Communities and Social Media

The rise to fame: The power of music fandom communities using Social Network Sites to promote musicians.


The abilities of the internet have allowed independent music artists to take the distribution and production of their music into their own hands, but they need the fandom communities to publicise their music. The goal of most musicians is to achieve success, which often involves sales and interest from a record label.  The fandom communities will use a variety of Social Network Sites (SNSs) to communicate and generate buzz in their choice of music or artist. While streaming services may serve to deliver curated music content to a listener, fandom communities focus on SNS to share their passion for the content.


The use of Social Network Sites (SNSs) and streaming services has changed how music is produced and distributed, and how fans share their music. Access to SNSs and streaming services has allowed independent and celebrity musicians to have more control over the production and distribution of their music. The convergence of social media platforms and the networking of music fandom communities allows musicians to rapidly spread their music and increase the potential for their song to go viral. At the core of the success to a musician is their fans. A large fan base online can generate interest in an independent artist to be signed by a record label. Despite the hype of musicians being discovered online, most musicians still need to be backed by a record label to generate true celebrity status. Therefore, using the right online services could make or break a musician; using the wrong online services or not diversifying could result in their music being left undiscovered or not reaching the right fandom community. I argue that SNSs are essential for supporting a music fandom community to communicate and publicise their passion resulting in generating sales and record label interest for the music artist; but that streaming services are inconsequential for the music fandom community.

Production and Distribution

One of the hardest achievements for a musician is having their music heard. According to Crupnick (2018) 9 out of 10 people who extensively use social media also partake in music or artist related activity (para. 1). Digital recording technology has provided the independent musician with the means to produce music, and access to social network platforms and services has allowed for the distribution of this music (Arditi, 2014). The ability to produce and distribute music online combined with the networking on social media by music fans opens the potential for musicians to have their music exposed to a wide audience quickly; to receive real-time feedback on the music; by-pass the middleman; engage directly with fans to generate interest to build income; and with little over-head involved (Haynes & Marshall, 2018). This also allows for a potential increase in public exposure compared to the pre-internet days of sending out demo’s that may not be given ‘airtime’, which was how the music industry operated over 10 years ago (Nevue, 2003 as cited in Haynes & Marshall, 2018). It is the sharing within individual communities networked across various SNSs with a reach outside of the traditional music industry that creates a power of awareness for the music that transcends what would be possible by an independent music artist acting on their own. In turn the social media platforms are benefiting from the music artists. The music generates connections and conversations (Crupnick, 2018) on the platforms that keeps users engaged and coming back to the platform.

Fandom Communities and SNSs

The best place for an independent musician to be noticed is through the networking of music fandom communities engaging over converging SNSs. Today, people want to connect on social media with others in their networks by showing what they are interested in. This pervasive awareness allows a person to keep others in their networks updated on their interests and hobbies, providing a shallow contact with these networks (Hampton, 2016). Sharing music is one of the ways to reach out and connect with others and results in expanding the potential audience for the music (Cole, 2019).  People experience music on a personal level, and it becomes a representation of who they are or how they are feeling in that moment and sharing it reflects a side of themselves to their network. SNSs are developed to encourage people to highlight interests such as music when constructing their online identity (Baym, 2007) and allows people to identify common interests. Music fandom communities are then generated from a “collective of people” brought together through a shared interest in a music artist or group (Baym, 2007, para. 6). These collectives “develop a sense of shared identity” (Baym, 2007, para. 7) through connecting on SNSs and through continual contact and shared interests they develop a sense of community that can be just as strong and have more in common than a geographical based community (Baym, 2007). This collective of people consists of different groups contained within different social media platforms that are loosely connected to one another through acquaintances or shared interests. Baym (2007) sees these loose connections as “networked collectivism” (Baym, 2007, para. 60) which builds on from “networked individualism” (Hampton & Wellman, 2018, p. 643). The transition from networked individualism to networked collectivism brings strength to the relationship and with it a sense of community and belonging rather than a network of individuals. Some of these online connections contained within the networked collectivism then develop from online community into real world relationships whereby they engage with each other in person, such as attending concerts together (Baym, 2007).

