, music operates at different levels but is essentially a social activity wherein meeting such needs as belonging, esteem and even actualization can become easier if music features in a person’s life.

However, it can be asked:  is not selling a song purely commercial marketing? After all, my future as a songwriter depends on generating enough income to be able to produce further songs. I suppose it can be classified in this way. However,I do not want to see songwriting purely as a business; and perhaps I am fortunate because I do not have to. Not only is this because I hold down a very satisfying and financially rewarding job as a lecturer; but also, perhaps from a different angle, because social media have come to my rescue. On the one hand, from the commercial side of the matter, social media are enabling me to aim to cover the costs for producing the song, marketing it, having a video produced, and so on. Through social media I can encourage people to purchase the song, for instance, via i-tunes. On the other hand, though, I am promoting my songs on YouTube, and asking my friends and network members to share the links to my songs within their own social media networks. I see this as social marketing. My aim is to engage my friends in helping me out to outreach to poorer people in the world and try to share my music with them for free.

If I were to be asked why I see my participation in the music scene more as social marketing than commercial marketing, my answer would be that I do not aim to defeat competition by other singers. I do not have to. There is plenty of space for all the singers in the world in the music scene. As far as I am concerned, may there be many more of them!. Rather, I aim to create songs whereby people would be able to decide for themselves which behaviors are appropriate when confronting certain situations. When it comes to social marketing, as Lee and Kotler further explain, the competition is most often the current or preferred behavior of the targeted audience.

So, the million-dollar question is what behavior is the song ‘Shine at Christmas’ trying to promote? The one-word answer to this question is ‘altruism’. The video on YouTube should leave the whole world with one question – if I have enough bobbles and balls to fill my Christmas tree, what is stopping me (what ideas and beliefs are stopping me) from sharing some of the bobbles and balls I have – by giving them to others? Or as the song puts it “let’s live in harmony.”