‘OMG It’s been going for 16 years!!’The decline and survival of music fan mailing lists Ruth A. Deller (@ruthdeller)
Mailing lists, really?!• Well, academics at least still use them… (Air-L for instance)• Clerc: the preference for mailing lists can be down to ‘the desire to make personal connections with other people, to feel part of a community… *as+ mailing lists must be sought out and joined, they require some commitment from members ("you have to be there every day"), and the mail comes directly to subscribers’ (1996: 42). She argues mailing lists attract fewer newbies and trolls.
‘Belle and Sebastian prove the power of the fanbase’16 February 1999: Number 41 in our series of the 50key events in the history of indie musicWhen Belle and Sebastian were nominated for the best British newcomeraward at the 1999 Brits, few expected them to beat the likes of Steps and 5iveto the prize. But then few realised the power a diehard fanbase could harnessin the internet age – or even realised we were in the internet age. Some criedfoul, Pete Waterman going so far as to demand an investigation into vote-rigging. Yet this was no mere quirk but rather a glimpse into the future – theera of bands being signed on the strength of their MySpace "friends" was justaround the corner.Tim Jones, The Guardian, 14 June 2011
Two artists, two sets of fans• Belle and Sebastian – part of the last • Cliff Richard – a ‘legacy artist’ (Baym generation of analogue musicians’ (Baym 2011). 2011). • Continued to record and tour• In 2010 released first material since 2006. regularly throughout decade. • 70% of fan respondents aged 36-55 in• During the decade went through several 2000-01. In the follow up study, all line-up changes and side projects. but one (who was 26) were over 35,• 75% of fan respondents were aged 16-25 in with 71% of respondents over 50. 2000-01 with none over 45. Follow-up • The largest age range represented respondents aged 25-40. (42%) was 60-70.• 60% male (both studies) • 76% female (00-01) - 77% (10-11)
Step back in time… Sinister 2000-01‘A list for Belle & Sebastian but more importantly about thelives of People Who Listen To Belle & Sebastian (Sinister FAQ).• In 2000-01, the most active Belle & Sebastian online fan community• Set up in 1997 by Paul ‘Honey’ Mitchell and has an associated website. At the time had an active IRC chat room, #sinister.• In Jan-Feb 2001, it had 1405 members, with an average of twelve posts a day.• Long FAQ and two-week ‘nursery’ period.• More than half of posts were ‘off-topic’ – not about the band.
Step back in time… Sinister 2000-01• Creation of community norms via FAQ, posting style (long, often poetic or abstract, prose (see Plagenhoef 2010)) and group terminology.• A distinct ‘community’ from other B&S communities – with some overlap.• Family established through chatroom bots having familial names.• Sinister Village: a ‘home’ for the list• List crushes (and RL romances)• List meet-ups• Sillustrations
Step back in time… Sinister 2000-01• before i joined sinister and corduroy smoke, i felt that b&s was kind of my own personal music. i thought no one would understand how I loved them and how personal they were to me. but then i discovered a whole group of people (scattered and far away as they may be) that feel the same as I do. now when i listen to them i dont feel as alone as i used to. (Alyson)• No doubt many of you know and remember Jules... if any Sheffield sinistereens are looking for a flatmate, or know someone who is, then please please email either me or her, shes quite desperate and she cant find a place anywhere. …. If anyone can help I will become your bestest friend and Jules will give you a big warm hug (Mikey, Sinister, 06 January 2001)
Step back in time… Sinister 2000-01• oh heck, id rather not think about it really. its strange, if sinister went down for whatever reason im sure id still communicate with the friends id made, and there would still be a forum of some description. I think it would affect chat a lot less cos b&s are only mentioned once in a blue moon anyway. i think due to b&s relative inactivity for the past year or so weve become a bit more self sufficient, maybe im just kidding myself. (CS)
Step back in time… MoveIt 2000-01• Created in 1995• 318 members in 2001, averaging thirteen posts a day.• Rules, but no lengthy joining process• Set themselves apart from ‘official’ forum and its moderation; but members tended to belong to both: • Weve had some interesting debates.- FREE to be critical, FREE to praise. Even when there have been opposite opinions, we agree to differ. Thats healthy, shutting you up, ISNT.!...Forget the forum, stick with MoveIt... its "Simply the Best."!!! (Dawn, 11 September, 2000)
Step back in time… MoveIt 2000-01• Im amazed reading stories about the famous queues...and think what a fun experience that could be, waiting in line with hundreds of other Cliff fans...I hope that those of you who have queued for days and days have been rewarded with some good seats. (Fiona, MoveIt, 25 February 2001)• For some reason I have always thought that Cliff fans are more honest than people in general (Ann- Margret, MoveIt, 15 February 2001)• we all belong to this list because of our love and respect of Cliff, just think what he would think of all this [fighting] ! (Lesley, MoveIt, 15 February 2001)
Step back in time… MoveIt 2000-01• Also developed a series of group norms: • Else, from a snowy Denmark (MoveIt, 23 February 2001) • ‘I do love it when moveiters put their country at the bottom of their letters and a little comment on the weather. It gives me a kick knowing we are united all over our small planet’ (Margaret, MoveIt, 13 February 2001). • Direct address to members but via list, not private email.