Generating Awareness and Sales

Despite the increased public exposure social media can provide, it can be difficult to generate online fandom into paying fans in the form of gigs and music sales (Haynes & Marshall, 2018). In these instances, it may be preferential to have an intermediary who is experienced. There are success stories of what seem to be instant celebrity of an independent artist being discovered through a social media platform; Justin Bieber and The Weeknd on YouTube, Shawn Mendes on Vine and Adele on MySpace, but these were not instantaneous successes. Justin Bieber was only signed to a music label once his view count grew, The Weeknd leveraged off Justin Bieber by singing one of his songs to garner notice, Shawn Medes had to wait in a spike of ‘likes’ to have success on iTunes, Adele was signed by a record label after succeeding online (Daystage, 2017). These examples show how important the online fandom community is in generating interest in musicians. According to Baym and Burnett (2009) “fans are gatekeepers, filters, and influencers on a scale they never were before the internet. They are needed by both industry and other fans” (Baym & Burnett, 2009 as cited in Lundkvist, 2017, p.3). Record labels take note of these communities before signing on a musician artist and still play a pivotal role in turning a musician into a celebrity. The competition remains fierce for independent musicians, competing with other independent artists and record labels, therefore the support of a record label can be beneficial to a musician from a marketing perspective (Lundkvist, 2017) but first they must be noticed.

SNSs and Convergence

An artist’s music is introduced through various social media platforms and streaming services before the music garners a following from the fandom communities who publicise the music through their extensive social media networks. The ability of the internet to give fans and musicians a chance to interact and share media across multiple platforms is called convergence culture, coined by Henry Jenkins (Arditi, 2014, p.411). It is through the convergence of these platforms’ musicians can leverage off these “overlapping connections” (Papacharissi, 2011, p. 305) produced by fans and rapidly spread public awareness of their music. Whether it be using Twitter to follow or get updates on music artists, Instagram to view music artists updates and posts or Snapchat to send photos and videos from concerts, “music underpins the conversation on social platforms” (Crupnick, 2018, para. 2). The capacity for communities to network across varying platforms also opens the potential for sharing the music globally to reach diasporic communities (Haynes & Marshall, 2018).  So that a Latin singer could reach popularity at home and abroad without the backing of a record label (Forde, 2017) or that a singer not located within a large regional centre could potentially reach an audience as easily as a musician located in a city centre (Haynes & Marshall, 2018).  

Streaming Services and Artificial Intelligence

By comparison, a streaming service such as Spotify does not encourage the networking or communication that SNSs do. Almost 60 percent of social media users are visiting streaming services to listen to music after they see an update, tweet, or post (Cole, 2019, para. 30; Crupnick, 2018, para. 5). Therefore, they are getting their communication regarding what to listen to from their interaction on SNSs before they engage with a streaming service. Streaming services personalise the user experience by using machine learning and algorithms to identify the user’s preferred music genre and curate playlists (Cole, 2019).  This means that an independent artist can be at the mercy of artificial intelligence (AI) as well as what the listeners are interested in. Remixes and multi-formats are becoming common to satisfy the algorithms for varying playlists to reach the greatest audience, speeding up the networking and exposure of a song between social communities. Coined “playlist carpet-bombing” (Forde, 2017, para. 9) the goal is to be on as many playlists as possible to reach the widest audience. Alternative variations of the music can also be “drip fed” (Forde, 2017, para. 9) over time to keep the song fresh and relevant to playlists (Forde, 2017).  If the music is hitting the right note, then the AI within streaming services can help push little known artists into the public spotlight, generating instant large-scale visibility (Cole, 2019; Forde, 2017). Credit is then generally given to the platform that launches an independent artist’s career. A streaming service such as Spotify “can catapult an act from obscurity to the top of the worldwide charts” (Forde, 2017, para. 2) but this not done without the networking of communities outside of the streaming service generating interest. In fact, “streaming services such as Spotify offer catalogues of over 30 million tracks, while SoundCloud users upload approximately 12 hours of music every minute” (Walker, 2015 as cited in Haynes & Marshall, 2018, p. 1984). Therefore, there is a relationship between a platform and the community that is attracted to the music it displays, and “it’s this combination of music being released in strategic ways on online streaming platforms, combined with how fans consume it which helps to exemplify how much of an impact tech and social are having on music” (Cole, 2019, para. 26).

