‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Actually, scratch that. Because on Christmas eve in 2013, there was at least one creature stirring, and that creature created a subreddit called Indie Heads — a place for people to talk about inide music on Reddit.
Indie Heads is one of the largest music subreddits on the site with over 2 millions members. The moderators who run this page are governing a massive community of music fans dedicated to a genre that has become more and more difficult to define as self-publishing music becomes more prolific. But with tentacles that have stretched to other social media platforms, AMAs, and community projects, r/indieheads is so much more than just a forum to chat about the musicians who spawn from independently produced records.
When Kyle Lushell, now 31, joined the subreddit in 2014, there were a few thousand members. Now, there are more than 2 million members and a podcast to boot. Matty Monroe, now 25, works on the podcast. He joined a couple of months after that fateful winter night and began working on a few projects just for fun: For Your Consideration, a series in which users write reviews and built up discussions about albums that weren’t on the essentials list; and the Album of the Year series, in which every day during the month of December a different user writes an album review from a record that was released that year.
“From there, I just got the attention of the mod team and they brought me on,” Monroe told Mashable. “Pretty soon after that, [a moderator] had to leave the AMA stuff behind, so I ended up taking that over for him. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
Moderating on r/indieheads is pretty similar to other pages and groups. The moderators have to delete posts that go against their guidelines, but they also get to work on cool projects that may be seen by millions of indie music fans. There are studies that show moderating pages can have an extremely adverse effect on people’s mental health, because they have to to trudge through the worst content. But, mostly, their experiences moderating have been pretty fun, and the lack of too much content moderation for rule breaking has allowed them to focus on growing the community.
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Many of the unpaid mods of the subreddit r/indieheads got involved almost incidentally — they were involved with the community organically, and then another mod reached out and asked if they’d like to be a part of the group in a more structural way. Take Rosemarie Smith, a 23-year-old who started getting involved in the Reddit page by writing a blurb or two for the Album of the Year series because “it’s something that I had always enjoyed as a writer.” Eventually, she took over some of the curation work along with coordinating another community project in which users rate albums in a pseudo-bracket fashion.
“And that eventually got me onto the mod team in October of 2020,” Smith told Mashable.
In the formative days of the subreddit, the biggest struggle was convincing artists to get involved. It’s difficult to call up Lucy Dacus for an AMA and say, “Hey, 28 of my closest friends want to ask you a few questions for our online forum, you down?” AMAs on r/indieheads are, of course, when the group brings on an artist and allows anyone in the forum to ask the artist any of their most burning questions.
Lushell eventually set up the Reddit page’s first AMA seven years ago. It was a bit of a mess.
“It was with Riley Walker. I approached him after a show and asked for it and it was hilarious because neither of us knew how to do it,” Lushell said. “We announced it way too early, so people had forgotten about it when it started. And Riley Walker answered questions for over a week. He just kept coming back and answering questions and stuff. That’s probably my favorite thing that I’ve helped set up because… that first one was a total mess. We had no idea what was going on.”
But, as the group grew, things got easier. The team got it down “to a science,” Lushell said. And they no longer had to ask artists to join in on AMAs after shows. Instead, artists and labels started reaching out to the mod team of r/indieheads about how they could get the community of now millions of indie music fans to discuss their music. It has become a sort of mandatory stop for any indie band on an album release press tour, and with some artists even announcing new releases on the forum.
You might think the AMAs are the most exciting part of working as an r/IndieHeads mod — think of hosting and working with artists like Girlpool, Illuminati Hotties, Lucy Dacus, Animal Collective, IDLES, and so many more. And, in the beginning, they certainly were. But once AMAs within the community really took off, the subreddit dug right back into the reason for their formation in the first place: A place for fans to connect with each other.
“The amount that artists love the subreddit and love reading it and seeing what people think either about their own music or just music in general,” Monroe said. “I think we’ve just fostered like a really great community for discussing music.”
Smith wrote for the Album of the Year series for years, and, now as the curator, said it’s gotten “a lot better” and, frankly, more creative.
“We have such a good stable of writers who regularly put things together [for the series],” Smith said. “They’re really eager to do this, because it’s just a good outlet for them. And we’ve seen all kinds of stuff that I think takes many different forms. People will do short fiction based off of the vibes of the record or they’ll just write about like the songs themselves. It’s always interesting to see what kind of forms people take with it.”
Monroe agrees. “There’s just such a wealth of talent on the subreddit, from a writer’s perspective. And just being able to help curate that and help bring these writers together — it’s just really special.”
And that’s what makes this space so great — it’s a community that fosters creativity, and doesn’t lend itself to shit talking. It’s just for fun, and everyone seems to be aware of that.
“We’ve done some really funny, insightful stuff over the years,” Monroe said. “We’ve just fostered a really beautiful community through r/IndieHeads that I’m really proud of.”