in case you can’t tell from literally every piece of content i’ve ever produced, i spent my teen years using tumblr under a blog named after a wonder years song. not even a really good one either. my most popular tumblr post was a heavily VSCO fade filtered photo of a neck deep shirt. it is captioned “Front of my Neck Deep shirt” which is on its own so funny to me. it was gratuitously tagged something like this “#neck deep #pop punk #merch #defend pop punk” which is, if i do say so myself, equal parts delightful and embarrassing.
making fun of tumblr is, and always was, a right of passage of using it but beyond just making fun of the maybe embarrassing things we might have posted, it’s a site that wasn’t very well run (see: any recent news about it) and didn’t work very well (ever try to play a song on a tumblr audio post?). it deserves criticism and if you can’t make fun of your younger self you suck but tumblr was an undeniably a huge part of the way i discovered music as a teenager and cultivated a sense of community in an online era of music.
my thoughts on tumblr as it relates to music from a fan perspective end up threefold. the first being tumblr as a discovery tool of a specific microcosm of music, the second is tumblr as a community tool, and the third is tumblr as a blogging platform and the way that differs from platforms such as instagram and twitter today as it relates to both music and personal social media.
it was between 2011 and maybe 2015 when i was using tumblr heavily especially using it as a tool to discover and discuss music. i found la dispute and balance & composure, seahaven and foxing, major league and transit, joyce manor and world is… the list goes on. pop punk and emo tumblr was a very real place. it was hugely important to the way i not only found music but also associated music together. i didn’t necessarily associate bands by what it actually sounded like, i more so associated bands together based on if blogs i followed would talk about them. it was curation through images and text posts and ask box messages. it also lead to knowing lyrics to songs i’d never heard- hell, i know lines in songs i’ve still never heard. things like “don’t say goodbye say you’re not sure” or “bullshit you fucking miss me” were everywhere. the easier to quote the better, even if that quote was way out of context (“can i still get into heaven if i kill myself”, anyone?).
to this day having discovered music in that way informs the way i am prone to listening to new music now. i prefer listening to people’s personal playlists or the songs people post screenshots of in their instagram stories because it’s similar. it’s personal curation. i realize i’m a person who is writing this zine which is mostly me being like “yo listen to this” and some of it was sent to me from a Music Professional at a Business but i am not overly influenced by music writing. i’m certainly not influenced much by tweets by blogs that just say “yo listen to this FFO: good music, sick riffs”. i like when music curation feels personal and communal. it’s important to have fan community that is native to build a music scene. tumblr was a tool for just that the way punk zines were in the past.
which brings me to my next point: tumblr as a catalyst for fan community. due to the nature of the site, creating fan communities is easy. it is sort of the whole /thing/ and tumblr is degraded for it. it’s an imperfect site but having a place to discuss the things you love is important. tumblr gave me that. tumblr gave me a space to be creative and be excited about music. it also gave me a space to talk about me in a more longform way and talk to people online about music but also about anything. tumblr gave me an incredibly influential romantic relationship with a person who posted his film photos of tigers jaw on the site to much celebration when he was a teenager. tumblr gave me incredibly positive internet interactions with lovely women i now follow on twitter and instagram and continue to have positive, lovely interactions with. that, to me, is a success in fan community and why it is so important that it can exist. music and art can create beautiful interpersonal relationships and i’m grateful to have had that shared experience free of undue influence from industry professionals- even self professed diy ones.
this, i guess, is a decent lead into the other thing i want to talk about: fan community as i see it now. internet fan community is not inherently worse than traditional fan community a la the 80s and 90s but i don’t believe all internet fan community is created equally. the platform with which the community is built introduces its own problems and advantages.
i believe tumblr was a great platform for this for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that it encouraged things like fan art or photos to be shared and discussed. it was creative and specific. when i say tumblr edits, you likely know what i mean. the culture of the site, not the culture of the thing you’re a fan of, encouraged the fan community to exist. being a fan of something should never be embarrassing, but that’s easier to do when you’re speaking (or posting) primarily to other people who are fans rather than the bands or labels or journalists. that lack of embarrassment fosters positive feelings and more passionate fans.
but it was also more than that because the format of the site matters to creating a community too. you got to know people through following them. you saw into their personal lives. you saw friends being made. long form posting and discussion between people is what made it more than just fan accounts and why i consider it a catalyst for community. getting to get a sense for people’s personalities is vital.
i believe parts of these ideas exist today but the sites that are very popular are not as good for community building because they lack the scope besides reddit i think is almost good except in ease of use and culture of the site. the youth mostly use instagram and the fan accounts i see on there are, by nature, photo based. lots of edited photos of the subject of the account and edits of lyrics. similar to most fan accounts you’d find anywhere including tumblr but i think the problem with instagram is that it can be hard to feel like the person running the account is a person as a result of the photo stream being the only format for posting other than stories (more photos and videos, more of the same). you’ll see users subverting the traditional photo-caption format by posting a photo that is on theme with a caption solely about their personal life. i love that. i think it’s funny and also i totally get why they do it. by doing that, they end up promoting their followers into knowing more about them as people. i also like to think of it as using your fan account as a finsta.
i respect the instagram fan account community, but i believe it lacks the scope of a site like tumblr due to the inability to post anything but photos. there’s a lot of pressure to stay “on theme” and not make it intertwined with you as a person. it’s also generally surrounding one band or a very specific few artists.
