Fandom, music culture and merchandise in the digital age.
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I’ve been working on this article for months but i’ve found it difficult to synthesise all the thoughts, cultural moments and behavioural shifts into an article that’ll immerse you in my thought process. The piece you are about to read is my third and final attempt to write this article and is based on a concept that came to me 800 words into my second draft- The 90’s teen bedroom.
Imagine you’re in the 90’s when teen bedrooms looked a bit like this. They had posters cut out from magazines plastered across the walls, calendars, cassettes, CD’s and video tapes stacked in order and a wardrobe filled with T-shirts bought at concerts and festivals. Who remembers manually rewinding your cassette so you can listen to your favourite song for the 100th time? Or gazing at the artwork on the cover of the album you queued up for hours to get your hands on?
Noticeably in the world of today, much of music culture is digital — physical forms of music have been replaced by phones and streaming platforms and your bedroom music sanctuary is no more. With the loss of physical music culture came the loss of music rituals such as rewinding a cassette, because nowadays people no longer need to manually engage with equipment- neither do they need to stay in one place to listen to music.
The migration from physical music to streaming platforms has had several implications, some good and others not-so good. Many artists have seen success due to the ease of discovery on streaming platforms and have been able to climb to fame. However, the monetary downsides of streaming revenue makes it necessary for artists to make the most of the fanbase the platforms give them exposure to.
Thanks to social media, music and fandom has seen major shifts. Fan 2 artist relationships have become more direct with the use of social media, this has benefitted independent artists such as Russ and enabled new found transparency- as Kanye demonstrated when he posted his contract on Twitter. More aware than ever of how artists like Kanye, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B have been treated by record labels and management companies, fans are eager to show support in ways that will boost the artists capital. This has become evident especially with the use of platforms such as Bandcamp , Tunecore and Patreon where artists can grow their communities and make direct profit from their content.
As a result of technological advancements, cultural and behavioural shifts the teen bedroom today has changed, you probably won’t find a poster but you’re likely to find a pair of Yeezy’s. You might not find a cassette but you’d find a smartphone and streaming app loaded with thousands of songs. Todays teen bedroom is minimal, with most opting not to go for bright colours. Magazine cut outs have been replaced with valuable art forms and band T-shirts look more like streetwear collabs.
Although physical music may never be mainstream again, fans still crave the ownership and emotional connection sought from the tangibility of music culture’s physical offerings, and artists can deliver this through selling products and merchandise that fit into the lifestyle of todays music fans. While some tap into streetwear strategy enticing people with cultural capital and limited drops of merch, others are forging collaborations or creating mega brands that appeal to a generation defined by consciousness.
On that note let’ s explore some of the opportunities in teen bedrooms today.
Physical Music & Memorabilia
Physical music is less prominent these days but its definitely not dead. This year in particular physical music has made a resurgence and sales of vinyls and Cassettes have been up. Reason being is that during the lockdown people consumed so much digital content that they were getting burnt out and returning to analog. Asides from the pandemic reasoning, people who still invest in physicals often belong to taste communities characterised by advanced knowledge and appreciation of the experience of collecting and listening to physical music.
Artists still have the opportunity to sell physical music, posters and artwork and there are new platforms available to take it a step further. Streetwear culture has bred a generation obsessed with cultural capital and they amass this by appreciating niche interests, collecting exclusive products, and even reselling them for higher prices. Platforms like Zora have found new ways to help artists generate hype around limited edition products and tap into the resale value by using cryptocurrency. Grammy winning independent artist RAC partnered with Zora to sell 100 cassette tapes on the platform earlier this year, an initiative that he used to connect his fans on Bandcamp and Patreon.
When the fashion industry hijacked the graphic band tee in 2012 “yOu DoN’t EvEn LiStEn tO NiRvAnA!” were the words of angry fans who saw the appropriation of their favourite band merchandise. Once a symbol of their fandom and belonging to fan communities, people found that their beloved band t-shirts had become standardised and were no longer an accurate representation of their personal affinity to the bands. Now younger generations are craving new unique ways to show belonging to fan communities and artists can make the most of this by using merchandise to increase the longevity of streaming and intensify emotional connections.
In the teen bedroom today merchandise takes the form of song specific, novelty items such as rain coats and umbrellas- which were a play on the lyrics of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP’, and also happen to be practical items that the buyer will use multiple times. Saweetie’s Icy chains embodied the essence of her brand and allowed fans to get a taste of her lifestyle on a budget. Mood specific merchandise such as Ariana Grande’s Thank u next fragrance or the trigger protection kit Jhené Aiko sold to accompany her Trigger Protection Mantra single- set the scene for the music to be listened to.
Collaborations & Mega Brands
Collaborations enable artists to partner with established brands that have the means to produce the merchandise and give the artists a percentage. Brands like Pretty Little Thing, BooHoo and Fashionnova have collaborated with megastars such as Cardi B, Burna Boy and Doja Kat to give fans access to clothing that reflect the lifestyle and dress sense of the artists, often not limited to just T-shirts.
Collabs should be authentic and reminiscent of the image the artists portray. Travis Scott has seemingly conquered the business of collaboration. From fast food and cereal collaborations to sneakers and game consoles — the artist is making the most of his ever growing fanbase. In the bedroom of a Travis Scott fan you might find a box of Travis Scott Reese Puffs (that they don’t plan on eating), a Travis Scott x McDonalds Action figure (If they had $55,000 to spare on the resale market)or even a pair of Travis Scott Jordan 1’s. Aside from collaborations, Travis Scott’s own merchandise does so well it landed him a number 1 album — which set Nicki Minaj off.
Some musicians who have reached peak stardom have found themselves in situations whereby they have huge fanbases and are at the top of their careers- but have amassed debt or are on the verge of being bankrupt. Kanye West and Rihanna are just two examples of celebrities that have leveraged their fame in order to sell products that have elevated them out of their former financial situations. Now Fenty Beauty products and Yeezy footwear are staple items on the list of Gen-Z must haves.
To bring this article to a close; although the teen bedroom today is no longer overflowing with posters, and may not have a vinyl and turntable in the corner- there is still plenty of opportunity for artists to capitalise.