NET102 – Why we don’t sing into our hairbrushes anymore: YouTube, amateurism and the blurring of private and public

Mirrors are for grooming, not for grooving! No longer confined to the bedroom, amateur musicians are able to connect through online communities and interact without the limitations of geographic boundaries. With the evolution of web 2.0 technologies, the internet provides opportunities for ‘new forms of expression, new forms of community and new forms of identity’ (Muir, 2009, p.35. quoting Wesch, 2008). Characterised by such things as being able to create a profile, generate content and like, share, and comment on said content, web 2.0 is interactive unlike earlier web content that was more static. Web 2.0 tools, such as YouTube, have delivered new opportunities for participants to engage and interact online and by doing so, identify as members of particular communities. YouTube has blurred the lines between what is private and public and has given rise to music communities around amateur musicians.

The role of musicians has evolved over the past decade, with Web 2.0 tools providing more opportunities to directly engage with audiences over digital channels. Publishing user-generated content, in real time, and involving listeners in activities such as commenting, sharing and reviewing has enabled the creation of music communities who share like interests and tastes. Muir (2009, p.61.) describes YouTube as being a ‘new stage’ where musicians can express themselves and develop a unique relationship with their listeners. It is easy to access and simple to use, for both the musician and the listener. This essay will look at the experiences of two young amateur musicians to understand the role YouTube has played in building a community around their music.

Cayari (2011) undertook a case study of a young musician, Wade Johnston, to understand the role played by YouTube in the consumption, creation and sharing of music. His findings suggest that YouTube has had a direct impact on the idea of music venue, audience and the distinction between amateur and professional. Cho (2012, p.1) tells us that YouTube itself is a self-proclaimed community with a set of guidelines and terms of use for participating’. Cayari (2011, p.9.) states that YouTube ‘serves as a virtual coffee house where people can share ideas and gather with likeminded and contrasting individuals to discuss ideas, art and music’. The keyword – virtual – is of relevance to the discussion around music venue. No longer does a musician need to be in the same physical location as his audience to perform and share his music. Indeed, in some cases, the idea of being with an audience equal in size to the number of views some YouTube videos have is inconceivable. Muir (2009, p.2.) tells us of his experience having uploaded a video demonstrating some chord progressions, seeing it get to twenty one thousand views and being unable to imagine himself performing live in a stadium of the same capacity. YouTube has provided a different concept of music venue where there almost exists a one to one relationship between the performer and the listener, although this is not a mutually exclusive relationship, rather a community who share a connection through music.

The concept of a community for musicians goes even further to promote a perception of a personal connection with the musician. Collard (2012, p.20.) says of members of a musical community, ‘They feel as though by interacting via social media, they’re not only helping to promote the musical act, but they’re also making a personal connection and as a result they have the potential to develop a deeper and more meaningful social media relationship’. Community members can speak directly with the performer via the functionality to post comments; they can prepare video responses with an expectation that the performer will view and perhaps respond directly to them. In the case of Wade Johnston, who chose to speak to his audience during his videos, a sense of immediacy was achieved, allowing his fans to have a sense of getting to know him. Sometimes he would talk about how he came to write a song, others about why he chose to cover a particular song. He also used the inclusion of out-takes to further connect with his audience – amateur or professional, this is real.

Another technique employed by YouTube musicians to build community, is to cover a song performed by a favourite musician, in order to reach out not only to that musician, but also to reach out to the audience that musician has already built. Wade Johnston did this and targeted someone who he admired as a musician, and who already had some YouTube ‘fame’. The results here were that his subscriber count increased dramatically. Of more consequence though was the invitation Wade received to join in on a YouTube Live event. Wade then documented his involvement with the Live Event, a collaborative performance of YouTube celebrities, to share with his audience as a documentary. He undertook further collaborative work with other musicians on YouTube – all of which influenced the building of his community. ‘By linking himself to other artists, he was able to reach their fan bases’ (Cayari, 2011, p.14.).