Streaming Services and Passive Listening

How fans are encouraged to consume music on streaming services, such as using playlists, does little to encourage the engagement of fandom communities.  Streaming services introduce music to a listener which in turn leads to generated interested and the building of fandom. However, streaming services can also fail to encourage inquisitive exploration as playlists feed music to a listener turning them into a “passive listener rather than an intentional one” (Donaldson, 2019, para. 11) resulting in the creation of an echo-chamber for the same type of music, discouraging the exploration outside of the algorithm’s control. Instead, what you hear on a streaming service is due to its popularity. If the song is not popular it gets dropped (Forde, 2017). This leads to lack of exposure to a song even though it is your kind of music because it does not satisfy an algorithm or popularity contest. In addition, streaming services make music less special by the music always being available, reducing it being sought after and anticipated to listen to, reducing fandom, reducing obsession, and reducing revenue (Donaldson, 2019). This dissuasion from exploration and communication on streaming services results in the engagement of fandom communities occurring elsewhere, such as SNSs, where they can connect with each other and possibly with the musician and generate real conversation and interest in the music.


The internet has allowed for the independent music artist to get a jump on populating interest in their music by producing and distributing their music online. However, it is the fans through fandom communities that generate passion and inflame interest in an artist’s music which in turn leads to sales and possible record label interest. Real celebrity status through media publicity and tours still tends to require the backing of a record label and these record labels are paying attention to the interest a music artist gains online before offering that opportunity. Therefore, the fandom community and interest they generate are essential to an independent artist.  Music fans will choose to engage on SNSs that best allow them to communicate. Therefore, while a streaming service like Spotify provides the potential for a musician to have their music listened to, depending on the whims of an algorithm, streaming services do not support or encourage the communication and generation of passion required by a fandom community and are therefore inconsequential to the music fandom community. Instead, it is the underlying structure of a SNS which encourages communication and the sharing of interests that will be an independent artist’s ticket to success through the publicity the fandom community will provide for that artist that will in turn potentially result in revenue and record label interest.     


Arditi, D. (2014). iTunes: Breaking barriers and building walls. Popular Music and Society, 37(4), 408-424.

Baym, N. K. (2007). The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom. First Monday, 12(8), no page numbers.

Cole, S. (2019, 9 Sept). The impact of technology and social media on the music industry.

Crupnick, R. (2018, 6 Aug). Music scores a gold record on the social media charts.

Daystage. (2017, 18 Nov). 5 famous musicians who were discovered online [Blog].

Donaldson, M. (2019, 28 May). Fandom in the age of music streaming.

Forde, E. (2017, 17 Aug). ‘They could destroy the album’: how Spotify’s playlists have changed music for ever.

Hampton, K.N. (2016). Persistent and pervasive community: New communication technologies and the future of community. American Behaviorial Scientist, 60(1), 101-124.

Hampton, K.N., & Wellman, B. (2018).  Lost and saved . . . again: The moral panic about the loss of community takes hold of social media [Essay]. Contemporary Sociology, 47(6), 643-651.

Haynes, J., & Marshall, L. (2018). Beats and tweets: Social media in the careers of independent musicians. New Media and Society, 20(5), 1973-1993.

Lunkvist, B. (2017). The effect of social media on the numbers of streams of unsigned aArtists’ music [Thesis]. Kth Royal Institute of Technology School of Computer Science and Communication, Sweden.

