I had absolutely no idea what I was walking into when my fellow Nap Girl, a Denver-based producer who goes by the name of ill-esha, invited me into the electronic music production Discord channel she co-moderates with two fellow producers who live across the world, an Irish 15-year-old (@B4shful) and a Dutch 23-year-old (@blvcklight). That group is now the official companion EDM production subreddit and has grown to over 1500 members to date; at any given moment at least a couple hundred are online. Most users are looking for real-time feedback on WIPs (works in progress), some are just bored and want to talk about music or whatever else – there’s a tab for off-topic convos where it mostly seems like everyone’s just trying to make each other laugh. The description on their website reads, “Our Admin, Mod, and Helper make up a diverse array of skills from Modular Synth building to Vinyl Sampling to Classical Training, and we’re all in different time zones! We have also given out love life advice, dinner recipes, talked openly about the human condition – from depression to writer’s block – and just plain laughed for hours. So come in and hang out with us!”
Therein that description lies the magic of this particular community – its authenticity. A positive tone is set by the moderators and enforced by the community, except there doesn’t need to be much enforcement to keep the vibes up. Only yesterday, when OWSLA launched its own Discord channel with a NEST HQ sub-channel, did I finally begin to truly understand why this platform is so powerful. Ten and even twenty years ago it was actually easier to feel like you were part of a true Internet community for people with shared interests – forums were the predominant medium for these communities, Diplo became a superstar of the now-legendary East Coast message forum Hollerboard back in the day. At the time, it was revolutionary but in 2017 we live in a time of instant digital gratification and the lack of real-time interactivity in these special interest communities has been completely alleviated by the rise of Discord. Sub-channels, mass voice chat, and the ability to regulate how quickly messages move through a large conversation have made the user experience of participating in peer-to-peer learning online incredibly easy and fun.
The launch of OWSLA’s own Discord channel, which has a NEST HQ sub-channel if you want to check it out, was an initiative pushed forth by the label’s European division leader Tom Riley. He’s been keeping an eye on the OWSLA and Skrillex subreddit activity and realized what an invaluable asset having our own channel would be to the community. At this very moment I’m popping into the NEST HQ sub-channel and laughing out loud at a comment sent by @Grill-Cookmybeef to @kreafi which says, “Your remix made me forget my chicken was heating, worth it.” Real human connection is happening in real time and it makes me wonder if this could become a powerful player in the game of how music is shared. In this oversaturated musical environment, key trusted blogs and word of mouth are the only verified means of curation. The user experience of the OWSLA and EDM Prod Discord channels feels like a combination of the two. The real-time element of Discord is so humanizing and as a new user I feel honored to be able to connect with humans, both creators and fans, who seem to have all different kinds of taste in music.
We jumped at the opportunity to speak with the three moderators of the EDM Prod channel who gave us all the pro-tips about how to utilize and manage this kind of community, plus some pretty deep insight on how to keep it a sacred and productive place. Read the interview in full and take a cruise through the playlist directly below curated by moderator @Ill-esha, which features some of her favorite finished productions their group members have put out. And come see us in the NEST HQ sub-channel, we’re all NESTies here!
NHQ: How do you explain this community?
@Ill-esha: I would say this is a completely open playing field 24/7 for anyone who’s interested in music production, learning about it, and building friendships across the world.
@B4shful: Imagine that little internet space that people set up just to talk about music, those threads are often devoid of users. There will be like one or two replies, but here whatever you have to ask there’s bound to be someone, just by the sheer number of users, who can relate to you and possibly help you out.
@Ill-esha: As @B4shful said, at any given time there are hundreds of people online eager to interact in so many different ways and with so many different skills levels that it’s very egalitarian. You never know who you’re going to find or how many years of experience they’ll have, some people may have started producing yesterday and some have been at it for years but everybody’s on the same level talking to each other.
@Blvcklight: It’s a space on the Internet where producers of all sorts come together and just produce together, discuss, learn, grow, and progress together. It’s quite amazing to see, I haven’t ever seen anything like this before cause most places I went, as @B4shful mentioned earlier, most places are quite devoid of other people. It’s a great place, everyone is welcome and all kind of different people, all different ages and ethnicities. Whoever you are it doesn’t matter because on the Internet you can have a persona.
NHQ: How did it start?
@Ill-esha: It’s been in its incarnation since becoming an official companion to the EDM production subreddit, which is quite large. It’s got over 80,000 members and Discord itself is a platform that came up through the gaming community from a team of small developers that kind of exploded into a much more huge thing than they could’ve ever imagined, I do believe there’s something like over 25 million users worldwide. And as the user-base has grown of course the subject matter has also grown. These subreddits can get static so everyone’s looking for a counterpart that’s a little more real time, and I think as we get more and more into social media and having our “me pages,” this kind of collaboration and exchange we have going has been lacking. This group came off Reddit but has developed a life of its own as people realized they can come in any time and get answers right now, maybe even make a new friend or start a track with them.
@B4shful: One of the biggest reasons why I ended up here is because when you’d go on Reddit and ask about a kick sound or something, you’d have to make a thread and wait for people to reply. It’s a slow way of doing things – you want to be able to fire something off, Discord has file uploading available and all sorts of ways to integrate media into the conversation, and ask, “How does this sound? How does this look?” And you can get instant feedback from hundreds, thousands of people potentially.
@Ill-esha: I feel like these days the music industry has become a constant, insane race for the best promo, social presence, or manager. If I wanted to collab with another artist half the time I’m not even talking to them directly, I’m talking to their manager and trying to see if I fit into their plan. I know I’m not the only person who kind of misses the days of spontaneous collaboration and interaction, a chance to musically connect with someone you might not have come across through normal channels – there’s a real beauty to that.
