Are Music Fanatics A Dying Breed?

SEE2RU4yNGdxaXcx_o_muse---the-2nd-law---new-full-song-leakedGuest post by Alex May of sidewinder.fm

A recent video of an album teaser by Muse quickly separated the fans from the critics. The hatred expressed toward the band erupted over a clip of a song on an album that hasn’t been released yet. Several listeners suggested that even though they’re fans of Muse, this song has now completely ruined their liking of the band.

This song, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” from Muse’s upcoming release, The 2nd Law, introduced dubstep-like sounds by the creative use of guitar effects. Fans had expected a new direction since the band’s 2009 release, The Resistance, but this course proved to be one that many critics weren’t on board with. Frontman Matt Bellamy has been using these same effects for nearly a decade, but the recent dubstep trend motivated critics and fans to write these sounds off as the same “unlistenable noise" made popular by artists like Skrillex and Nero.

While listeners have always had strong opinions about the music they like and dislike, the advent of social media and the platform it provides has revealed just how volatile fans can be. Oftentimes, they dispute and defend such opinions in a vile way, and grow divided based on what kinds of music they love and hate. This mindset, when paired with the instantaneous nature of the Internet, seems to have created a lot more fleeting fans that are less engaged and less willing to give new music a second chance.

In the past, fans slept in front of venues to snag a ticket the moment a concert went on sale. They attended album release parties, meet-and-greets, and rushed to the nearest retail outlet to grab the new album on release day. Interaction with other like-minded fans strengthened their interest in a band and gave them the opportunity to attribute memories to specific moments. These people were truly fanatics, and were among the music listening elite.

Today, the definition of a fan seems to have become watered down, and has less in common with the word it was derived from. iTunes allows listeners to download new music the minute the album goes on sale, and tickets to a show can be purchased without leaving the comfort of your home. Fans make less of an effort to interact with an artist, and music can be discarded just as easily as it was obtained.

When a fan’s taste is called into question, it’s often easier to ditch the music they claimed to like rather than defend their position — especially on YouTube’s comments, where strident users will insult every aspect of your personal life. Many of today’s fans never had the opportunity to develop a backbone while downloading a song or album, and this lack of spine shows when “fans” simply give up their personal tastes and agree with a critic.

Negative comments give new fans less of a chance to develop their own opinions and hinder their ability to talk to other fans in an objective setting. Music forums such as AbsolutePunk are notorious for this. Many threads there begin with users berating others for their “poor” taste. The discussions soon become a case of “like what we like or else.”

Social media has made everyone’s listening habits public, which should theoretically provide more opportunities to discuss listening preferences. Instead, it seems to constrict the depth and meaning of conversation. A fan’s interest in a band rapidly disappears upon the release of the next hit single. Infatuation is mistaken for fandom.

The term “fan” has been trivialized by Facebook, making it so a user can “Like” a band the same way they like Nutella. Casual fans can now press a button and give themselves a title that once described those who actually knew something about the music they enjoy. There must be a distinction between a mere fan and a true fanatic, it’s no longer appropriate to throw everyone who listens to music under a single blanket term.

Technology has not created distraught fans, but it has definitely made it easier for them to express their shallow opinions for everyone to see. Casual fans have less reason to express their musical tastes, and when you don’t verbally express your love for a band, it remains an internal dialogue without much reason to defend.

If you ask me what my favorite band is, I will respond without hesitance that it’s Muse. Talking among my friends, the answer is quite different. Their responses seem to range from “hmm, I don’t know” to “I don’t really have a favorite.”

In a world where you can find music anywhere, we have every opportunity to become a fan of a new artist. But the question is, has this unlimited supply of music made us more fleeting, and spread our capacity to become passionate about an artist too thin?

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  1. Disagree with most of your premise, Kyle. Even before the internet there were only a limited number of true fans. Ask any radio band from the 90s. There are 100s of platinum-selling artists from the CD Era who can’t fill a 500 seat club now.
    Beyond just the radio acts, even stadium-filling artists aren’t immune from fan backlash when they try something different. U2’s “Pop” album, anyone?
    I agree the internet has made it so easy for “online tough guys,” bullies, racists, and other cowards to spew their vitriol. But I disagree that “Fans make less of an effort to interact with an artist”–they interact much more now. I also disagree that there are fewer fanatics now then there were pre-internet or pre-social media.
    The difference now is that people have a public forum to elaborate on their opinions and it’s socially acceptable to do so.

