Social media and algorithms \\ The beat of London’s artists

It would be ignorant to deny that jazz has suffered with image problems. Since the sixties, jazz has been relegated from most mainstream music conversations. The digital age, however, has provided new opportunities for its artists. With social media and music streaming, people’s taste are being effortlessly broadened. Ahead of our panel Jazz in the Digital Age at SXSW, we spotlight some of London’s musicians for their opinions on social media and streaming.

Both founded in 2007, the effects of Bandcamp and Soundcloud are not to be underestimated in the remerging interest in jazz. Soundcloud’s algorithms, as well as Spotify‘s, take users on an audio journey that they may never have chosen for themselves. The platforms have arguably stretched the tastes of the average listener. Session sites like Balcony TV and Sofar Sounds – in their effort to increase subscribers and earn their medal as tastemakers – will showcase left-field, underground and yet to be championed artists. Often, this means showcasing jazz, world and experimental alongside mainstream pop, rock and folk.

Nubya Garcia, the saxophonist who launches her debut release as a bandleader this year, says of her band Nérija‘s recent shows; “If we didn’t have a Soundcloud recording from two years ago, I don’t know how different things would have been”. 

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Promoters and label Jazz re:freshed give musicians a weekly platform at Mau Mau Bar. Reflecting on what has changed for Jazz musicians between now and when they began promoting fourteen years ago, co-founder Adam Moses thinks that musicians are branding themselves better now. For many though, there’s still some way to go;

“There’s a lot of things they’re not doing in terms of how they put themselves out there. Even down to how they dress and how they take good photos. It should be standard and it is in other genres”. Adam adds that “for every well styled band out there, there’s some other band making jazz look cheesy”. Whilst the argument could be said for most scenes, it’s true that jazz has an image problem. Thankfully, as music fans and players alike fuse into a shared disregard for genre-labelling, that’s changing. As Adam says, “forget jazz as a genre. It should be in the tapestry of everyone’s listening”.

How then, are so many fans starting to see the artists behind the brass hooks, busy drum fills and complex chord structures, in a different light?

“Social media”, says saxophonist and Sons Of Kemet bandleader Shabaka Hutchings. “It feels like even two, three years ago, there was a reluctance to engage with social media”. He adds, “years ago I used to tell Sons Of Kemet about the algorithms”. As a musician who is incredibly active across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Shabaka explains how he sacrificed his personal Facebook account in order to share his music with a wider audience; “I decided to use Facebook as an online archive of all the stuff that I like. When people engage with my archive, it broadens the algorithm, so that when I do put music stuff out there, more people see it”.

Another advocate for social media’s power in rebranding jazz is drummer Femi Koleoso of Ezra Collective. “The need for big labels and backing has been replaced by likes and retweets”, he says. 

In 2017, artists are working in a playing field that celebrates innovative thinking – not only in music, as has always been the case since the earliest swing musicians swung – but in promotion, technology, and even attitudes.

Read about the artists we’re taking to SXSW

Jazz has always garnered respect as an art form in the UK, but has broken into the realms of everyday awareness for the average music fan thanks to digital platforms and social media. Whilst few still think of jazz as a niche, those who seek good music know that’s no longer the case. As Femi says, “curiosity plays straight into the hand of jazz. It’s easily accessible, if you look for it”.

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JS | Tina Edwards

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