The "24-hour diner of the internet" fosters community for artists, gamers, and hobbyists unlike any other social media platform.
The social media landscape has changed over the past few years.
Myspace took the world by storm when it launched in 2003. Then came Facebook a year later, revolutionizing the way that we connect with friends, family, and loved ones. But now Facebook’s imminent doom lingers like a roadkill stench, and other platforms are swooping in to pick up the slack.
Twitter created a platform that allows people to share bite-sized pieces of information and join conversations from all around the world. YouTube has provided creators with a podium to share their stories and build their brands. TikTok has replaced Vine and filled the void of video memes millennials and Gen Z’ers yearned for during a global pandemic.
While every social media platform has a unique position within the online social community, each operates under the purview of unique algorithms that perform very differently. They also lack features that creatives need to effectively connect with and offer quality content for their fans and followers.
Discord solves that issue in ways other social media platforms haven’t come close to.
Discord is a VoIP (voice over IP) social media platform that allows users to message, call, and video chat in various communities called servers. Within these servers owners can set up specific rules, community guidelines, and “channels” to explore any given topic. These keep the server and its members’ conversations organized.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down every sector of every economy around the world, people were pushed out of work and left to their own recognizances. Live events were postponed or cancelled until further notice, so would-be attendees weren’t sure what to do with their extra time and money. They needed community, friends, and people to talk to since their social lives evaporated as quickly as the economy did.
So they turned to their favorite artists’ Discord communities. Let’s be honest: Uncle John and Aunt Susan’s political posts on Facebook weren't riveting enough of a conversation.
Discord changed everything for those in need of a conduit to connect with likeminded people. Friends used the platform to chat and play their favorite games with one another. Fans of musicians like Kenny Beats joined a server to learn the ins and outs of production and just show support for his—well, beats.
“What makes Discord special is that it offers everyone a place online where you can hang out and spend time with your friends and communities, and we’ve seen that even more so in the past year, as many people turned to our service to stay connected to those they couldn't see in person and find belonging,” Kenny Layton, Discord’s Head of Talent Partnerships, told EDM.com. "Artist servers aren’t just a place where musicians can connect with fans, but where fans can connect with each other and discuss their favorite track, riff and find community. We give both artists and fans a multi-channel communication platform that is always on and is a safe space to engage with each other. We like to call ourselves the 24-hour diner of the internet, where communities can just come and hang out with each other at any time they want."
The pandemic has fostered tremendous growth in the creator community. Discord conducted a survey and found that 30% of their server owners were non-gaming focused. That number, Layton added, has more than doubled to 80%. Additionally, the platform's number of monthly active users grew from 100 million to over 150 million.
One artist who has fully embraced and capitalized on Discord’s expansive growth is Deathpact. The mysterious electronic music act's Discord server, dubbed Deathcord, was created by a fan a while back, and Deathpact has leveraged its features to build out an extensive alternate reality game (ARG). This four-month project was completed by fans in about a week-and-a-half.
Once the ARG was completed, fans were taken to a 24-hour countdown page. When the clock hit zero, Deathpact’s music was released. The fans triggered the release by completing the ARG.
While Deathpact remains active in the server, the fans essentially run it. Deathcord users have even utilized it for a number of meet-ups at festivals and a Stanley Cup-like trophy called the "golden Deathpact mask."
Deathpact's Discord server, Deathcord.
"Before Deathpact’s first US show at SnowGlobe Music Festival in Lake Tahoe, there was a channel in the Deathpact Discord server for SnowGlobe,” said Brian Barnett, an artist manager at Blood Company, on a Zoom call. “The fans all decided they were going to meet up, and they did. They ended up hanging out, getting drinks, and going around the festival together. They all went to [Deathpact’s] set together and coordinated totems. We did an onsite activation with SnowGlobe where we hid a golden Deathpact mask on the site with SnowGlobe’s blessing. It was a convoluted puzzle using Discord onsite, but the fans that saw this message banded together at the festival site to solve the puzzle and find the mask. That golden mask has since been passed around from fan to fan, through Discord, all of which were a part of solving that puzzle at SnowGlobe.”