Papacharissi, Z. (2011). Conclusion: A networked self (Chapter 15). In Z. Papacharissi (ed.) A networked self: Identity, community and culture on Social Network Sites. New York: Routledge.

10 thoughts on “The rise to fame: The power of music fandom communities using Social Network Sites to promote musicians.

  1. Hi Carolyn,

    I enjoyed reading your paper, you chose a really interesting topic to write on. It was really interesting to learn about the music industry and the importance of fandom communities using Social Networking Sites to promote musicians. I didn’t realise that 60% of social media users will visit streaming services after seeing that song appear online – that’s a lot more traffic coming from SNS than I originally would have thought. I agree with your argument that SNS are essential for supporting a music fandom community in order to publicise their passion and increase sales and interest for the artist. For example, the virality of TikTok has benefitted a number of musicians I follow over the years now. Local artists/bands from around Perth were showing up on my ‘For You’ page regularly and gaining a significant number of likes/shares. Bigger artists like Olivia Rodrigo went viral for her song Drivers License due to the nature of platforms such as TikTok. Do you think TikTok would be best focused on by artists? Or should they also try utilise social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter?

    Looking forward to hearing back from you.

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    Congratulations on a very interesting and insightful paper; I really enjoyed reading it. I found your paper through a link in your comments on another, and was surprised I hadn’t come across it before. I think those of us who posted earlier may have been a little lost in the crowd, sadly!

    I’m curious if you have any thoughts on the recent controversy around the Tramp Stamps? (see: I’ve been following this story really closely as I find it fascinating how this group seems to have viewed Tik Tok as a kind of free pass to an instant fandom, as long as they hit upon various popular gen z buzzwords and took part in Tik Tok trends. It really blew up in their face because, as so many commentators have pointed out, authenticity is very important to gen z. It’s a great example of how fandom communities are so important to the success of an artist, as you point out.

  3. Hi Carolyn,
    Excellent paper, and an extremely relevant topic.

    Artists now rely on SNS to promote their music and generate fandom and promote interaction. Due to streaming services, the internet and the antiquated act of purchasing a CD, artists do not generate the same revenue as they did in the pre-digital times. Artists have to spend more time engaging with their fans, nourishing their community, providing digital and spreadable content for their fans to edit/share/remix/remediate.

    One has to factor in that, in pre-digital times, the purchase of music was reserved for those who had access, meaning that people who could not afford to purchase – meaning a musician only had a select audience – people relied on radio also, and radio relied on those musicians who could afford to be played. Musicians also had potential audiences living in societies that could not access them for censorship reasons, cultural or religious boundaries.

    These boundaries are lessened now – a musician’s art is available to anyone who can source a cellular connection. Musicians have the ability to reach audiences they never could before, and potentially, connect on a scale unimagined prior.

    I love the Baym and Burnett source you cite that pitches fans as the gatekeepers of the music and art produced by musicians (2009, as cited in Lunkvist, 2017). When musicians connect to their fans on a seemingly personal level through social networking sites, the fans feel they have access to the artist, and in performing their fandom protect the musician and their media.

    Musicians have had to set aside the riches of record sales, but through social networking sites and online patronship have solidified fandom and connection that is possibly stronger than that which existed prior.

    Again, great paper. I enjoyed it.

    Lunkvist, B. (2017). The effect of social media on the numbers of streams of unsigned aArtists’ music [Thesis]. Kth Royal Institute of Technology School of Computer Science and Communication, Sweden.

    1. Tim,
      Thanks for your reply.
      I had previously replied to Maddison what success might look like to a musician.
      As you point out, digital access has meant that music is much more available to people. This has opened the potential audience for musicians who before needed to be on the radio to be heard, and this was a difficult feat without record label backing and some success before hitting the radio waves.
      I have noticed a common theme through reading various papers that mention fandom communities in that fandom communities have become the gatekeepers to those they support with their interest. If used wisely, this can benefit the artist in gathering support for their music. Maddison made a great point with how Taylor Swift engages with her fandom community to generate a special connection, resulting in hype and good publicity for her and her music.
      Again, thanks for your reply, glad you enjoyed the paper.

