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Online Fandom: Is A New Music Community Emerging?

MonsterClawGuest post by Kyle Bylin of sidewinder.fm

With the debut of Little Monsters, Hipset, This Is My Jam, and Swarm.fm a new music community is starting to emerge and take shape. Fans are connecting to each other through content produced by themselves and their favorite artists. They are also sharing their most loved songs and discovering music that relates to their specific tastes.

Elsewhere, fans have started online chat conversations with each other through Soundrop, Jelli Radio, and Turntable.fm that soon turned into real meetups in the physical world.

What insights can these properties and the activities associated with them give us into the future of music fandom and how it may evolve? Is a new music community emerging and taking shape? Or, perhaps, is an old one being reborn?

Bas GrasmayerHead of Information Strategy at Dream Industries (@Spartz)
No, it's not an old one being reborn. They represent new communities emerging and taking shape indeed.

Here's why. We're all familiar with the ecosystem of apps around tech platforms, but I suggest there are now also blooming ecosystems of fans around artists. Why do I use the word ecosystem? Because I believe they represent self-sustaining, organic communities, which will fight for their own survival.

It's like the difference of a boring house party, or a fun one. The fun one: a host connects everyone and makes sure they have something to talk about. Boring: everyone waiting around for host to come talk to them. The former has innate value, that old-style fan clubs don't.

mau5ville is a good example of this: basbasbas.com.

Rich PulvinoPR and Social Media Specialist at Martino Flynn (@rpulvino)
The older online music communities were ecosystems dedicated to either genres or geographic locations. For example, I frequented the online community for the Rochester Hardcore scene, which was certainly self-sustaining, and fought for its survival through concert promotion and continuing the in-person conversations within the community when we weren't spending time around each other.

Now that communities are forming around artists and personal tastes, these older characteristics of ecosystems are evolving, but some are stagnated based on the fact that complementary activities need to take place away from the community for it to evolve.

The real meetups taking place is a start, but a community needs a purpose beyond simple commonalities.

Bas Grasmayer (@Spartz)
Good point — and though I was referring to pre-internet with old ones, it doesn't matter, because especially “scenes” are well known for fighting for their own survival.

As for purpose, the ideal is that that's something which is derived intrinsically. Fans finding meaning and significance without needing external suggestions. The most common in that, is probably the “purpose” of sharing the music, so that more people can enjoy this artist / song.

What do you mean with “real meetups' and 'complementary activities”?

I didn't really catch your drift there.

Rich Pulvino (@rpulvino):
My bad: For real meetups, I meant "face-to-face" meetups, and complementary activities were actions taken outside of the community — whether that involves a meetup, getting community members involved in an appropriate organization, creating concerts/festivals, etc. Events that would basically serve as an extension of the community. 

Kyle Bylin (@sidewinderfm)

“They represent new communities emerging and taking shape indeed.”

If we agree that these properties are facilitating the emergence and growth of “new” music communities, how would you say that they most differ from those that exist now and those that formed in the past? Would you say, as Rich did, that freedom from genre and geo-location are a few of their defining characteristics?

Also traits

  • Deep social integration 
  • Broader music focus 
  • Fan to fan connection 
  • Web content centric

“There are now also blooming ecosystems of fans around artists.”

How sustainable are these blooming fan ecosystems? It seems like the loyalty of fans to artist communities has weakened and that they do not last long enough to mature and become healthy.

Rich Pulvino (@rpulvino):
Kyle, I agree about the fan ecosystems. They're an oddity because they can either exist as a niche network, or as closed network with a narrow-minded view.

The closed network is narrow-minded because it has the fan to fan connection to encourage sharing and dialogue, but there is no broader music focus so the topics stay focused on the artist.

When I say niche network, I take a look at Phantasy Tour — started as a message board for Deadheads and Phish fans, but has evolved into a genuine community focused around various forms of content sharing for the main bands and other artists.

Bas Grasmayer (@Spartz):
I think how sustainable they are depends on how artists retain their fans, connect them to each other and themselves, and give them a sense of purpose.

The future of that is becoming increasingly exciting, as crowd-funding or just amplifying an artist's message is becoming increasingly convenient and often with a lower threshold. Perhaps the thing to solve with crowd-funding is the distinction between the groups of music consumers that are "time-rich, money-poor" and those that are "money-rich, time-poor". Though that solution can be derived in a pretty easy manner.

Rich Pulvino (@rpulvino):
While I think "Time-rich, money poor" is bit too generalized for that category, consumers (dedicated fans of an artist) still participate in street teams to help get the word out about concerts, albums, etc. This is promotional activity that can certainly translate to an online ecosystem.

The "money-rich, time-poor" music consumers are the ones who can actually fund projects, since they have little time to promote them.