Muir (2009) undertook research to understand the motivations behind amateur musicians posting to YouTube. The findings of his research indicate that a feeling of community, interacting with other musicians and getting feedback regarding their performances is of more importance than finding fame. ‘This new cultural form is perceived by many of its creators and contributors not as a gateway into mainstream media, but as a space for mutual support, personal interaction and genuine self-expression’ (Muir, 2009, p.64.). His survey findings support the earlier notion of YouTube as a venue enabling the satisfaction of a one to one (or as he calls it, point to point) interaction.

Justin Bieber found fame on YouTube at an early age, posting videos of himself performing in the bathroom and living room, at talent shows and busking in public. Bieber’s story gives a truly blurred picture of what is public and what is private. Bickford (2014, p.13) talks about the packaging of the story behind Justin’s fame, particularly in reference to the movie Never Say Never, as being a ‘juxtaposition of Madison Square Garden and a home video of a child’s living room performance, of “a kid from a small town” and “the world’s most famous arena,” with YouTube positioned prominently between’. After being discovered by a talent scout, Bieber was initially rejected by major record labels, who dismissed him for being the wrong demographic. Given his immense popularity on YouTube, he began touring instead and leveraged his YouTube (and twitter) community to attract audiences at his live venues. With similar thinking to Collard (2012) Bickford (2014, p.23.) quotes Biebers manager, ‘Bieber’s fans feel a special ownership of him precisely because social media let them’. Having built and maintained his music community on social media, the audience, feeling connected for discovering him first, moved with him from online to offline.

Whilst the overwhelming success of Justin Bieber, headlining a sellout Madison Square Garden concert, (Bickford, 2014, p.18.) is not a common occurrence for YouTube ‘stars’, there are some similarities between the two case studies presented. Both worked by establishing a fan-base or music community through the use of amateur videos on YouTube, finding some level of ‘success’ in doing so, blurring the lines between public and private and taking advantage of the accessible and easy to use functions afforded by web 2.0 technology. Particularly in the case of Bieber, we see the publicising of a private aspect of adolescence, that which has been termed ‘bedroom culture’ (Bickford, 2014, p.26.), that of performing in front of the mirror, hairbrush in hand. The accessibility of YouTube, web 2.0 in general and the ease of which user-generated content can be created and shared have facilitated a blurring between public and private.

The consumption of music via YouTube has blurred the lines between what is private and public and has given rise to music communities around amateur musicians. What once would have happened in the confines of a bedroom, or in the garage on a Sunday afternoon, is now likely to be recorded, perhaps edited and uploaded onto YouTube for a variety of reasons – to get feedback from other musicians, to take a chance on being discovered and catapulted to stardom, for self-expression or just to share ideas. The key concept that underpins the value that YouTube and web 2.0 in general provides to amateur musicians is that of community – without an audience, a fan-base, a community, we’d all just be singing into our hairbrushes at home.



Abdulrahman, W. I. (2014). A Study of YouTube, DIY Musicians and Entrepreneurship. Roskilde University. Retrieved from

Bickford, T. (2014). Justin Bieber, YouTube, and New Media Celebrity: The Tween Prodigy at Home and Online. In G. McPherson (Ed.), Musical Prodigies: Interpretations from Psychology, Musicology and Ethnomusicology (pp. 34): Oxford University Press.

Cayari, C. (2011). The YouTube effect: How YouTube has provided new ways to consume, create, and share music. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 12(6).

Chen, C.-P. (2013). Exploring Personal Branding on YouTube. Journal of Internet Commerce, 12(4), 332-347. doi: 10.1080/15332861.2013.859041

Cho, K. J. 24 People Do Not Like the Horse Dance: YouTube as Community? Retrieved from

Collard, M. (2012). Musicians utilising social media to increase brand awareness, further promote their brand and establish brand equity.University of Southern California. Retrieved from

Guiney, J. A., & Congcong, Z. (2012). Community building as institutional entrepreneurship: Exploring the emergence of popular music community. Entrepreneurial Executive, 17, 25-48. Retrieved from

Lange, P. G. (2007). Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 361-380. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00400.x

Muir, A. (2009). A New Stage for Music: YouTube and the Amateur Musician. (Master of Arts), Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from


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