@Blvcklight: I definitely agree, one of the reasons I initially came into this Discord about half a year ago it was because of how spontaneous the user base was. Everyone was so free and open and instead of the professional barrier between people, you can approach them directly. It feels like it’s on a personal level, I think it’s wonderful and I’ve learned so many things since I’ve joined here. As you can see, I enjoyed it so much I ended up being an admin.
@B4shful: I’ve been crunching these numbers while we’re talking and right now, roughly 147 users online on the EDM production subreddit. That’s probably not exactly accurate, but right now there are over 400 users online in this Discord right now. And in the past day, in terms of people online, 1,247 people have been on. That’s a lot of exposure, that’s potentially 1,247 opinions you can get on something and it’s an entire spectrum of people.
NHQ: Is it a more-the-merrier situation or do you foresee a time that the community will get too large?
@B4shful: Over the past few weeks, maybe even months, one of the things we’ve been trying to focus on is encouraging growth. Having 400 users online doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is paying attention and will respond. We have the ability to manage a great deal of users, we also have the potential to add new rooms to allow more than a few conversations to go on at once if need be. And it’s really just a question of how many people we can have in here and effectively quote-unquote look after them. We have the job of making sure everyone here feels welcome, and we really haven’t had a problem with that for the most part.
@Ill-esha: I definitely think it’s the more the merrier because I think that Discord itself as an app is starting to add more features to help with their exponential growth which helps us. For instance, as @B4shful said, not everyone is always talking at once – some people do use it more like a message board, coming in and out. And a lot people are producing all day then they take breaks and come to interact in different sectors. Discord is adding new features like sub-channels that will allow to further filter down the conversational thread, the search function is improving so if you haven’t been online in awhile and you want to catch up or look up something it’s much easier to go through. And we’re also working on a website companion archiving the best of the best of these conversations. Whether you want to talk a lot or just pop in and out there’s room for everybody to find their own little spot and make their own friends amidst the larger community.
NHQ: Can each of you described the moment or a moment when you realized this community was really special?
@Ill-esha: One of my first times in here I was getting to know the features and just talking to kids, there was a child 11 years old talking, there was a guy in his 40’s talking, we were all engaged in the same conversation. After that we went into voice chat and started an acapella group where we were each singing harmonies and getting silly, and it just kind of showed me the power of having a place that’s both serious and mellow where you can feel accepted for yourself and where there’s no age, gender, or racial walls that anyone puts up. This is a place where everyone can laugh together and everyone can ask questions.
@B4shful: A few weeks ago it was my birthday and I decided I’d do a post to see if anyone wanted to play a silly online game with me. Within like a few minutes, we already had a massively full voice-channel of people playing. We come here and end up making friends, more than just acquaintances or people you just make music with, they become friends you really get to know. There were probably 20 or 30 people in the voice-channel, some of them were playing music and brought their synthesizers and started playing a random jam. Everyone can just get together like that at any point if they want to.
@Blvcklight: Yea, this place is something else. When I first joined I knew no one on that server. My friends in real life don’t have any interest in making music, but on Discord there are so many people who are in that same kind of position and it doesn’t just stop there. Discord users give each other emotional support as well and when I realized that I knew that this place was something pretty cool. When I was asked to be on the staff team it was amazing.
NHQ: What tips do you have for new users of the EDM Production Discord group?
@Ill-esha: I would say approach it with a totally open mind and ready to learn and teach as well because the amazing thing about this is everyone gives support, everyone has a unique opinion, and no matter what your skill level is, even if you’re a beginner, don’t be intimidated. There’s plenty of people who are excited to help you because by helping others we really grow ourselves as artists and people, you gain something from every positive interaction you have with someone else.
@B4shful: In terms of being completely new to even the idea of producing music on a computer, the greatest thing about that is new producers, when they don’t know anything about music theory or the programs we use, you tend to see that they come up with more interesting ideas than those who are trained. Techniques that may feel weird to someone new may be very cool for someone trained in music theory to learn about. I’m not saying that’s always the case, but in general new people bring fresh ideas we hadn’t thought of. We encourage you to always share, even if you think it’s stupid or if you have an idea and just don’t know how to go about executing it. Sharing just even in an off-topic chat can spark a lot of great ideas for anyone including themselves.
@Blvcklight: What I can advise is stay true to yourself and keep working on whatever you’re working on, keep at it. The more you do it, the more you learn, and stay open. The more you learn the more you find new ways to improve yourself.
@B4shful: It’s easy to do that in Discord.
NHQ: @Ill-esha, we heard the group fondly refers to you as their mom, is that correct?
@Ill-esha: (laughs) I’ve basically been working on balancing it out by bringing in more experienced producers and mixing it up with my own generation, which is way ahead of some of these kids so in Rave Years, yea – I’m the Mom now. I’m a beginner in this new era, but these two guys have been around for a long time. @B4shful is actually the original mad scientist, he did a lot of work on the server before I got there and continues to do so. He loves looking at code and building modular synths and generally doing all these interactive parts of development that require a lot of knowledge. We’re a really great team I think.
@B4shful: I’ve been here for a very long time, it’s a complicated history, but that’s the way things go in online communities when they’re in the hands of the users. I feel the team now is the strongest it’s ever been, we’re all responsible people in terms of getting things done. Even if we disagree on something we know that’s just a part of the process of asking questions and discussing things – that’s collaborating. It’s a civil environment to be in.
@Ill-esha: Very democratic across the board. We have opinions from people of all ages in all countries, we’re like a United Nations of producers.
@B4shful: The other thing is most of the time when users come with a reasonable request about updating the server we do our best to oblige. There are lots of small suggestions that make the user experience better, and a lot of times we don’t think of these ideas – the users do.