  2. haven’t seen a more bang on writeup in a while. kudos. Bang on, on every aspect. Yes true fans have much more access and doing much more effort to interact with their musical Gods, but not the casual fans he talks about. It’s a way shallower musical world if you go purely by volume. It’s eerie – I could have written this piece myself – word for word.
    But I think all hope is not lost, as far as even few passionate fans like you exist. I was shocked when Norman Cook recently told me he hadn’t signed a cd in a long time when I popped out all my cds on meeting him. It is the photograph and spotify generation. But the armies will continue to exist and grow. Muse is the best example I suggest? 90k cds sold in the first two days – bought by real fans – despite the flak on the Unsustainable trailer – the record has been proclaimed genius. You can’t stop real talent.

  3. Meh. I think this is just more of the same. In the 1980s we were told it was the end of music by the older generation, now we’re older and claiming the same nonsense about today’s generation. I recently met a heavily-tattooed 19-year old, who I overheard listening to ELP. So I asked her about it – she says can’t get enough. I was shocked, and she found it odd that I was: “just because I’m young I can’t tell what good music is?” She was right, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all.
    Go to any concert of what you’d consider “good” music, and you’ll find young people there who are passionate about music, understand music history (including recent history) and seek out music that appeals to their sense of taste regardless of whether it’s old or new.
    Go look at Billboard’s Top 200 chart. The bottom of that chart is full of selections from across time and genre. Licensed to Ill, Thriller, a new tribute to Deep Purple album, Tragic Kingdom (keep in mind, 1995 was almost 20 years ago). CCR’s “Chronicle” is number 141, for cryin’ out loud. These are not middle aged people like me buying these in sufficient quantity to register on the charts like this – we already own these! It’s kids discovering music, the same technology that lets them find and enjoy “Gangnam Style” also gives them equal access to John Fogerty’s catalog. Go look at whosampled.com and see how much of today’s popular music is rooted in the past. “Digging through the stacks” whether they are virtual or not, is how you discover the hook to Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” and decide that the bass line is JUST RIGHT for your new Beyonce track. You had to listen to enough Steely Dan to be a fan of that bass hook! So what if Beyonce’s fans never realize it? Just think about how many kids today are digging through stacks, diving deep into their cultural heritage, looking for stuff they can love and listen to and remix and make something new out of it.
    Stop worrying on their behalf about whether kids today are “fanatic” enough to satisfy your theory on how things should be. To quote a rock hero, and one from my father’s generation, from 1965, before I was even born: the kids are alright! They don’t need us to tell them what music is good and what’s not, or how many songs is a good number for your iphone, or what constitutes a proper fan versus a poseur. They will figure it out for themselves, and hopefully let us old farts know what they learn.

  4. It’s because of little interesting, copied solutions in music. There are no real spirit, no rebel, no true emotions in music anymore. I used to be a fanatic of a few music genres but the quality of music (not technical but composition, arrangements, depth, moods etc.) has been declining since late 90s. Grunge was the last emotional guitar driven music. I can’t stand when metal bands come up with melodies, and industrial rock bands keep showing off with remixes like if was something totally innovative. It’s boring! Technology, laziness and lack of innovation has killed the real spirit in music. Keep in mind that hard to find releases were driving music fanatics towards buying/importing a tape/CD/vinyl. If it’s all over the place, streamed, given away etc., it’s not attractive anymore! Glad we still have progressive metal with a variety of ambitious bands doing it right.

  5. Being a huge fan of a particular Canadian rock band, what I’m finding is that it’s much less about the quality or quantity of music available, and more to do with convenience and effort. And by that I mean, as you stated at the beginning, it used to take EFFORT to participate in your fandom, and by making that effort, it forged your fanaticism. Nowadays, everything is so very easy to acquire that you don’t HAVE to make an effort anymore for anything – the music, the tickets, the merch, finding other fans – and so the fanaticism isn’t as deep. I think the music is there but because no one has to work to get anything, they don’t WANT to work to get anything. Do anything other than retweet something to enter a contest? Forget it, they won’t do it. Because they haven’t had to do anything much beyond that to get what they want. I think the real fans ARE still out there, the people for whom the music (or indeed anything you can be a fan of) is a true passion, but those willing to make much of an effort for anything anymore are few and far between.

