When most people think of different cultures and communities, typically, real world groups consisting of members with physical relationships come to mind. After all, communities like this are what we are all naturally a part of. However, in the modern age, the internet has taken over our social landscape, allowing for the formation of online communities, which despite their very different dynamic, actually display many of the same social structures seen in physical communities. Communities like this can easily be found on the site reddit.com, which divides groups into what are known as subreddits. Users can then choose to subscribe and participate in these subreddits in order to be a part of that specific community. One such community is known as Indieheads (known as /r/indieheads on reddit.com, and how it will be referred to from now on), which is a subreddit dedicated to discussion concerning the indie music scene, in regards to news, new music releases, and whatever members feel like discussing. The group encourages free discussion, and promotes the idea of having your own personal opinion and takes on music, rather than just going with the crowd. However, as will be discussed later, this mentality has led to a harsh view of the subreddit by outside communities. Though despite this harsh view, the members of /r/indieheads have managed to remain a loyal, accepting, and tight-knit group, while simultaneously being a community which encourages difference of opinion and individuality.
One of the most unique aspects of an online community would have to be the diversity that the internet allows for. In regards to music specifically, local music scenes only allow for a confined group of individuals to interact with each other, giving these people a consistent group with which they can be a part of. However, virtual scenes allow for people belonging to different cultures all over the world to come together and interact purely through discussion to form a bond (Bennett 11). With /r/indieheads, this kind of diversity is present, but in a fairly unique way. For instance, as far as demographics like age, race, and gender go, /r/indieheads is a mostly homogenous community. In fact, a recent study done by the Pew Research Center found that most internet users are young males, and among this young male dominated group, men were twice as likely to browse Reddit compared to women, and people aged 18-29 were significantly more likely to browse the site compared to older age groups (Duggan). An actual survey posted in /r/indieheads actually confirmed that these statistics very much apply, with the subreddit consisting mostly of young, white males. Despite this apparent lack of diversity though, the subreddit consists entirely of people from many different walks of life, making culture the means through which /r/indieheads finds diversity. In regards to music, culture and upbringing are possibly the most important determinant of what exactly one listens to (Bryson 884-885). And since /r/indieheads is not confined culturally or geographically, every member brings with them a different cultural experience that helps shape their identity, including their own musical taste, allowing for a variety of different opinions and music recommendations that a local or physical community would not allow for in the same way.
With this cultural diversity, one of the core values of /r/indieheads can be seen. That is, the value of encouraging difference of opinion and healthy discussion over these differing opinions. Even if a specific member’s culture results in a different opinion than another, it is encouraged to move away from an ethnocentric position, and consider that each member has had different experiences within their culture, often resulting in members being exposed to and enjoying new types of music. And interestingly enough, it is precisely the apparent lack of diversity within an online community that allows for this. Within the subreddit, even with so much cultural diversity present, every member is anonymous and seen as just a username on a screen. No social constructs like race or gender exist, so members of /r/indieheads are able to talk freely with others without fear of discrimination or prejudice based on such social constructs. The complete elimination of a visibly apparent demographic diversity is something that only an online community like /r/indieheads could succeed in doing, and it is precisely this that allows the community to simultaneously be a group of unified and accepting individuals, while still remaining full of members with contrasting opinions, beliefs, and cultures.
With so many differing opinions and beliefs, it can be difficult to determine universal forms of expression. In fact, the most common form of expression within /r/indieheads would be the daily discussion constantly occurring within the community. The subreddit is consistently active throughout the day, allowing for a regular stream of discussion. Again referring to Bennett and Peterson, members of local music scenes find themselves physically interacting in short spurts in irregular intervals, typically during concerts. However, members of local scenes, like those in /r/indieheads, can be seen regularly spending six hours interacting in these groups, with some extreme cases finding individuals spending upwards of fifteen hours per week interacting within the group (192). Since no physical contact really exists, it is clear that regular discussion and interaction is what allows this community to express their culture. Artifacts or other typical forms of expression are uncommon, allowing the culture of /r/indieheads to actually be based more around the people than the subject matter of indie music. It is this vey expression that allows the community to remain so loyal. Loyalty is a key component to the success of an online community since so many alternative groups are available to join at the push of a button . In research done by William Hamilton, it was found that consistent interaction among members is possibly the most important determinant of loyalty within a community, with traits such as population size also contributing a reasonable amount (542). With daily community-wide discussion posts being made on /r/indieheads alongside regular posts by individuals, consistent interaction and expression is very much present to create this loyalty.
