Web 2.0’s ability to create connections between people who are geographically distant from one another has given rise to various interest-based communities on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Many of these communities carry out their purpose without much need for their members to share a personal connection with one another, be it political movements, gaming networks or video sharing communities. Like many of these communities, musicians and music fans create connections with one another, however, these communities tend to be more meaningful when there is some level of personal connection amongst their members. It could be argued that this is why local music communities tend to be more cohesive than global or stretched ones. Through the framework of both theoretical principles and personal anecdotes, this paper argues that geographical proximity and in-person interaction between members significantly strengthens music communities, giving their members a greater sense of belonging to these groups.
Web 2.0 has greatly expanded the potential for the forming of online communities, increasing their geographical reach from mostly localised physical communities to worldwide online networks. Many such online communities are formed around shared interests or hobbies such as video games, politics, sports and music. What was once primarily a function of one’s geographical situation, and subsequently religion or ideology, Web 2.0 and social media has vastly expanded our ability to form these types of interest-based networks. Human beings have historically tended to form identity within the context of family structure and localised communities, as well as organised religion. The shared interest in this case largely being survival, and to provide social support (Hampton & Wellman, 2018). Communities may have evolved and expanded over thousands of years, but face-to-face contact was always a key factor to their success. To know one another to some extent on a personal level. However, with the introduction of online networks, the nature of community has undergone some significant changes in a very short time (Hampton, 2015). In the online world, particularly since Web 2.0, there has been a rise in interest-based communities that are no longer bound by geographical situation, however, geography and interpersonal relationship can still play an important role in these communities. This paper focuses on the formation of music-based communities, among both musicians themselves as well as music fans. It argues that social media platforms have enabled musicians and fans to form strong online communities, however, these communities still rely heavily on geographical proximity.
The forum days
Community forming is a function of the technology by which it is facilitated. Before transport, communities were confined to their own immediate surroundings. Mobility has since increased potential reach, but only after the internet’s transition to ubiquity has regular, daily contact with non-local human beings become possible and therefore led to the formation of far-reaching online communities. Before social media came along and replaced them, online forums were generally the go-to hubs for musicians and fans alike. They tended to be localised, with Perthbands.com.au and Western Front (http://www.wf.com.au/) being two examples of Perth based music forums. A common characteristic of these types of online forums was that users were anonymous, with only a pseudonym and an avatar to differentiate users from one another. The effect of anonymity is said to be that of a loss of inhibition, or to be liberated (Tsikerdekis, 2013). As a result, it is not hard to imagine instances of bickering when there is little social consequence to a user’s behaviour when posting with anonymity. However, despite small online conflicts, local music scenes have long been characterised as close-knit and very supportive of one another, and of the artists that drive them. However, since Web 2.0’s emergence, and the dominance of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, these localised online forum-based communities have largely died off as users have become connected to more global music networks with far greater, albeit disparate, user numbers. Despite this, local music communities remain strong. According to Western Australia’s music industry body WAM (West Australian Music), W.A.’s local music industry generates roughly $1 billion annually (WAM, 2016). This high level of financial support ties in with the health of the local music community, suggesting that people still desire a strong connection at a local level.
The more local and specific the community, the more meaningful the connection
People’s desire to be part of local communities remains strong, and so despite the ability to form far-reaching networks, online relationships seem to be stronger when there is a combination of a shared interest and a geographical link. Facebook has provided the architecture for many online communities thanks to functionalities within the platform that can set the parameters of what the communities aim to provide for their members. Being able to set up closed, invite-only Facebook groups, for example, can help keep them specific to location, therefore maintaining a higher level of connectedness than more open groups with higher numbers. My own experience with such groups has been more fulfilling than that of larger, more dispersed groups. Musicians, for example, share a fairly niche interest, with very few professionally employed in Australia (ABS, 2014), although truth be told there will be many more casual musicians on top of these statistics. This means that online communities for musicians will often be quite small when they are based upon geographical location, and more cohesive when sharing a specific purpose. Such examples include localised musical equipment buy and sell pages. Older buy and sell websites tend to have poor reputations, with opportunistic buyers looking to manipulate unsuspecting sellers, and unscrupulous sellers often looking to pass off fake or damaged goods. The only policing of such behaviour comes from the platforms themselves. While many platforms have user ratings systems, there is still little recourse for users as a community in the event of a bad transaction. Musicians’ buy and sell groups on social media, on the other hand, are far more communitarian, with users facing severe social consequences for breaking the rules, rather than simply facing the prospect of a refund and a ban from the platform. While I generally do not condone the practice of naming and shaming, the threat of such public and online attention, according to De Vries (as cited by Dunsby & Howes, 2019), can be a powerful behavioural modifier. That is not to suggest that the threat of online shaming is the motivation for ordinary users to act in a responsible manner, instead it could be said that communitarian enforcement of ethical behaviour is an effective way of inoculating close-knit online communities from fringe users looking to take advantage of other members. And because such communities have geographical network bases, the consequences for unethical behaviour can be significantly higher than those of more sparsely arranged ones, especially if users are anonymous. This kind of assurance is likely one of the key reasons such online communities are so popular among musicians.
Bringing artists and fans together
Social media platforms have also transformed the way in which artists and their audiences interact with one another. Traditionally, there was always a significant barrier between them, but with the utilisation of social media, even if predominantly for marketing purposes, these barriers have been greatly diminished. The effect of this has been the formation of individual artist-audience communities, particularly, but not limited to, local artists. Whereas it was once the case that bands and artists would play a show, interact with the audience that was present at the time, and that would be about the extent of it, now through social media, artists have the ability to maintain consistent contact with their audiences through a range of online activity and feedback. This provides marketing opportunities for bands, while also giving fans a greater sense of importance and belonging to the community. A strategy that is particularly relevant to local bands as there is a stronger connection to the people within that community who can then regularly attend shows. Even if a community’s constituents reside with some distance between each other, the ability to come together with some degree of regularity can emulate a kind of close-knit and localised nature. One such example of this is a group of artists and fans who either play or attend a small music festival in The Netherlands called Prog Power. While most of the community members are located in the middle of western Europe, many of its individuals are spread out much further, including Australia. Despite there being geographical divides between some members of this particular community, there is a common passion for a particular type of music that draws many members to this festival every year, or for others further away, on occasion. So, while the online community keeps people connected in the interim, the three-day festival acts as a kind of annual bonding session for its attendees as well as its performers. I personally have made some longstanding connections through this small community, despite being situated on the other side of the world to most of them. On the other hand, other global or national online music communities that I have been a part of that don’t have specific events around which they are built have not achieved the same kind of togetherness, despite there still being a unique shared interest. I would argue that this is mostly due to a lack of face-to-face interaction with one another, indicating a need for personal relationships among community members if they are to thrive.
communities have become an important way for musicians and fans to indulge
their passion and maintain a sense of belonging. As our sense of community has
become less exclusive to traditional networks such as church, neighbourhood or
sports communities, many of us have found belonging in the online world.
However, online communities appear to be more cohesive when there is some
degree of geographical proximity among their members. This does not necessarily
mean that communities benefit only by being location specific, their strength
can also come from a combination of niche interest as well as sporadic, in-person
interactions or bonding experiences. The evolution of online communities, from
the early discussion forums through to Web 2.0’s social media platforms, shows
that regardless of the form in which they take, there is a strong desire for
musicians and music fans to engage with one another based on a combination of a
shared interest as well as the possibility of physical sociability and
therefore real-life friendship. This kind of group bonding then goes on to
strengthen local music communities and provide social and economic benefits to
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