New Adventures in Hi-Fi: Studying Popular Music Fandom in the Digital Age

Curator's Note

In 1991, when I was 13 years old, I became a fan of R.E.M. As the years went by, my enjoyment and connection to their music weaved itself throughout my life, and allowed me to reflect academically on being a music fan. This interest flourished to eventually become the subject of my PhD, which I completed in 2009, at Cardiff University. For this, I undertook a study of, an online community for fans of the band and explored how members used the technology to communicate with each other and navigate norms. However, since then, with the widespread use of social media and digital technology, elements of music fandom in general have been shaped even further, and as a scholar researching this area, it has become an even richer source of enquiry, surrounding music consumption, engagement and connection.

For instance, Twitter has offered fans the possibility to not only connect with each other and increase (or even fragment) their networks, but also to directly engage with musicians themselves, potentially opening up avenues of communication for both parties that were previously not as easily accessible or as quick as before. While some musicians, such as Lady Gaga, maintain that Twitter delivers them a genuine closeness with their fans, others, such as Neil Tennant, view it as instead fostering a ‘fake intimacy’.  However, I would argue that connections on Twitter between fans and musicians are very much dependent on how both parties choose and prefer to negotiate and communicate with each other, and can differ greatly between musicians and fan cultures.

Another aspect of music fandom that has been infiltrated by digital culture rests within live concerts. The advent of smart phones and mobile technology allows the physically present audience to capture, connect and share the live moments with those who are remotely located. As I have argued elsewhere, this can contest the boundaries of live music concerts and work to re-appropriate our understandings of ‘liveness’. However, it also raises interesting questions surrounding engagement with the music, and how efforts to capture and connect, although important and valued practices, may possibly infiltrate and disrupt experiences for some of those who are in attendance. Conversely, for others, it may add value, demonstrating the compelling and complex nature of contemporary music fandom.

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