PhD Research


Title: How is our understanding of music taste, consumption and class identity being shaped by the 'curated' experiences of using music streaming services?

Abstract

Music streaming services, such as Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer, have transformed the way many of us access and consume music. For the equivalent price of a single CD, consumers can now access libraries of over 30 million songs. 

These companies are not only concerned with facilitating access to licensed music, but are also seeking to "curate" the experience of consuming music. These companies have invested heavily in their "curatorial" expertise, hiring experts from radio and the music press, whilst also investing in the latest advancement in music recommendation technologies.

My research is interested in the question of how our understanding of the relationship between music taste, consumption and class identity is being shaped by the "curated" experiences of using music streaming services. The sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, developed an influential theory of taste, which proposed that taste is a performance of our class identity. He argued that our tastes and consumption practices are a product of our classed upbringings and the ideas and opportunities that this classed upbringing has exposed us to.

Pierre Bourdieu also introduced the concept of 'cultural intermediaries' to refer to occupations, such music critics, radio DJs, or advertisers, involved in shaping how hierarchies of taste (i.e. what counts as good taste) are constructed and made durable in society. My research builds on the work of Bourdieu to think about how music streaming services are incidentally performing as a kind of cultural intermediary, impacting on the relationship between music taste, consumption and class identity.


Data Collection

Phase 1

The first phase of my research consisted of interview with music industry key informants, including individuals working at music streaming companies, major record labels, distributors, and industry bodies. The purpose of this fieldwork was to learn more about what streaming companies are doing to curate our consumption experiences, why they are doing these things, how they achieving this. This researched helped me to build an account of the commercial context in which music streaming companies operate, and how this underpins the curation these services perform. The insights generated from this phase of research helped to inform the design of phase 2.


Phase 2

The second phase of my research consisted of interviews with music streamers from with different class backgrounds. The purpose of these interviews was to invite people to reflect on how they use music streaming and consider if and how this usage has impacted on how they consume music. Engaging with streamers from different class backgrounds allowed me to pay attention to some of 'classed' practices associated with the use of music streaming and how streaming services are enrolled in the performance of class identities.