Bas Grasmayer (@Spartz):
Exactly, but at the moment, I don't see that many services combining the former group with the latter. The former creating additional value, and the latter paying the premium, with the former also having a sense of reward.

For instance, Last.fm is a platform where the "time-rich" (and yes, I'm generalizing) contribute a lot of value by editing, tagging, etc. A typical "time-poor" service, in my eyes, would be iTunes — maybe not in the US where music purchasing is more common than in the rest of the world. My point is, to facilitate such an ecosystem, you'd need something which combines the value-creation with spending and rewards both behaviors.

It would probably involve crowd-funding and gamification too.

Kyle Bylin (@sidewinderfm)
Now that we have shared perspectives on fan ecosystems and their sustainability, let’s move our focus to the properties in question.

Do we believe that Little Monsters is a model for a fan community that can be replicated elsewhere? If so, what type of artists would mostly likely be able to use Backplane and create a lasting destination for fans? Does it skew new or old?

Also, can Hipset become a fan destination with a broader artist and content focus? Or, are they overestimating the appeal of Facebook content and over reliant on a platform they don't control?

My gut reaction says that they will fall prey to seeking signal in the noise, which will be hard, because profiles run by PR agents and marketers create an unwieldy experience.

Rich Pulvino (@rpulvino):
Little Monsters works because you have an artist that people go crazy over and that stands for something beyond the music. When I think of rabid fanbases, I go back to the Deadheads and Phish fans who are obsessive about the music and nurture the community through discussion and sharing, to that point where it has actually turned into a legitimate marketplace within the community. Backplane could certainly be a platform for communities like this.

Jam bands routinely understand the importance of community (online and off) because their livelihood depends on it.

I'm not big on any community that's over reliant on another platform. Hipset is good, but I don't think it's sustainable because it's evolution goes the way of Facebook's.

Bas Grasmayer (@Spartz):
I don't think Little Monsters or Hipset are particularly exciting in the long term, but maybe it's just that I get annoyed by everyone cloning Pinterest.

To me, Little Monsters doesn't really seem like much more but a artist-community of fans posting content and memes around that artist. It's a good first step to connecting them, but to be brutally honest, it's hardly innovative. It's just a logical business solution, and it is a great gap in the market.

Hipset... meh. I like a lot of artists on Facebook, such as Depeche Mode, but that doesn't mean that I want to listen or see as much of them as other artists. I don't really believe in mash-ups that don't add extra intelligence.

I believe in integrating community elements in apps like: musicthinktank.com

J HerskowitzChief Product Officer at Official.fm (@jherskowitz):
The artists that have thriving fan communities are generally a result of their cult of personality, not their art. Most don't have artistic output rate high enough to maintain engagement by the community, hence the need to be — to paraphrase Rich — more than the sum of their art.

Kyle Bylin (@sidewinderfm)
Backplane couldn’t have picked a better artist to start with than Lady Gaga, but it’s hard to tell what other artists could follow suit. Possibly One Direction or Mindless Behavior. And Hipset is dependent on a myriad of factors that it can’t control. Thus, the concept doesn’t seem sustainable in the long-run.

That said, I’d like to turn our focus to This Is My Jam. Personally, I struggle with the website because it seems like a fanatic idea (share jams) wrapped with consistently bad idea (social network).

I'm optimistic, because lots of users seem to enjoy This Is My Jam. But I’m afraid the appeal doesn't translate a wider audience; it doesn’t solve a real problem or provide a necessary solution.

Strangers + Sharing Music = This Is My Jam

J Herskowitz (@jherskowitz):
I love the idea of breaking apart friends from music influencers. There are very few friends whose music I care about, and there are lots of musical influencers whose tastes I value but have no need to be their friends.

The biggest challenge for most digital music experiences is that they require you to leave your primary music consumption experience to participate in the community. This is generally done out of business necessity to avoid getting sucked into the black hole of becoming a full-catalog, on-demand, licensed music service. But to reach mass market they have to work across virtually all music providers/sources, geographic territories and be able to be participated in directly from a user's primary listening experience.

Kyle Bylin (@sidewinderfm)
Indeed, music influencers are often different than friends, and music services are often disconnected from communities.

While it may be important that certain friends use the same service as you, the network effect likely doesn’t span across all of them. Such wide-scale usage certainly fuels social confirmation, but may not catalyze social discovery. So too, communities often exist outside the walls of a service (and vice versa), as it’s extremely difficult to cultivate an organic user activity and do so within a licensed framework.

Spotify may grow to become more like RDIO (follow) or more like Facebook (friends). For now, This Is May Jam is tied to Spotify through an app, but the community remains divorced from the platform.

This thread originally appeared on Branch, an online discussion platform.

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