This unique approach has garnered them an incredibly active user base within the server, and Deathpact's team have been able to lean into it more instead of relying on traditional marketing strategies. The effectiveness of paid advertising has not only gone down since the beginning of the pandemic, but also become expensive and tedious. Major corporations like Verizon, Best Buy, and Starbucks have boycotted Facebook, and Apple’s iOS update was a major blow for the platform.
But this isn’t an issue for Discord. Deathpact and their team can jump into their server and see exactly what fans are discussing. Someone may drop Porter Robinson’s Nurture album in one of the channels and suggest Deathpact remix it. The reactions from the fans can inform marketing, advertising, and A&R decisions.
“A lot of the time with artists they’re always having to guess what the fans want or are thinking,” Barnett continued. “It’s been really cool to get that portal into the fans’ minds to see what they’re thinking and what they want in real time. There’s no better way to know what your fans want than to have them tell you. That can inform A&R decisions, marketing, and advertising spend. That data is so valuable to us as a team. This is better for the fans because they’re getting to experience the artist project the way that they want.”
Halifax-based electronic music producer Bishu, who has released music on Monstercat and Mad Decent, among other venerated record labels, has also taken full advantage of Discord's functionality. He and his manager met through the platform a few years ago. They started informally and then developed a deeper professional relationship as Bishu’s career picked up steam.
“I met [my manager] on Discord,” Bishu told EDM.com. “We were into the same styles of music. There’s a Reddit called r/trap, and I was making EDM-esque trap music back in the day. We talked, were both like-minded and Canadian. He was one of the nice people there. There were a lot of mean people.”
But mean people exist all over the internet, and there’s really no avoiding them. Bishu hasn’t let these people get to him and since the beginning of the pandemic, he has taken time to build his online presence on YouTube. With the shift to YouTube he’s been able to grow his Discord community and immerse them in the content he creates. They are paramount to the direction of his brand.
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Both Bishu and Rob mentioned how easy it is to connect with fans and notify them of new content. That could be via new music, a YouTube video, Twitch livestream, show, or anything. The platform doesn’t have an algorithm dictating who sees what at what time like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. This is one of the main reasons why creators are turning to Discord to connect with their fans.
“Now every artist has a Discord,” Bishu added. “It’s a super easy way to ‘at’ everyone. Everyone’s on Discord talking with their friends. It’s easy to have a group of people and move them. It’s like having a base. I can notify everyone in a channel to come to a stream, and everyone knows when the stream is. Or if I have a song coming out—I can just ‘at’ everyone.”
While Discord really got jumpstarted in the gaming space, it has expanded to virtually every hobby and niche, including sound designers.
Shawn Carpenter, known as TheSoundFXGuy on YouTube, is a professional sound designer, audio engineer, and YouTube content creator based in Orlando, Florida. Through his YouTube channel he teaches people the ins and outs of sound design for film, TV, and video games. He mentioned that he had his Discord server created the same day he launched his YouTube channel, but didn’t unveil it until six months later because he wanted to make sure everything was set up properly.
“I wanted to make sure that it would be a place that people would want to come to,” Carpenter said on a Zoom call. “You don’t rent a building and then immediately open the doors before the club is built.”
Over the past year Carpenter has had sound designers and hobbyists from all over the globe and of varying experience levels join his server. He recalls having a big ego when he first launched his Discord, thinking that he had to know the answer to every question. But he has since realized that approach wasn't feasible and induced anxiety.
“I used to be deathly afraid of not knowing the answer,” Carpenter admitted. “I could build myself up as TheSoundFXGuy and have someone say, ‘Well you’re TheSoundFXGuy, so you should know the answer.’ I was afraid if I didn’t know one simple thing I was going to look stupid. Now I have people to help out.”
Liaising with other sound designers from various levels of experience has allowed Carpenter to step back and trust his community to answer questions, relieving the pressure he once had to answer or respond to every message.
“As my community grew, it also grew me as a person and allowed me to relax a bit,” Carpenter continued. “It also allowed me to rely on my community to be professional and help out.”
Discord has enabled relatively unsung creatives like TheSoundFXGuy, Deathpact, and Bishu to curate their online family and friends, but A-list celebrities like Travis Scott have also joined the platform.