a big problem i see concerning internet fan communities is based on twitter and concerns positive online fan communities not being able to exist where popular accounts are run by industry professionals or writers. independent record labels and blogs have always cultivated community and are valuable for tastemaking. property of zack was my shit in high school and labels like run for cover or topshelf were always huge in creating an artist community that bled into the way communities associated bands. that is good and valuable. my problem with twitter as a place for fan community to be built is that those things are too close. calling back to discussing it being embarrassing to be fan accounts or be excited, twitter is so close to the bands and professionals that it can feel embarrassing to talk about music with excitement when you know the people you’re talking about are so close. another important side of twitter communities around current trendy diy/indie punk is the way writers especially present themselves AS fans not as professionals. no matter how sincere, to present a journalistic community as the fan community cheapens the value of both. people with a lot of followers who write for a blog, let’s say the alternative just for fun, present themselves as fans there is competition (i.e. follower count) and pressure to view your value as a fan as heightened if you decide to work within indie music in some capacity. you also can’t be made fun of for talking about bands if you are working within music too. it’s cool to talk about stuff if you’re expressly giving them more exposure through some large platform! but those people make fun of things like fan accounts or fan edits too, which are important for the current state of internet fan communities. with that, through journalists being a central aspect of twitter’s visible community around diy right now, the bands that get exposure are chosen with more specific intent rather than natively by fans. be it that writer is friends with the artist they’re giving a glowing review to or maybe they are an artist themselves or maybe they have monetary interest in the success of certain bands.
my favorite example of this is that henderson cole, the man behind the alternative, is a lawyer who has worked with counter intuitive records. jake sulzer, owner of CI, gave a client testimonial on Henderson Cole’s website (hcolelaw.com, if you’re interested). while this isn’t inherently a conflict of interest, his lack of addressing his professional legal relationship with certain labels or bands that his site discusses (and features heavily) is a failure of journalistic integrity.
the real problem here, though, is when fan community becomes so heavily entwined with journalists and there is such huge influence from one blog that presents itself as being a community with other blogs and specific labels, that cheapens native fan community. you are influenced by social media to want to discuss what with get good reactions from a certain community of people. that may be mom jeans and just friends, or right now it could be scene bands for whatever fucking reason, but either way it’s full of undue influence from people who have outside motivation.
now i don't think these things are inherently bad. in fact, i believe it is totally okay for that to exist. it has to. industry has a place in the ecosystem around music, obviously. but it's the conflation with fan community that is the problem. healthy fan communities either need to exist away from the things they are fans of and the industry or they need to be cosigned by the artists. either way, they need to exist natively. as i view social media now and with the turning away from using tumblr, i see the loss of positive fan community.
now i will discuss reddit as i expect a fair amount of people reading this might be yelling that r/emo or r/poppunkers exist. my problem with reddit is the culture of the site (lotta dudes) and also the way it works. it’s not intuitive and doesn’t work the way websites in the year of our lord 2019 work. it is more in line with a message board and while i won’t degrade its ability to be used to create personal connection, i know it can be used that way if you want it to, it doesn’t seem to be as personal or social as tumblr. it is also more about topics and posting news or something you found than tumblr was. facebook has the same culture problem, though admittedly more personal. based on longer form structure and site capabilities, reddit and facebook are definitely the best of the currently active sites for the kind of internet fan community i’d like to see as it is more natively fan influenced but it is degraded by the shitty culture of the sites.
being a fan is valid and important. it’s important to bands and the industry around them but it’s also important for the development of individual young people. i know teenagers will continue and build communities around things they love, but i am saddened by the dwindling existence of more long form platforms like tumblr and a shift into twitter and instagram.
despite that, i am heartened by teenagers always. they are still excited and all will buy the same piece of merch the way that me and my community did (it’s just a green hoodie instead of a maroon one). i am heartened by zines by teenagers popping up. i am also heartened by continued existence of positive internet fan communities whose models can be taken and adapted to!
successful internet current fan communities i think break down into a few categories:
those which are based on something also natively internet (youtubers)
those actively promoted by the band (the 1975, flatsound)
young people who use the internet in a similar way to their young fans (going to focus on cavetown and the musicians associated with cavetown)
i see very positive fan interaction and fan communities surrounding youtube i think due to the fact that those communities are natively internet based. they are also based around the idea that youtubers are either “just like you” or they can be like celebrities, but i will be focusing on the former. i personally like a lot of commentary youtubers for reasons i find it hard to describe but many of those channels specifically have curated avenues for their fanbases to exist. one of them, quackityHQ, has what i understand to be the largest discord server on the site. they actively promote interaction with them but, more than that, they promote things like fan art by featuring it in their videos. recently i watched a video by FPS Diesel about why fanfiction is important which in part inspired me to look at what fan community is like in punk and emo right now.
bands like the 1975 and flatsound also do an aspect of that: actively encouraging people to like your shit fiercely. bands like them can have a very forceful fanbase on sites like twitter or instagram only because the band encourages them. making your fans embarrassed to do the things that fans do (read: DO MARKETING FOR YOU idiot) is bad for you as an artist. being kind and taking your fans seriously is good for you as a business but also for your general image.
i think an interesting case on a scale smaller than something like the 1975 is surrounding cavetown. i’ve seen fan accounts and accounts that talk extensively about cavetown and the bands around him (namely: ghostbusters vhs, neiman, and simi. i’d encourage you to look them up, they’re very cool and young and have a very specific fan community around them that i think is interesting) both on instagram and twitter. it feels more similar to what i had as a teenager because they’re more diy bands and exist more entirely online so a native online community is natural. it combines what i first discussed about youtubers and applies the concept to music which i think is fantastic. i’m not sure how you recreate this for bands that are older and don’t use social media in the same way but it’s still interesting and i expect this form of fan community existence will be more and more prevalent.
if you have any thoughts on the current state of diy/indie punk fan communities, i’d love to talk to you about it! agree? disagree? just want to talk about your favorite tumblr memories? hit me up @pitymeforever on twitter!