The Music Industry, Fan Engagement, and the Pandemic: A Discussion with Kadijat Salawudeen

By Elissa Mefleh and Dalal Garai

A Rocket to the Moon (CC2.0)

Whether you like to listen to some Lo-fi beats while you study or some classical tunes while you cook dinner, music is undoubtedly an element of our everyday lives. Similar to how music has an integral role in our lives, we, as consumers, also play a powerful role in the success of the music industry. In March 2021, we got the opportunity to speak to Kadijat Salawudeen, in our Digital Communities class at Northwestern University in Qatar taught by Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz. She is a second-year graduate student studying International Communications at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Currently, she works on the PR and Marketing teams at °1824, a vertical within Universal Music Group. She is also a freelancer with She Is The Music as part of the communications committee. Through this virtual discussion, we were able to gain insight into the music industry. Some of the topics which we discussed included, understanding what it takes to be part of it, the role of fans and anti-fans engagement, and the changes that needed to be made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Salawudeen is a great example of how crucial dedication and persistence are to become successful in the music industry. Without the strong network of professionals which she worked hard to cultivate over the years, she would not have been able to attain the opportunities that she has today. This allowed her to attend events, such as Beautycon, and further expand her experience and knowledge. It was much more than just attending events, Salawudeen invested a lot of time to research and find the right people, places to volunteer, and experiences that all together helped her build a solid repertoire. She highlighted how it is important to step into this field by taking on and embracing the early learning experiences rather than expecting financial gains.

Once she got familiar with the intricacies of the industry, she noticed that there was a lack of opportunities for females within this field. According to Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative reports, only 3% of producers were female among Billboard’s Hot 100 Charts between the years of 2012 and 2019. Moreover, only 22% of the artists who were featured in these charts were female. This pushed Salawudeen to develop Girls who Listen, a female-founded nonprofit organization that is committed to “supporting and shaping future female creatives and executives within the music industry”. It is truly inspiring how she worked on developing this initiative in order to boost this number, offer opportunities to females and make use of her experience, knowledge, and connections which she continues to build.

There is no doubt that fan communities are an essential part of the music industry. Salawudeen explained that both fans and anti-fans play a crucial role within this sector. Together they create a balance; fan communities have the power to determine how far an artist goes, while anti-fans provide the opportunity for growth for an artist through criticism. From her own experiences, one of the takeaways Salawudeen shared as a fan and as a professional in the field is that sometimes, in order to market an artist better, you need to be a fan first, follow their journey and projects, and know when and where to draw the line between the two.

Salawudeen also mentioned how superfans often replicate the work of an artist’s publicist. Their contribution pushes for their favorite artist’s success and creates more engagement around their name. In fact, when fans step in and do that effectively, some artists may not need pitching because they are already well-established. However, the artist’s engagement with their fans is not always authentic. There are some artists who like running their social media independently. We can detect if the engagement is authentic or not by carefully analyzing the type of posts, responses and captions. For example, donations and contests indicate that the account is managed by a team. In this case, the content and engagement are scheduled and planned. Other artists may follow a hybrid model between them and their management team or company. However, security can become an issue when many individuals are involved.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many changes had to be made within the music industry. A lot of programming had to be halted or shifted to a virtual format. The pandemic pushed professionals within the music industry to come up with ways to restructure usual activities such as engaging with fan communities. Some examples of virtual programming mentioned by Salawudeen included exclusive feedback sessions, virtual concerts, and events. During these exclusive sessions, a song is played to a group of fans a few months prior to its release to provide feedback to the team. This also opened up the opportunity to tap into different audiences and regions. This was very exciting news to hear for individuals like us because it meant that despite the distance and restrictions, we could still have the opportunity to be part of these communities and engage in their activities too. We came across an interesting example: Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert, where fans were able to attend a virtual simulation of his concert in the video game. This was such a revolutionary concert as it merged the music and gaming communities together.

We believe that now more than ever people are longing for a sense of connection with the world around them. As social creatures, we seek to satisfy this need through outlets such as music and art. This pandemic poses a valuable opportunity for the entertainment industry to be creative and think of ways to engage with their fans regardless of the distance and restrictions.  Avenues such as Clubhouse rooms, Instagram lives or Zoom calls are now being used as a tool to increase fan engagement and boost the artist’s position in the market. While we do not necessarily know what the future holds for the music industry – perhaps this pandemic will positively change the way fans interact with their favorite artists. We believe that the need for music will always be present, but the media and mode of engagement will continue to develop and adapt to the circumstances and needs of the wider audience.

Kadijat Salawudeen, a music promotion and marketing professional
and a St. John’s University Class 2021.

About the authors:

  • Elissa Mefleh is a communication senior at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), majoring in media industries and technology alongside a certificate in Strategic Communications. Mefleh is originally from Lebanon but was born and raised in Qatar. She currently serves as a project manager for the Science Journal podcast as well as a research assistant for a project that focuses on COVID-19 communication. Additionally, she works as a Senior Student Affairs Department Assistant and as the Head of Marketing for Not Another Film Club. Mefleh is a student ambassador, a member of the One Book One NU-Q committee, and most recently one of the founding members of Wisteria – a NU-Q online journal.
  • Dalal Garai is a communication senior at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), majoring in media industries and technology and pursuing a certificate in Strategic Communications. Garai is of Moroccan descent but was born and raised in Qatar. She is a senior research assistant for Unraveling Persuasion, an exhibition developed by The Media Majlis which explores the psychology and language of persuasion. Garai is currently a student ambassador and a member of the Community Building Committee, she also previously served as the president of the Music Society at NU-Q for two years. As of recently, Garai produced a Studio 20Q film, Ibn El Ballad, which tackles the theme of being a cross-culture kid.

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