Leeds Beckett University
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An ethnographic study of the online synthwave community, a community of practice – by a composer and performer

Version 2 2023-12-20, 14:26
Version 1 2023-12-19, 09:32
posted on 2023-12-20, 14:26 authored by Jessica WardJessica Ward
Online music communities are a vital method of genre formation in the 21st century. In a Web 2.0 (or 3.0) virtual space which transcends geographical boundaries, a multitude of artists, audiences, musicians, producers and performers come together to negotiate subcultural capital in a collective capacity. With new subcultural styles, rituals, practices, and cultural disseminations, how can we assess the activities of an online community and their role in the formation of a genre? This 5-year and 6-month (2017-2023) ethnographic study examined the ecosystem of the online synthwave community, a 21st century style of music which both privileges and reimagines 1980s musical and cultural aesthetics. It includes autoethnographic work, with music composition, production and performance being key tenets of the author’s positionality. Paired with an emic viewpoint, this thesis makes visible tacit knowledge of the synthwave creative process, as well as providing rich and experiential subcultural detail about the online community. The research concluded that the synthwave community is an active community of practice with a defined set of musical, stylistic, technological and subcultural rules. By examining the tensions observable within the outputs, interactions, and discourses of this community of practice, as well as through the author’s participation as a creator, the research addresses how online music communities (including creators and audiences) construct and negotiate parameters of an emergent musical style. The research is (to date) the first ethnographic account of the online synthwave community and provides a first-hand telling of its ecosystem as a community of practice. Ultimately, this research traces the genre formation of an ‘internet-based creative practice’ (Born, 2018, p.606) known as synthwave. Key implications of the research findings implore the potential for making connections between communities of practice and genre formation in other areas of popular music, particularly of genres which exist primarily (or were formed initially) online.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Martin, Tenley ; Miller, Sue

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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