Listening and new technologies

Parallel session B3 (Chair Simon Brown)
24 Oct 2015
15:10 - 16:10
Parry Room 2

Listening and new technologies

Walking in the city with headphones on: music listening, digital technologies and big data

Craig Hamilton, Birmingham City University

Many of the ways in which popular music is consumed have altered considerably over the last 15-20 years, and largely as a result of digital technologies. Following a period of disruption around the turn of the century, typified by Peer-to-Peer services such as Napster, rights holders have since established new ‘loci of exchange’ (Burkhart 2013) in an attempt to re-exert control over a newly complex musical landscape. Two important consequences of this have been a shift in the political economy of recorded music, with technologists such as Apple and Google now occupying powerful positions, and the growing importance of ‘Big Data’ that is generated by and about listeners.

This paper will map the developments described above on to Michel De Certeau’s (1984) model of the practices of everyday life in the city. It will argue that the current popular music landscape increasingly resembles De Certeau’s city in that it produces its own space by repressing that which could compromise it, creates systems to suppress tactics of opportunities, and creates universal and anonymous subjects: ‘a finite number of stable, isolatable, and interconnected properties’.

Using examples gathered from The Harkive Project (, I will then attempt to identify what De Certeau refers to as ‘practices of space’ – the illusive movements of walkers in a city (for which we can read, music listeners) and will suggest, via Jonathan Sterne’s (2012) work on recording technologies, that the listener practices big data is not (yet!) able to account for – its flaws, in other words – are where the really interesting questions for music scholars may be found.

So, what music are you into? Valuing fan engagement in a recorded music attention economy

Mat Flynn, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

Herbert Simon proposed, ‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.’ (1971, p.40) Arguably, music users’ listening attention is now the scarcest commodity in the production and consumption of record music. Meaning the economic value of recorded music is increasingly dependent on the amount of listening attention ‘paid’ to it. As digital streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Deezer, develop business models that seek to increase subscriptions and audience engagement based upon their individual usage data, fan engagement becomes commoditised within an attention economy. A report by the world economic forum, ‘Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust’ (2012) states, ‘Even though it is a virtual good, data is no different. Data needs to move to create value. Data alone on a server is like money hidden under a mattress. Safe and secure, but largely stagnant and underutilised.’ The report suggests that one of the key economic resources of the 21st century is personal data. As streaming platforms increasingly move customer data to create value, fans’ listening habits will influence and be influenced by the protocols, functionality and business models of the platforms. At its extreme, what fans perceive as listening choice is very open to manipulation by the programme architecture that underpins the streaming service. This paper proposes to explore issues faced by fans such as privacy, permission and participation as their usage data is increasingly used to add value to the nascent streaming industry.

Simon, Herbert A. (1971). Designing Organisations for an Information Rich World. In Greenberger, Martin. Computers, Communication and the Public Interest. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins, World Economic Forum (2012) Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust. (Available online)