Multimodal texts — how the versatility of social media lets artists tell their own stories

As years progress, we see narratives incorporating more features than just that which is written on pen and paper, and the multimodal capabilities of social media platforms are letting artists write their own narratives.

Gone are the days where record labels strive to make big deals with companies for the use of their music, with artists relying on conglomerate support for new albums. Whilst advertising still happens, musicians no longer alter their persona to fit a homogenised narrative that will win them deals with companies for exposure.

Cast your mind back to when The Beatles lost control over their song ‘Revolution’, and many others, after Nike paid a sum of $250,000 to Capitol Records and Michael Jackson for the rights to use the bands music. The Beatles had notably made some management mistakes in the past, and many deals were done with not just the artist, but with management companies seeking to maximise profit and secure deals for the promotion of their music.

The way musicians told the stories behind their music was determined not by the artists themselves, but by their record labels and the advertising campaigns they were desperate to secure. Now, thanks to forever updating features of social media outlets, artists are no longer tied to the restraints of capitalist marketing, and are free to create their own campaigns, directly reaching their fans by creating their own narrative in new and innovative ways. One critical response to multimodality within literacy and media sought to define it as being an extension of the traditional ways of conceiving narrative, adding that it can include the incorporation of ‘moving images, sound, music, gesture, use of space and so on’.

Since narratives were first recognised as existing in both print and visual forms, some suggested that the possibility of extending linguistic concepts first came about in the 1950s, whereby visual narratives began to take on contrasting forms, with a larger acceptance that media texts should also be considered as ‘literary’. In one study looking at multimodal popularity for branding on social media, it was found that in posts that included a high level of ‘engagement parameters’ encompassing self-presentation and brand centrality, engagement was much higher. Therefore, research shows that using multimodal aspects within social media posts can help to attract users and allow brands and in this case, musicians, to express themselves and create their own distinguished narratives.

My experience using social media platforms meant that I had a hands on experience at exploring the different multimodal capabilities of platforms, following musicians who have used them to their advantage to bypass the homogenised perceptions about them provided by news media and record labels. With Instagram’s new customisation options, allowing users to document their stories in ‘highlight reels’, showcasing images and videos taken from past stories and the option to create colourful covers for them, Twitters micro-blog system to directly engage with followers, and Facebook’s polling and reaction features, users are faced with a more versatile online world which is updated regularly.

Punk rock band All Time Low didn’t want to simply release a new album, they wanted to shape their image around the music. They took advantage of Instagram’s visual focus, by releasing ominous mini-clips of their infamous logos, using black and white minimalist effects to contrast their previous posts full of colour and sold out concert venues.

The band was able to create a story for their new music, as their fans would work to crack the code and feel suspenseful as many wondered why the new posts were so contrasting and what this meant. The theme was continued through the release of their album Wake Up, Sunshine, using a bright yellow colour scheme present on all social media accounts, as if they were reidentifying themselves. The bands first comeback post after those cryptic messages read;

‘We took a step away for a minute- did some growing, did some soul searching, some healing’

The band combined traditional narrative forms in the form of text with video narratives that immersed their fans in the story world of their new album, thinking of what the album’s unique face would be.

Instagram is not the only social media platform which allows for users to create their own, multi-dimensional, multimodal narratives. Whilst Instagram succeeds in expanding the ability for artists to create their own visuals, no longer guided by the prison of record label perceptions, multi-modality encompasses more than just colours and pictures. Twitter, being a message based app with its focus on short paragraphs can also be an extremely effective way for artists to produce their own narratives. The ability to change your profile photo and banner, as well as simply tweet your thoughts and opinions out allows artists to once again bypass the institutions that once controlled them, free to use the platform to possess their own voice.

Halsey is a great example of an artist who has used platforms such as Twitter to reclaim her own narrative, which has been subject to widespread controversy, with many referencing her problems with alcohol abuse and controversial comments about Pitchfork, which recently gave the artist a mediocre review for her newest album ‘Manic’. The artist recently launched her own make-up brand, accompanied with a story that inspired her to do this, and a video montage including rock music alongside pictures of models with her makeup products. ‘About-face beauty’ is a great example of an artist being in charge of a brand, rather than the brand being in charge of her, or even the artist being the brand themselves. Artists are becoming more independent, and narratives are being shaped by their own desires.

The artist was also using the platform to answer fan questions, and even express her own political opinions on the recent Capitol break-in.

Other features including filter effects on Instagram stories or polling options on Facebook and Twitter do what some authors could only have dreamed of a few decades ago. Stories are being created in new and creative ways that are literally being shaped by fans interacting and engaging with them, made more effective by the multimodal attractiveness of music narratives.

Musicians are no longer one-dimensional song-writers, catering to the beck and call of media outlets and brand deals in order to survive. For once, artists are in control of their own destiny and can portray themselves and their talent in which ever way they want, with multimodal features of social media platforms facilitating this and engaging fans with the colourful story that sets the scene for the artists music. Features provide a sense of escapism for fans, captivating their attention even when music is not being released, and most importantly, singers are no longer creating music, but they’re also creating a universe, one in which others are free to join and be a part of.

Deputy Head of Nerve News, and final year undergraduate student at Bournemouth University

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store