Formats Unpacked: Tim's Twitter Listening Party
How a format based around and album and a hashtag brought people together in a fascinating way during lockdown
Hugh here. Today’s format is the most social we’ve unpacked since launch. We’ve had formats designed to live in social spaces but this one could not exist without a community and their contribution.
Doing the unpacking this week is friend of Storythings Phil Adams. Phil’s expertise comes from a couple of places. He spent 14 years as Strategy Director in digital marketing agencies, and was also Co-founder and Co-Editor of A Longing Look, a collection of "love letters to lyrics" - which is a really lovely format. Over to Phil…
What's it called?
Tim’s Twitter Listening Party (Twitter format)
What’s the format?
Lots of people listen to a famous album at exactly the same time and share stories and opinions about it on Twitter using the #TimsTwitterListeningParty hashtag. The Twitter conversation is hosted by Tim Burgess, lead singer of The Charlatans, and it is guided and informed by someone who was involved in the making of the album.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
The description of this format is deceptively prosaic. It’s easy to focus on the mechanics and the technology. But that would be to miss the point entirely.
Tim’s Twitter Listening Party is a spiritual experience. It is an act of communion.
That’s the short story. There is a lot going on with this format.
First and foremost, it is an idea of its time. Tim’s Twitter Listening Party was a response to the Covid-19 lockdown and the curtailing of social activities. It is a public service that slakes a desperate thirst for community and connection and optimism. It provides an outlet for important emotions and guilty pleasures that were beginning to feel like trivial luxuries in the context of the virus - nostalgia, hero-worship, and obsessive nerdiness to name a few.
As befits a public service it is entirely uncommercial. It is a gift, a product of the guileless generosity of its host. Tim Burgess uses his influence and his connections to bring fans together with their idols, with no agenda other than to make people happy in dark times. And people have responded in kind. I doubt this format would have achieved anything like the level of traction it has enjoyed, had it been a piece of branded content.
The format makes a virtue of being virtual. The idea is not a poor imitation or reinvention of something that works better as a physical experience. This didn’t and probably couldn’t happen offline. What’s more, the format avoids the pitfalls of online socialising with which we are now all too familiar. People quickly cottoned on to the fact that video calls are ok for meetings where one person speaks at a time, but they are a really bad substitute for social occasions where everyone wants to speak at once. This is not a problem on Twitter.
The format is beautifully constrained. A single album, at a precise time, on a unifying hashtag. The virtual socialising formats that have worked best during lockdown - family quizzes and such like - are the ones that impose easily understood constraints on subject matter and etiquette.
It is never a chore for the celebrity tweeters. They evidently, palpably enjoy the nostalgic storytelling as much as the fans. There is gig-like resonance, whereby the artists feed off the energy on the hashtag, and feed back into it in return.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that these parties have quickly achieved appointment status. Not quite on the scale of appointment to view television like the X Factor final, maybe, but there are similar levels of excitement for all involved.
This format is reliably unpredictable, but predictably brilliant.
Madness, One Step Beyond. Not the best episode from a technical point of view. Chris “Chrissy Boy” Foreman kept forgetting to use the hashtag. And not the most revelatory back stories either. But 10/10 for the communal nostalgia trip. A Tardis ride back to the stampede of thirteen-year-olds filling the school disco dance floor when Night Boat to Cairo came on. A format created in lockdown providing a perfect moment of release.
The listening parties sometimes remind me of the TV series, An Audience With… where a celebrity guest both performs on stage and interacts with a live audience, the fourth wall demolished.
When I pitched this format to Hugh, he mentioned both Pitchblack Playback (an audience gathers to listen to music together in the dark), and Zane Lowe’s Masterpieces (classic album reviews). Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties are a hybrid of both formats, overlaid with social media interactivity
Thanks for the unpacking Phil.
I love this format and I’m partial to communal listening, whether it is on Twitter, in the dark, or at a gig - remember them! I loved what Phil said about this being a public service, ‘a gift, a product of the guileless generosity of its host’.
That is exactly how it feels when you are deep into side one. You feel you’re being gifted a moment of connection that is unique to the platform, the format, and the moment. Hats off to the lovely Tim Burgess for the hard work he puts into these and thanks to Phil for a wonderful bit of unpacking.
More format chat next week.
Formats unpacked is a weekly newsletter from Storythings in which an industry experts unpack one of their favourite formats. If you’ve enjoyed it subscribe, like, or share. Or just say hello.