“We recently partnered with Travis Scott to launch his Cactus Jack server, which broke the record for most users joining on the first day with over 100,000 members,” said Layton. “We also worked closely with Portugal. The Man, who created an exclusive space for super-fans to access Q&A sessions, never-before-seen content, new merchandise, and more on their server.”
Layton also outlined a handful of other unique experiences that celebrities like Grimes, Zedd, Liam Payne, Wyclef Jean, MC Jin, and more have used Discord for:
• Grimes launched an official server where she has been engaging with fans and hosting events on Stage Channels. She held a virtual DJ set following the Splendour XR festival, where she teased new music and talked about her upcoming album.
• In partnership with Discord, Zedd hosted a remix contest within his server for "Inside Out." All participants were required to submit their remix using stems downloaded from a specified channel, and three winners were chosen from over 650 submissions to be a part of his next remix album.
• A few months ago, Liam Payne launched his server and jumped on Discord to chat about his recent NFT drop with a few friends, including Zedd.
• Wyclef Jean and rapper-songwriter MC Jin recently hosted an event within Discord’s Hip-Hop server to discuss the release of their recent music video and single, as well as allyship around the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
• For four consecutive weeks this spring, Dash Radio hosted a fully live series featuring artist performances and interviews—all streamed directly into the Dash Radio Discord server for the first time ever. The result was a very intimate setting for fans, who got to experience live music and chat with artists and one another. Some performing artists joined the chat during the event and interacted directly with fans.
• In December, for their A Matter Of Perspective album drop, DROELOE wanted to recreate a museum-like experience of their album for their fans. Voice channels were set up to act as a section of the exhibit where fans can enter and leave after viewing the pre-recorded content walking them through the exhibit virtually.
Building out a Discord server for a community may not always make sense, and Layton only encourages creators to make one only if it does. The platform isn’t built for one-off conversations. Rather, it’s a safe space for a creator’s community to discuss music theory, sound design, production, and even their favorite Japanese cuisine.
“One of our best in class music servers, and an incredible example of how to make the most out of your community, is Kenny Beats’,” Layton explained. “At any given time, you can go into his server and see fans making music together in the voice and video chat ‘Studios’ he set up. Outside of music, you can discuss your favorite new Japanese curry in his #food channel, or nerd out and talk about minor thirds in the #music-theory channel."
"In addition to setting up places for his fans to chat about any topic they want, [Kenny Beats] utilizes our announcements channel to update the community on everything he is doing on other platforms," Layton continued. "Artists can use this feature to let people know when they go live on Twitch, post a YouTube video, Tweet, drive to a ticketing link for an upcoming event, or even give them early access to a new song.”
Kenny Beats' Discord server.
If you’re going to create a Discord server for your community, it’s best to have a strategy first. Launching without one and failing to outline rules causes confusion down the road. Moreover, Bishu recommends that creators have a simple motive and establish moderators you can always count on.
“Don’t bloat what you’re trying to do,” states Bishu. “Have a simple motive. Have moderators that you can trust. Make detailed rules early on.”
Creators don’t have to have a global-reaching fanbase or thousands of people interested in what they're doing. Discord is a hot topic right now, and it’s the best way to connect with audiences, so Barnett recommends starting as soon as you can—and if it makes sense.
“As soon as you have a fanbase, however small, that cares about what you’re doing, wants to talk about it, and be part of that conversation, that’s when [you start a Discord server],” Barnett stated. “Whether that’s 10 or 10,000 people, that’s cool. For budding artists there are two ways to look at it: Are there fans that care about what you’re doing and want to talk about it? Are there contemporaries of yours that you can foster that community around?”
In a time of global uncertainty, societal unrest and economic crisis, people all around the world found a way to find their tribe of people in various Discord servers and have meaningful conversations on the topics they love. These conversations filled the void that was stripped away so quickly and abruptly. Fans, creators, hobbyists, and general enthusiasts formed new friendships that will last a lifetime—all because of Discord.
“It’s real time community, man,” Carpenter said. “That’s really all it boils down to.”
Lennon is a music journalist who has contributed to EDM.com for over four years. A seasoned music business reporter, his writings bridge the gap between education and technology through a musical lens. He is also the host of the music business podcast When Life Hands You Lennons and founder of his own electronic music website, EDM In A Soda.
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