  4. Hi Carolyn,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper – the strange relationship between fans, musicians and streaming platforms is a really interesting one to look into!

    When I reflect on the research I did for my own paper, I see a lot of analogous situations. For example, BTS having a strong fan community has made for great international fame and significant streaming numbers, but the lack of international support from Western labels and radio stations has meant that they haven’t necessarily reached the same critical success as some Western artists. That demonstrates to me that all three components are vital. With that in mind, I’d love to get your thoughts on what success actually is in this instance? Is it a strong fan community, is it measured by industry backing, or perhaps revenue? Can an artist be ‘successful’ with only one or two of the three components.

    The line: According to Baym and Burnett (2009) “fans are gatekeepers, filters, and influencers on a scale they never were before the internet. They are needed by both industry and other fans” (Baym & Burnett, 2009 as cited in Lundkvist, 2017, p.3). really resonated with me. Even though she developed her career in a more traditional context, I think Taylor Swift is a really interesting example of managing a fan community and using them as both gatekeepers and filters, and she does it in a very purposeful way. I’ve linked an article below that references how she has her team examine social media to find engaged, prolific fans who then get invited to ‘secret sessions’ that allows select fans to listen to new songs before their release.

    I think it’s incredibly interesting how fan communities are learning to ‘game’ the system – the example of Harry Styles’ fans using VPNS to stream a song in the US in the hopes of making it reach #1, or of BTS fans building strategic playlists to make every stream ‘count’. Success in music has definitely taken on a completely definition.

    1. Maddison,

      Thanks for your comments. In response to your first question:
      I guess we’d have to decide on what success looks like to an artist. For most I would think it would require all three with the goal of having a strong fan community who generates revenue through buying songs, attending concerts, and participating in free labour through their promoting of the music and artist; and the industry backing which adds on from this fan promotion to facilitate further industry promotion and branding with the goal of achieving ‘global’ reach. But for some artists this may not be their goal, they may only want true fans to appreciate their music and to stay away from the global hype. This may mean less advertising, backing and revenue but it also gives them flexibility, control of their music and freedom to create and be true to their story rather than what has been governed by a record label. We’ve seen many examples in the media of music artists who have struggled to present their true self after a record label has signed them on such as Taylor Swift, Keisha and Brittney Spears.

      Taylor Swift is a great example of learning how to manage corporate expectation and has really taken control over how she is publicised, including how she engages with fans. This is a very smart strategy by managing her fan community through reaching out and engaging with them on a personal level, giving them a sense of being special with the selective sessions and using their free labour through their online engagement to promote her music. As “Taylor always goes the extra mile for her fans” (Collins, 2018) so too do her fans then return the favour with their adoration of her online. Thanks for including the article.

      Lastly, you’re absolutely right regarding the strategies that an artist needs to go to to obtain global reach or to avoid being shut down by an algorithm. Maximum exposure has always been key to success and whilst it may have once only been the goal to get on the radio, now with fans using streaming services to obtain their music it’s techniques like tweaking a song through multi-formatting and remixes to fit into a number of different streaming service playlists (Forde, 2017) or using a VPN to circumvent being locked out of listening to music due to living in a different country to where the music was released (Tiffany, 2017). You are right, success in music does look different with today’s digital landscape.

      Thanks for reading my paper.

      Collins, K. (2018). How Taylor Swift flipped online fandom on its head for the better.

      Forde, E. (2017). ‘They could destroy the album’: how Spotifys’ playlists have changed music forever.

      Tiffany, K. (2017). Harry Style fans are trying to beat the Billboard charts with VPNs and mass coordination.

  5. Hi Carolyn,

    Really interesting paper about a topic I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about in the past.