  6. I’m a Victim-AKA rabid and loyal Killers fan.It is a really strong community of passionate fans who still sleep outside venues, travel all over the country (and world) for gigs and wait hours outside a venue to get a chance meeting and autograph from the band.While i understand the arguments made, I tend to disagree because this hasn’t been my experience.The fans i know (and not just of the Killers) would go toe to toe to defend their love of the band and their music come hell or high water, on line or otherwise.But I think the effort put into a bands product is what elicits the passionate payback IE as long as the band believes in what they’re doing they will amass an equally passionate following and response in turn..no matter what the critics say..

  7. I agree that the Internet in general makes it easy for people to be more vocal in their likes and dislikes, I’m not sure it’s much different from what goes on in the school years though, except that people can do it facelessly.
    However, like Allie, I am a Victim. I have followed The Killers passionately for 8 years. While I don’t wait outside venues for tickets or CDs anymore (though I have done this in the past for bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure), this is because I don’t need to do that. I recent bought several copies of their latest CD just to ensure I had all the different bonus tracks, as well as downloading on iTunes so I could get it on day of release, despite the fact that I had already got a leaked copy. Just last month I travelled to London to try and get in to three free shows The Killers were playing. When I planned it we didn’t have tickets to any of the shows. We slept on the streets of London two nights in a row just to get in to those shows. We waited hours after the shows to try and meet the band. I don’t know about you but I call that fanaticism. And I am not alone. Maybe we are a dying breed, but we Victims are a passionate and vociferous group of people.

  8. Interesting thought, Alex. I think people in general are evolving with technology. I don’t think that people are less worthy fans because they can buy their tickets at home. That just…makes sense. It’s convenient.
    I think tech has evolved so fast that our attachments and our memories are more fleeting. So I guess I agree with the idea that fanatics for a particular band or singer, etc are less common. But there is more music available to us than ever before and that is a good thing. People can be more educated about the music they listen to and have a personal say in what is played. If an artist stops compelling them to listen, for whatever reason, there are millions of bands who can replace them. Artists…ARTISTS can’t worry about that. Pop music icons worry about that. Good for Muse for doing what they feel is important for them. They just need to accept whatever comes. And I’m sure they will.
    Side note…there is more music than ever today. It is not worse than the “glory days” for rockn’n’roll or whatever it is you prefer. I categorically disagree with that. The challenge is the sea of options. There are tons of great artists out there, no matter what your taste is. But they aren’t on MTV, they aren’t on VH1, they very likely aren’t on the radio. If you explore, you can find anything you’re looking for.

  9. What else can we be? I buy music almost every week. Two thirds of it is on vinyl, but I also still buy CDs.
    This week what I’ve bought was recorded in the early 70s and the early 90s. Would love to have the experience of discovering a new “artist.” An artist who writes, sings and plays with great vision and talent is extremely hard to find today. Mostly you find the rare ones on indies. I listen to every format. I don’t hear it. I hear mediocrity. I hardly ever hear anything which excites me to the point of driving to the nearest outlet and putting my money down. That’s what’s wrong with the industry.

  10. Couldn’t agree more. Though you may have missed Meg Myers & We are Augustines. Isn’t the point of rare geunine amazing talent that it’s, you know, rare?

  11. My favourite way for discovering new music (apart from XFM in the car,) is soundcloud. type in some favourite genre combinations into the search box and you will get a ton of mostly good stuff from artists you’ve never heard of.
    This is not necessarily for you. This is for other people reading these comments. My favourite at the moment is indie electronic guitars. Discovery is fun..

  12. Great article. However, I do think fans still interact with artists, but just in a different way than 10 or 20 years ago. With Twitter you can send tweets directly to your favourite bands or artists. Whether they respond is a different matter, but it is certainly easier for diehard fans to contact them. What I feel is changing is the number of truly loyal fans who support and stick with a particular artist or band. Songs come and go in the charts these days so quickly from many different artists, and many young fans change their mind so often about who they like and don’t like. I used to teach music in a school and it was amazing when teenagers would say their favourite artist was a singer who was clearly a “one hit wonder”. http://make-music.net

  13. Well written Alex. Listeners and fans should be categorized as two separate groups, making it all the more important for a band to identify the true and loyal fans out of all their listeners and turn these mere listeners into fans.

  14. I found this to be very insightful. Thank you! I’ve also been getting a lot out of drummer Brian Doherty’s website as well. He has some interesting views on music and the music industry at briandoherty.net

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