Friday, October 5, 2012

Are Music Fanatics A Dying Breed?

Alex May of

A recent video of an album teaser by Muse quickly separated the fans from the critics. The hatred expressed toward the band erupted over a clip of a song on an album that hasn’t been released yet. Several listeners suggested that even though they’re fans of Muse, this song has now completely ruined their liking of the band.

This song, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” from Muse’s upcoming release, The 2nd Law, introduced dubstep-like sounds by the creative use of guitar effects. Fans had expected a new direction since the band’s 2009 release, The Resistance, but this course proved to be one that many critics weren’t on board with. Frontman Matt Bellamy has been using these same effects for nearly a decade, but the recent dubstep trend motivated critics and fans to write these sounds off as the same “unlistenable noise" made popular by artists like Skrillex and Nero.

While listeners have always had strong opinions about the music they like and dislike, the advent of social media and the platform it provides has revealed just how volatile fans can be. Oftentimes, they dispute and defend such opinions in a vile way, and grow divided based on what kinds of music they love and hate. This mindset, when paired with the instantaneous nature of the Internet, seems to have created a lot more fleeting fans that are less engaged and less willing to give new music a second chance.

In the past, fans slept in front of venues to snag a ticket the moment a concert went on sale. They attended album release parties, meet-and-greets, and rushed to the nearest retail outlet to grab the new album on release day. Interaction with other like-minded fans strengthened their interest in a band and gave them the opportunity to attribute memories to specific moments. These people were truly fanatics, and were among the music listening elite.

Today, the definition of a fan seems to have become watered down, and has less in common with the word it was derived from. iTunes allows listeners to download new music the minute the album goes on sale, and tickets to a show can be purchased without leaving the comfort of your home. Fans make less of an effort to interact with an artist, and music can be discarded just as easily as it was obtained.

When a fan’s taste is called into question, it’s often easier to ditch the music they claimed to like rather than defend their position — especially on YouTube’s comments, where strident users will insult every aspect of your personal life. Many of today’s fans never had the opportunity to develop a backbone while downloading a song or album, and this lack of spine shows when “fans” simply give up their personal tastes and agree with a critic.

Negative comments give new fans less of a chance to develop their own opinions and hinder their ability to talk to other fans in an objective setting. Music forums such as AbsolutePunk are notorious for this. Many threads there begin with users berating others for their “poor” taste. The discussions soon become a case of “like what we like or else.”

Social media has made everyone’s listening habits public, which should theoretically provide more opportunities to discuss listening preferences. Instead, it seems to constrict the depth and meaning of conversation. A fan’s interest in a band rapidly disappears upon the release of the next hit single. Infatuation is mistaken for fandom.

The term “fan” has been trivialized by Facebook, making it so a user can “Like” a band the same way they like Nutella. Casual fans can now press a button and give themselves a title that once described those who actually knew something about the music they enjoy. There must be a distinction between a mere fan and a true fanatic, it’s no longer appropriate to throw everyone who listens to music under a single blanket term.

Technology has not created distraught fans, but it has definitely made it easier for them to express their shallow opinions for everyone to see. Casual fans have less reason to express their musical tastes, and when you don’t verbally express your love for a band, it remains an internal dialogue without much reason to defend.

If you ask me what my favorite band is, I will respond without hesitance that it’s Muse. Talking among my friends, the answer is quite different. Their responses seem to range from “hmm, I don’t know” to “I don’t really have a favorite.”

In a world where you can find music anywhere, we have every opportunity to become a fan of a new artist. But the question is, has this unlimited supply of music made us more fleeting, and spread our capacity to become passionate about an artist too thin?

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