The rush of discovering incredible new music from an artist you’ve never heard of before. The thrill of learning about a newly-announced album from one of your favourite bands. The excitement of going to see them live. Being a music fan has always been full of emotion – but has social media changed how we interact with our favourite artists in the internet age? Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and more music-focused social media like Soundcloud and Bandcamp, have brought us closer than ever to the music creators and performers we love, but how has this changed what it means to be a fan?
For one thing, social media has helped break down and humanize our idols, in particular through Instagram stories and the hyper-affinity of Soundcloud. Before social media, the only way you could really get to know an artist was through attending gigs or going to signings, or by trawling through TV or magazine interviews. With Instagram (and stories), artists can now show you important (or mundane) moments in their lives, whilst Soundcloud brings you closer to the recording process and lets you discuss the music with the artist (at least the smaller ones). All of this paints a clearer picture of the person behind the music, humanizing them and bringing you as a fan closer to the artists you love.
Social media has also changed the way you become a fan at all. Platforms like Apple Music’s Connect and Rate Your Music have exploded in recent years (even if they remain tiny compared to the leading platforms of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), becoming hubs for fans to discuss artists and albums and recommend similar music to each other. On a wider scale, Reddit forums like r/listentothis and r/ifyoulikeblank make music discovery easier than ever before, with fans recommending their favourite artists to people who have never come across them before. Being a fan no longer just means listening to a whole discography in one afternoon – it now also means telling others to do the same.
But perhaps the most significant change to music fandom as a result of social media has come in the way that fans now interact with artists. With Patreon, you can support little-known music-makers in more ways than simply buying their album or their merch, instead subscribing to them financially and potentially seeing personalised rewards. Twitter, Instagram and Reddit let artists share fan-created content and respond to fan messages with ease, making being a fan an even more personal affair, to the extent that you could even find yourself featured in your favourite artists’ content (in 2018, rapper Logic sampled fan recordings in opening track ‘Thank You’ from YSIV). With polls, events, and even more at their disposal, artists have the power (through social media) to interact with their fans in ways they never could before.
Of course, these changes bring with them the possibility for negativity as well as positivity. In early 2019, Lisa from K-Pop group Blackpink was subjected to racist abuse through social media. Such events highlight the dangers of social media for artists, and for fans (as anyone who’s read YouTube or Facebook comments will know, arguments can easily erupt and spill out of control). With these new tools at our disposal, we can now know more about the artists we love, interact with them more than ever before, and discover (or recommend) new artists with ease. Social media has radically changed what it means to be a fan.