    I’ve been amazed at the power TikTok has had on a number of smaller musicians I have followed for a number of years. I think it’s shown the ability of TikTok’s virality to change musicians career paths simply from a trend emerging from the platform. I’ve had smaller artists I follow get a billion views to their music written 5 years ago by a TikTok dance going viral. This opened up several more mainstream channels for this artists music to flow and has probably changed their life in some ways. This same artist is one of the many who had not seen much success from Spotify, rather small virtual communities like Reddit and Twitter circulating his music through these channels.

    Do you think its more important for smaller artists to have their music on Spotify, or have a strong SNS presence and grow a virtual community while utilising other music sharing plaforms?

    Thanks for the read.

    1. Declan,
      Thanks for your comments. I think it is a two-fold issue for musicians. I think that the fandom community obtains access to music through streaming services such as Spotify and that these are important in garnering new fans through their awareness of the music. But as I explain in my paper, there is almost a science to it with the algorithms controlling what is pushed out to listeners depending on their interest in the music which can quickly result in some songs not ‘seeing the light of day’ as they are slow to build in popularity. I know of songs that I heard on the radio the first few times I did not like. However, they grew on me and grew to be songs I am now passionate about. Therefore, I think streaming services such as Spotify can be difficult for a smaller artist to negotiate and reach success. Generally, I think an artist has some notability before reaching success on Spotify. Therefore, I think it is important for an independent artist to diversify. They should try out the streaming services that may garner interest in the music, but realise that the success of generating interest lies in the engagement of the fandom communities through SNS and other music sharing platforms where they can share their passion and raise interest in the music and artist. The fans are an artists’ best publicity tool, particularly when starting, generating that virtual community is key to building recognition and success within the industry.

  6. Hi Carolyn,
    I found your paper quite interesting as many of the ideas you covered I was familar with but not within the context of the music industry. In particular the quote “fans are gatekeepers, filters, and influencers on a scale they never were before the internet. They are needed by both industry and other fans” (Baym & Burnett, 2009 as cited in Lundkvist, 2017, p.3) caught my attention as I was familar with this in the context of influencers on platforms such as ‘Twitch’, ‘Youtube’, and ‘Instagram’ but had never considered fans having a similar empowerment within the music industry.

    With this specific quote and idea in mind I have two questions:

    What platform/s are the most utilised by fan communities?

    Are there servere negative impacts to this fan ‘gatekeeping’ similar to those seen in influencer culture?

    1. Brodie,
      Thanks for reading my essay.

      While the negative impacts of fandom gatekeeping were not a topic covered in my essay, I would say that with every positive aspect to using social media there would be negative aspects. As I note in my essay record labels take note of the fans interest in an artist before signing them and what fans like and listen to is monitored by algorithms which could potentially make or break an independent artist with the amount of exposure they receive as a result. As a fandom community consists of individuals who have invested themselves into the music and artist, I am sure it could get quite heated with conflicts of opinion or proprietary feelings toward the music or artist. For these music fans the music is embedded much more into their life than the average recreational listener, they go to concerts, they discuss their opinions with others and maybe even with the artist and get to know the music, the lyrics, and the history. Duffet (2013) identifies fans as a commodity rather than just consumers as “some fans are networkers, collectors, tourists, archivists, curators, producers, and more” (Duffet 2013, p. 21) and provide unpaid labour to promoting the artist and their music.

      Regarding what platforms are used by music fan communities, if it is a platform that supports participation through engagement, you will likely find a music fandom community on it. Twitter and Facebook are big. I have a friend who engages frequently to a Queen Facebook group and now travels with some of these people to view cover concerts and engage in other supportive activities. I just read an essay on a Korean pop group who has a very strong global fan community on Twitter ( A musician can even build their own platform to build and engage with their fans ( The primary aspect to the platform is that it needs to enable fans to at least communicate with each other, if not also the musician and to be to share the music.

      Duffett, M. (2013). Understanding fandom: An introduction to the study of media fan culture. Bloomsbury Publishing.

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