Article: Music Streaming Services and Emerging Forms of Cultural Capital
Working Paper. Currently under review.
Music streaming services, such as Spotify, have the potential to transform how class inequalities are reproduced through music taste and consumption. These platforms facilitate anytime, anywhere access to vast catalogues of licensed music at little or no cost, making it possible for people from across class backgrounds to affordably access music spanning hierarchies of highbrow and lowbrow. Not only this, music streaming services are personalising the experience of consuming music. By drawing on music recommendation technologies that extract and predict similarities in music taste, these platforms have the potential to reinforce class divisions in music taste at an unprecedented rate and scale.
Yet, little is empirically known about if and how music streaming services are shaping the part that music taste and consumption play in the reproduction of class. Drawing on over 40 interviews with a combination of music streaming key informants and everyday users, this article demonstrates that music streaming services are creating opportunities for the young and well-educated to achieve class distinction. First, it highlights how technical command over these platforms and the practice of playlist curation represent opportunities to mobilise technical and music expertise in the pursuit of distinction. Second, it demonstrates that consuming music in physical formats, such as vinyl LPs, is a way for others to achieve distinction by opposing music streaming services’ attempts to personalise the experience of consuming music. In doing so, this article contributes to debates about the changing nature of the cultural assets underpinning class privilege in the platform age.
It is widely recognised that cultural omnivorousness – a pluralistic engagement with cultural goods – characterises contemporary middle-class musical tastes. However, the omnivore debate overlooks the potential for music streaming services, such as Spotify, to disrupt the social dynamics of music consumption. Not only do these platforms facilitate access to vast catalogues of music, they curate it. Combining immense troves of data about listening habits, the latest music recommendation technologies, and the judgements of music experts, music streaming services make determinations about music’s relevance on an increasingly individualised basis. Drawing on mixed qualitative methods, this article explores how music streaming services are shaping the performance of omnivorousness. It argues that for members of the middle classes for whom musical expertise is an important part of their claims to distinction, the rate and scale at which music is curated by these services is closing down opportunities to achieve distinction.
Article: The Dynamics of Competition in the Music Streaming Marketplace
With Brian J. Hracs
Working Paper. Currently under review.
Music streaming has become the dominant mode of music distribution and consumption. Yet, with ongoing technological developments and intensifying global competition the marketplace is evolving quickly and there is a continual need for research which explores the ways in which firms, such as Spotify, Apple and Deezer, attract and retain the attention and patronage of consumers. Drawing on sixty in-depth interviews with music-industry informants and streaming users, this paper examines the value-creation strategies of rival platforms. Beyond merely providing on-demand access to similar catalogues of music for similar prices, it demonstrates how firms manipulate specific spatial and temporal dynamics and leverage different forms of ‘exclusivity,’ related to content, curation and experiences, to generate distinction, value and loyalty. In so doing, the paper nuances our understanding of branding, intermediation, the music marketplace and the platform economy more broadly.
Blog Post: User Research Meets PhD Research
Parliamentary Digital Service Blog
As the rate and scale of Web-related digital data accumulation continue to outstrip all expectations so too we come to depend increasingly on a variety of technical tools to interrogate these data and to render them as an intelligible source of information. In response, on the one hand, a great deal of attention has been paid to the design of efficient and reliable mechanisms for big data analytics whilst, on the other hand, concerns are expressed about the rise of ‘algorithmic society’ whereby important decisions are made by intermediary computational agents of which the majority of the population has little knowledge, understanding or control. This paper aims to bridge these two debates working through the case of music recommender systems. Whilst not conventionally regarded as ‘big data,’ the enormous volume, variety and velocity of digital music available on the Web has seen the growth of recommender systems, which are increasingly embedded in our everyday music consumption through their attempts to help us identify the music we might want to consume. Combining Bourdieu’s concept of cultural intermediaries with Actor-Network Theory’s insistence on the relational ontology of human and non- human actors, we draw on empirical evidence from the computational and social science literature on recommender systems to argue that music recommender systems should be approached as a new form of sociotechnical cultural intermediary. In doing so, we aim to define a broader agenda for better understanding the underexplored social role of the computational tools designed to manage big data.