Why YUNGBLUD, Softcult and Scene Queen are turning to Discord to connect with fans
As long as the internet has been accessible to music fans, they’ve used it to connect to their favorite artists and each other. Throughout the early noughties, platforms such as Tumblr, Myspace and official fan forums were a safe haven to discuss your favorite member, speculate on new music and arrange meet-ups ahead of shows.
Then Twitter took off, with artists trading in those small, curated communities for a global platform that meant a single post could reach billions, rather than just a few die-hards. It made business sense, sure, but in the years since, it’s become increasingly more difficult to post about loving a band without some stranger jumping on to tell you exactly why they’re terrible and you’re wrong. At the same time, more and more artists are pulling back from posting exactly what’s on their mind — worried about backlash or being misunderstood. As the 1975’s Matty Healy told Pitchfork, “I’ve thought about every single word on [upcoming album Being Funny In A Foreign Language] for two years; I’d think about a tweet for 20 seconds. My album’s gonna go out to, what, 10 million people, but a tweet could go out to a billion. The maths doesn’t work out.”
To combat that, bands such as YUNGBLUD, Weezer and Cassyette are turning to Discord to recapture that sense of community, while musicians such as Mark Hoppus and Against The Current’s Chrissy Costanza are using Twitch.
Bury Tomorrow’s Davyd Winter-Bates started streaming on Twitch in 2019 but really found his footing during COVID-19-enforced lockdowns in 2020. The Calpol Club Discord soon followed, with Winter-Bates describing the platform as “the beating heart of Twitch.”
“It's a community of like-minded, free-thinking people that are allowed to do and say what they want,” he starts before explaining they have just one rule: “zero tolerance on any form of hate speech.” Because Discord owners set their own rules and have the power to remove people for violating them, The Calpol Club has been allowed to become “a completely free space for people to be themselves.”
Due to the way the feed works, Twitter and Instagram are better used for making statements or voicing opinions. It’s often one-sided, whereas Discord, according to Winter-Bates, "champions open discourse.”
It’s one of the reasons Softcult use the platform. “We started our Discord because our band is all about creating safe places, fostering communities with like-minded people and encouraging activism through music,” vocalist/guitarist Mercedes Arn-Horn explains. “Discord is a good way to do that, without it becoming overwhelming or confusing.”
Their Discord has several channels, ranging from Music and Cinema to Politics and Trigger Warning, a place that allows people to “share stories they might not feel comfortable talking about elsewhere.” The duo have a close friend monitoring the Discord so “no trolls come in and ruin the atmosphere of what we're trying to build.” With the band in control of what is and isn’t allowed, Discord gives them and their fans “a layer of privacy, safety and accountability.”
Hours before Scene Queen talks to Alternative Press, she shares an example of the abuse and death threats she gets on TikTok. Her fans also occasionally receive unprompted hate, just for liking Scene Queen. “My fans are the coolest people in the entire world," Scene Queen says. "They’ll defend me to the death, and they’re really behind the movement, but some people are not down for what I’m making. It’s nice that there’s a place like Discord where we can talk about random things without worrying about people diving in and bothering us.”
Growing up, Scene Queen was an active member of Tumblr fan pages for bands like the Ready Set, but a majority of those community interactions happened IRL, at shows. Her Discord also spun out of her live show, but with an eye on making the growing community as accessible as possible.
Earlier this year, during her U.K. headline tour, Scene Queen initiated a handful of fans into her sorority, Bimbo Berta Pi, making them official delegates of the Scene Queen community and ensuring that everyone at the show felt welcomed.
“Honestly, I had no idea what the genuine effect was going to be,” she says before explaining how, after every show, she’d be introduced to new best friends. “There are loads of problematic things about sororities, but the idea behind them is super rad; a bunch of women that get together every week and do philanthropy events? What’s not to like?”
“It's the coolest thing I could have done, and I wanted to be able to carry that on,” which is where Scene Queen’s Discord comes into play. “I wanted to make my sorority something that everyone could join, regardless of financial status or where they're from in the world.”
She explains that her Discord attracts the “die-hard fans, the ones who want to take the extra steps,” and that the platform requires artists to put the work in. “It’s not like TikTok where the algorithm is working for you, when you’re not around.”
Winter-Bates believes many new artists are turning to Discord to create communities because the old ways aren’t viable anymore.
When Bury Tomorrow started, they "followed the Enter Shikari roadmap of club shows and played absolutely everywhere. At one point in 2009, we did a three-month tour of the U.K.,” which helped them establish long-term fans because they were putting the effort in. “You just can’t do that now. It’s impossible for bands, just based on petrol prices alone. But Discord does the same thing by creating this pocket community.” Unlike Twitter or Instagram, which are much more individual-led, Discord is similar to a live show. “Everyone’s the same, and you are one of many.”
It creates something genuine as well. Years ago, when Arn-Horn was in their previous band, the major label had a meeting with them about social media. They discovered that when she posted something emotional or vulnerable, it got better traction. Instead of realizing that people react to artists being genuine, it was suggested they fake it.
Discord takes place away from the like-based currency of most social media platforms, meaning there’s nothing to be gained from faking it. “You can be a little more down to earth without worrying about all of that,” Arn-Horn says.
Discord gives fans a more direct way of connecting with their favorite artists, without having to resort to spamming or abuse, but there are benefits for the artists as well.
“Artists want a connection with their fans,” Arn-Horn adds, who says the Softcult Discord has been an “education” for her. Her only experience prior was a Canadian-based Vax Hunter Discord that she used to locate where and when COVID-19 vaccines were available, but she quickly discovered the Softcult one “helped me get through the pandemic and allowed me to reach out to our community.”
“Our fans are so talented, so passionate and so intelligent. I just feel proud,” Arn-Horn says. “It’s inspiring on a whole other level.”
“You can just use social media to promote yourself and nothing else, and that’s totally fine, but it’s so hard for someone to become a die-hard fan if they have no idea who you are as a person. I know I’m more drawn to artists that seem like good people. The more of yourself you can share, the easier it is for people to get emotionally invested with your art. As the artist, why wouldn’t you want that?”
“Discord allows you to have conversations and support each other,” Winter-Bates adds. “And that’s all a community is, isn’t it? Community and support.”