However, each and every online community has a unique way for members to communicate. Inside jokes concerning musical artists, or lyrical phrases from songs that catch on within the community, are integral to how users communicate with one another. This can make it difficult for new members to get involved in discussion, and promote the consistent interaction that is needed for loyalty. Luckily, some alternative forms of expression do exist to help with this. To create one such expression, thousands /r/indieheads users voted on a collection of musical albums to be placed on what is known in the community simply as the Indieheads Essentials Chart. The chart includes albums by artists that are regularly brought up in discussion, and so it acts as a way to explicitly enculturate new members. By providing a physical list of albums, new members can know exactly what music they should be familiar with in order to effectively communicate with other members. Once fully enculturated, new members can then experience first-hand how the community collectively expresses love or hate for an album, and how a new album might then be added to the same essentials chart that they used to educate themselves to begin with. This is really the final form of expression that is seen within /r/indieheads, which is the recommendation and discovery of new artists and albums. It has actually been found that word-of-mouth discussion concerning new and upcoming products, such as albums in the case of /r/indieheads, is possibly the most important aspect to finding success with a new product (Kozinets 71). With this importance, discussion seems to dominate the online landscape. New releases within the indie music sphere, no matter how small or obscure, will almost always be discussed within the community, at least to some extent. And if the community collectively seems to love that new record, it will be recommended regularly to ensure that all members get a chance to listen to it. This sometimes results in unknown artists without any mainstream appeal putting out an album, that if good enough, is able to spread to the nearly 400,000 members of /r/indieheads, and dominate discussion within the subreddit.
However, with a subreddit so focused on lesser known artists without a widely accessible sound, it is natural that plenty of critiques and insults will be made towards /r/indieheads. Specifically, a common feeling seems to be that the only reason members of the subreddit actually listen to this often strange and unknown music is just so that these members can feel unique or special. The stereotype is that it is not an actual opinion or musical taste that they hold, but instead, members just go with the widely accepted opinion among the community just to feel like they have a superior taste in music compared to your typical music listener. To be clear, music snobs like this do exist. In fact, again referring to Bethany Bryson’s research, it was found that people actually use musical taste as a way of separating themselves from lower class people, or those whom they simply don’t respect. Those with a higher socio-economic status actually dislike more forms of music, and only listen to what they deem as sophisticated and high-class music (885). However, your average /r/indieheads member is likely not using their musical taste as some status symbol. The community is largely anonymous, so there’s really no benefit to using music in this way, and polite discourse is actually encouraged among members. With consistent debate over music, there is never one gold standard music taste that makes one person better than another. Members of the /r/indieheads are free agents able to make their own decisions concerning music. Although outside structures such as social influence may play some role in what music people gravitate towards, the subreddit actively tries to limit this influence, and encourages unique and personal opinions.
With this constant criticism, members of /r/indieheads have had to limit discussion of music outside this specific community. Talking about relatively unknown music is typically just met with cries of pretentiousness and snobbery. However, this discussion is simply meant as a way to make more people aware of great music that they might have missed. Only listening to artists with a huge following is limiting since this music is meant to appeal to such a wide audience. Popular music is not a genre specific to one’s personal tastes typically, so seeking out unknown artists with a sound that is not universally appealing may result in a person finding an artist with a sound that really connects with them. Thus, this desire to listen to unknown music is not a way to feel cool or hip, but is instead a way to express individuality concerning musical taste. Obviously some snobs exist within the community, but not every member should be ridiculed just because of a few outliers. Community outsiders simply seem to adopt a habitus in which they choose to dislike people who go against the universally accepted structures of social interaction, such as members of /r/indieheads discussing unknown music with others. This has been a long-standing issue faced not only by /r/indieheads, but by plenty of online music communities such as /mu/ on 4chan.com. It is simply a case of misunderstanding, and hopefully the true intention of such discussion will be recognized outside of these communities as being a means of expanding musical taste rather than a pretentious way to flaunt social status and superior musical taste like some may believe.
The /r/indieheads subreddit desires to accept all different kinds of people, and give them a platform to discuss their views on music, even if those views may not be popular or well-liked. It is purely the love for music and discussing music that brings this group of anonymous strangers together, who have all have been brought up in different cultures, and taught different values. However, with the popular view of this group being an elitist bunch of snobs, this desire for acceptance and bonding is often ignored. Community outsiders often want to stick to what is comfortable to them, neglecting to expand their musical and cultural knowledge. As /r/indieheads continues to grow, more and more people will hopefully begin to abandon their ethnocentric ideals, and come to appreciate the seemingly endless variety of music that culturally diverse communities like /r/indieheads seek to make others aware of.
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