Scenes and the media

Fanzine front page with handwritten text and headlines

Liverpool fanzine 'Humane Gladtidings'. Courtesy of England's Dreaming: The Jon Savage Archive, held at Liverpool John Moores University

The media create music scenes as well as document them. Both print and broadcast media are central to the process of scene formation, playing a major role in the organisation of music scenes - especially by circulating information about them -and influencing how scenes are thought about and reflected upon.

In her study of club scenes Sarah Thornton points out that such scenes do not operate apart from the media. Rather, "Every music scene has its own distinct set of media relations" (1995: 116). She discusses this in relation to the dance scene by dividing the media up into 'micro', 'niche' and 'mass' media.

Graffiti, flyers and listings are forms of micro media that provide a cheap and effective way of circulating information about local music scenes. Flyers, for example, are commonly used to publicise forthcoming events associated with many different music scenes.

Fanzines and specialist radio programmes, on the other hand, are forms of niche media that have played an important role in the emergence and development of many scenes. There are fanzines that have provided fans of a particular musician or music group with information and news, allowing them to share common interests and develop a sense of community. Beatlescene, for example, is a fanzine devoted to the Beatles and produced by the Liverpool Beatles fan club. There are also fanzines that promote styles of music ignored or dismissed by newspapers and magazines that are more professional or mainstream and cater for more general interests in music. Sniffin' Glue, for example, was one of the earliest punk fanzines in England and was produced on a monthly basis for one year in 1976.

With the help of micro and niche media, scenes can emerge and grow quickly. Information about them spreads to people outside the immediate circles who then begin to turn up at the meetings, gigs, clubs or club nights that have sparked so much attention. At some point a music scene may even attract the attention of the mass media and become reported on in national newspapers and on national radio and television programmes. Features may appear that associate the scene with particular images and ideas, and these features may then influence the behaviour of people involved.

During the 1990s, for example, reporting on the rave scene in British tabloids helped to generate a public outcry about that scene. This informed government legislation targeted at rave and influenced the policies of dance clubs such as Cream in Liverpool, which tried to legitimise the activities and events that they organised. Thornton (1995) argues that at the same time those involved with the rave scene colluded with the tabloids in order to generate public disapproval and encourage a sense of difference from the mainstream and mass media amongst the scene's participants.

The media can therefore influence scenes in various ways. They can:

  • Provide an impetus for the development of scenes by promoting either positive or negative images of music groups, events and activities.
  • Support scenes by providing information on them and helping to develop the networks of fans, musicians and entrepreneurs that they depend upon.
  • Foster a sense of belonging and difference amongst scene participants
  • Contribute to the decline or fragmentation of a scene by exposing it to 'outsiders' or the general public, destroying its sense of exclusivity.

The following links explore aspects of the relationship between music scenes and the media in more detail, showing how micro, niche and mass media have been connected to music scenes in Liverpool and elsewhere.