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The Music Industry’s Hot New Job: Community Manager

As more talent flocks to Discord, the expectation is that hiring community managers will become a natural extension of an artist's team.

For years, an artist’s team had a static list of roles — with manager, label, publicist, lawyer, agent, publisher and business manager among the most important.

Now, in a decade that began (and remains) in the throes of COVID-19 quarantines and mask mandates, a new, increasingly vital position has emerged: the community manager. With fans still at home due to the pandemic and the live industry still wrestling with safety protocols, online communities — once a supplemental outlet to connect with like-minded people — have become part of many people’s social lives.

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Community managers are not new themselves. Subreddits, Facebook groups and other chat rooms have used them for years. But they are suddenly in high demand as acts such as Wiz Khalifa, Disclosure, Zedd and Kenny Beats, as well as labels and other music-related businesses, realize the importance of connecting with superfans and their niche audiences in semiprivate forums.

The current app to make these connections is Discord. Founded in 2015 and initially popularized by gamers and Web3 enthusiasts, the platform has become increasingly influential in the music industry. Set up similarly to the business-focused chat tool Slack, a user must receive an invite link to join a Discord server, giving the app more of a gated, intimate feel than traditional social media. Users can toggle among multiple channels of conversation, each centered on a different topic, and listen to voice-only symposiums (similar to the Clubhouse app).

The role of the community manager, some of whom gained experience moderating on Reddit, is “somewhere between customer service and social media management,” says community manager Kat Rodgers of music and tech publication Water + Music. “It involves growing the community, making sure everyone’s engaged and moderating and guiding conversations.”

To set up a Discord server, the community manager will establish rules for the group (no slurs or inappropriate memes, for example), program bots to automate certain procedures, create topic-centered channels, moderate discussions and organize town hall meetings. (Community managers also operate on the livestreaming social platform Twitch.)

Though a community manager’s responsibilities can be similar to those of a social media manager, there are pronounced differences. “We don’t look at audience analytics in the way [a social media manager] would with Twitter or Instagram,” says Ryan Abary, who is the community manager/social media manager for Sturdy.Exchange, a non-fungible token marketplace that established its Discord server when the company launched.

Unlike other social sites, Discord is not based on millions of fans following a leader. It has a more “egalitarian feel,” says Rodgers. “There are no metrics on individuals from Discord, no data collection [and] little public information on members. Everyone’s on the same kind of footing,” she explains, adding: “No one can become ‘Discord famous’ in the way people do on Twitter or Instagram. It’s more about the popularity of the community.”

It is one of the reasons crypto proponents have adopted Discord as a digital meeting place for decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and other Web3-centric groups. For music-business adopters, it is often lauded for its practicality as a digital fan club.

“Discord is where the inside jokes, the memes, the culture and the fandom’s identity come from,” says Trevor Kaminski, founder of marketing agency TOYBOX Projects and community manager for artist-producer Johan Lenox. Lenox hosts guests and listening parties using Discord’s social audio feature and has a channel for fans to ask him questions.

The lack of available user metrics makes it nearly impossible to measure the impact of growing and maintaining a Discord audience, but artists and their teams that use it say they are convinced of its benefits. “Though it isn’t quantifiable, it’s another layer of what I call the ‘snowball effect,'” says Will Dzombak, manager for Khalifa. “All of it goes into creating a superstar and keeping a superstar.”

Beats — who has amassed over 118,000 Discord members and more than 295,000 on Twitch — now has a team that roughly consists of 15 moderators and managers, including about six paid personnel. This includes his lead community manager, Aris Messerer-Chatman, who works for the producer full time. “It seems everyone’s trying to curate a community of their own, but it’s very important to have someone who knows how to manage [a group] so the artist can focus on the creative,” Messerer-Chatman says, adding that artists usually get out of Discord what they put into it. Beats, for example, is “constantly involved” with his Twitch and Discord accounts, giving fans feedback on their original songs, teaching music production skills and more.

“What makes us successful is that Kenny and his manager know how to delegate and have a team big enough to moderate at all times,” says Messerer-Chatman. Disclosure’s Discord and Twitch administrator, Jordan Butterworth, who works with a team of approximately 17 volunteers, agrees, adding that, if done properly, a Discord server can help an artist’s team gain a direct line to his or her “greatest die-hard fans” and retain fan loyalty over time.

Despite the crucial role they can play for an artist or brand, many community managers are unpaid volunteers. Those who are paid are often freelancers who receive a monthly retainer or an hourly wage.

As more talent flocks to Discord, the expectation is that hiring community managers will become a natural extension of an artist’s team. “As artists on these platforms grow, they will start to need a more formalized role for this,” says Kaminski.

For those who suspect that community management is another Web3 fad, Duncan Byrne, marketing director at Involved Group and its popular trance label Anjunabeats, says that the online community has been a core part of the company’s growth strategy since the early 2000s. After discovering that Anjunabeats fans were congregating in chat rooms and on Reddit, Byrne and his colleagues began participating in these fan-established groups as unofficial community managers. “Our ethos has always been helping fans make lasting connections and friends for life,” he says.

About two years ago, says Byrne, much of the community made the pilgrimage to Discord, and the Anjunabeats team followed. “After years of doing this, fans trust us a lot more,” he says, and they stick around longer. Some fans are now in their “40s and 50s” and are as active in fan meet-ups and online communities as they were a decade ago. “Community management is a really crucial part of how we’ve sustained momentum and continued to grow the company.”

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2022, issue of Billboard.