Step back in time… MoveIt 2000-01• One-quarter of posts were ‘off-topic’ – not always popular! • ‘Yes I have [shared personal details] with a very good friend I got through Move It – but only privately, I would not do it publicly!’ (Soffia) • ‘I find it strange when people…talk intimately about their personal life…i find it worrying that people would want to share personal information with people they’ve never met’ (Clifffan)
Sinister in 2010-12• 777 subscribers as of October 2012.• 8 posts in the whole of 2011; 47 in 2010. Decline is gradual.• Little discussion of the band’s renewed activity.• Those who do post tend to be long-standing ‘BNF’s• Migration to forums that have also declined (e.g. I Love Music and I Love Everything)• Offline connections remain: • I bet weve had more babies than the Cliff Richard list has!!! i reckon theres at least half a dozen children that sinister is DIRECTLY responsible for, if not more, and at least ten weddings!
Sinister in 2010-12When people do post nowadays, theres a lot less oversharing abouttheir lives, which I think is a shame, since thats part of what made thelist so much fun to read in the first place… the band *are+ producingdebatably lesser quality music and being less prolific than they oncewere… But you have stuff on the fans side as well: the people onSinister have changed and so has online culture. Weve all grown up, alot of people dont have the time or the inclination to write anymore.Plus, now that we all know that everything we post online will follow usaround forever, were a lot more careful than we were in 2000. I know Icringe that some of my old messages to the list (written when I was inmiddle school) will live in the archives forever. Its certainly taught meto be more reticent online and I suspect Im not the only one. Its ashame, because like I said above, I miss getting glimpses of otherpeoples lives, but I understand why people dont do it anymore. (Holly)
Sinister in 2010-12They [B&S] were once apparently an insurgent force, seemed to belongto the fans or to be closer to the fans and their interests, wereperceived by people as representing them; and more simply weremaking records that people loved. That changed gradually and B&Sbecame more like another band; and now they havent released an LPas B&S in 4 years and it doesnt feel an outlandishly long time (that is, itfeels like B&S are distant and absent and thats normal)… But lets getto the other side of the answer to the question, which is about internetuse. My guess is that mailing lists are now considered a relativelyprimitive kind of internet community. They were superseded, if thatsan appropriate term to use, by other technical and textual formats likethe blog, the messageboard, and the manylinked pages of the socialnetworking site. Mailing lists became marginal next to all that. Thatsprobably the main reason for what happened to sinister; you need toapply a certain technological determinism. (Joe)
MoveIt in 2010-12• Estimated 400 subscribers – few arrivals or departures. 53% have been on list over ten years; 82% over five years.• 14 posts on average a day; posts made every day – most still ‘on- topic’.• Long-running threads (e.g. This Day in Cliff History)• 90% of users part of other Cliff-related communities/ environments, but MoveIt still critical of ‘official’ spaces (forum, Facebook).• Discussion of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms occurs regularly – but on list.• Messages addressed directly but also ‘to all’• Many list norms/conventions remain from 2000-01.• 71% of respondents were over 50.• 95% of members have interacted off-list
MoveIt in 2010-12• I have loved meeting lots of new friends at concerts over the years. When my son was very young and I became a single parent, Move It became my lifeline to and social life as I was unable to go out socialising. It really did keep me sane and gave allowed me to express my opinions on my hobby… many of the fan and newsletters have stopped, so this is a great way to keep up to date with news…. I think Move It will go on for a long long time and I cant imagine not having access to it now. (Lynne)
MoveIt in 2010-12• We know each other, know the different personalities of people who write and bit about their backgrounds. I love that sometimes if I want to be really uber-analytical about Cliffs music I can be, and therell be people who respond and love that, or I can be all fluffy and "lite" about it and people will respond to that. And last but not least, receiving Cliff news as soon as it happens. Gosh I remember when the only way to get Cliff news was through quarterly fan club magazines. So different now… we know each other now, that weve become a community. Sometimes things happen to the Move-it list that affects us all, like when someone from the list dies or becomes really ill, thats when I realise how close weve grown to each other, in an online kind of way. But 16 years? Nope, cant explain that. (Fiona)
MoveIt in 2010-12• Yes. I am a member of a Cliff meeting house, and I am on facebook where I follow Cliff too. Im also registered on the official Cliff website/forum and have posted a few times, however I find there are so many places to get information, it can be a bit tiresome to log into multiple places to get information. Thats another reason Move It can be good - because it just appears in my inbox where I go anyway. (Sarah)• I did consider it [moving from a mailing list to another platform]. When the Forum first launched, we lost a lot of membership to it. Certainly an email mailing list is an older form of online community. I offered to the list to have it moved if they wanted. I even put it to a vote. They chose to keep the mailing list format. I cant speak for all members, but I prefer the mailing list format and the ability to control how I receive and read messages via my email software. (Robert, list owner)
References• Baym, N.K. 2011. Biting And Feeding The Hands That Feed: Audience-Musician Interactions Online, Transforming Audiences 3, London, 1-2 September 2011. Available at: http://www.onlinefandom.com/archives/biting-and- feeding-the-hands-that-feed-audience-musician- interactions-online/ [accessed June 2006]• Clerc, S.J. 1996. DDEB, GATB, MPPB and Ratboy: The X Files Media Fandom: Online and Off in Deny all Knowledge: Reading the X-Files edited by D. Lavery, A. Hague and M. Cartwright. London: Faber and Faber, 36-51.• Deller, R.A. 2013. ‘A decade in the lives of online fan communities’ in Duits, L., Reijnders, S and Zwaan, K (eds), The Ashgate Research Companion to Fan Cultures (forthcoming)