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Online music distribution and the unpredictability of software logistics
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of culture and media studies.
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This compilation dissertation examines the role of software in online music distribution and critically scrutinizes the increased influence of digital technologies in everyday life. In particular, it explores how software coordinates and arranges things, people, and information surrounding music and thereby exerts a logistical power that makes music calculable and governable online. The dissertation consists of four case-studies that problematize the role of software and algorithms in regulating how digital music moves. Article I highlights the role of algorithms in organizing, evaluating, and creating knowledge about artistry, article II uncovers the material, political, and technical networks that facilitate streamed music, article III scrutinizes editorial playlists and their role in packaging and containing digital sound, and article IV traces how software is designed to identify and regulate how music moves and is monetized in the online domain. These case studies draw attention to issues concerning visibility, access, ownership, control, but also—as this dissertation especially aims to highlight—the elements of surprise, unpredictability, and unsettlement that are inherent to complex software technologies.

The research contributes to three subfields in media and communication studies: music-oriented media studies, materialist media studies, and software studies. It contributes to music-oriented media research by accounting for the role of digital technologies in organizing musical practices and thereby illustrates how algorithms and software must be taken seriously as agents that shape cultural practices surrounding music. Relatedly, the research contributes to materialist- and softwareoriented media research by continuing the tradition of paying close attention to the technical constitution of media technologies and reflecting on the power and politics of software logistics and its unpredictabilities. Methodologically, the research builds on—and advocates—a mixed-methods approach that combines the use of digital methods, media archeological tactics, and a technology-oriented ethnographic approach. In combining these methods, the dissertation illustrates the benefit of experimental and qualitative methods in the study of digital technologies and highlights the need to approach software as both an object of study and a strategic research tool.

Theoretically, the dissertation mainly draws upon materialist and German media theory (e.g., Kittler 1990; 1999; Ernst 2012; 2016), theorizations of logistical operations (e.g., Neilson 2012; Cowen 2014; Durham Peters 2013; Case 2013; Young 2014; 2015), and theories regarding technological accidents, ruptures and unpredictabilities (e.g., Frabetti 2010; Virilio 2007; Parikka and Sampson 2009; Fuller and Goffey 2012). In doing so, the dissertation highlights how the hidden and seemingly ‘grey’ and mundane task of regulating the movement of online music online is, in fact, a deeply cultural and subject to ongoing power struggles. Ultimately, the dissertation illustrates the continued relevance of media research that critically engages with software, adopts digital and experimental methods in the study of digital technologies, acknowledges the logistical power of software, and accounts for the unpredictable events that software technologies sometimes trigger.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 2019. , p. 108
Keywords [en]
music distribution, logistics, software studies, unpredictability, digital methods
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
media and communication studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-164737ISBN: 978-91-7855-139-2 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-164737DiVA, id: diva2:1366593
Public defence
2019-11-22, Hörsal G, Humanisthuset, Umeå, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
Swedish Research Council, D0113901Available from: 2019-11-01 Created: 2019-10-30 Last updated: 2019-10-30Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Close Reading Big Data: The Echo Nest and the Production of (Rotten) Music Metadata
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Close Reading Big Data: The Echo Nest and the Production of (Rotten) Music Metadata
2016 (English)In: First Monday, ISSN 1396-0466, E-ISSN 1396-0466, Vol. 21, no 7Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Digital music distribution is increasingly powered by automated mechanisms that continuously capture, sort and analyze large amounts of Web-based data. This paper traces the historical development of music metadata management and its ties to the growing of the field of ‘big data’ knowledge production. In particular, it explores the data catching mechanisms enabled by the Spotify-owned company The Echo Nest, and provides a close reading of parts of the company’s collection and analysis of data regarding musicians. Doing so, it reveals evidence of the ways in which trivial, random, and unintentional data enters into the data steams that power today’s digital music distribution. The presence of such curious data needs to be understood as a central part of contemporary algorithmic knowledge production, and calls for a need to re-conceptualize both (digital) musical artifacts and (digital) musical expertize.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago Library, 2016
Keywords
Metadata, Big data, Algorithms, Knowledge production, Music
National Category
Music Other Computer and Information Science Other Humanities not elsewhere specified
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-148443 (URN)10.5210/fm.v21i7.6303 (DOI)2-s2.0-84982899633 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2018-06-05 Created: 2018-06-05 Last updated: 2019-10-30Bibliographically approved
2. Unpacking Online Streams
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Unpacking Online Streams
2018 (English)In: APRJA, ISSN 2245-7755, Vol. 7, no 1Article in journal (Refereed) Published
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
media and communication studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-151237 (URN)
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2013-1139
Available from: 2018-08-30 Created: 2018-08-30 Last updated: 2019-10-30Bibliographically approved
3. The Editorial Playlist as Container Technology: Notes on the Logistical Role of Digital Music Packages
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Editorial Playlist as Container Technology: Notes on the Logistical Role of Digital Music Packages
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
media and communication studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-164735 (URN)
Available from: 2019-10-30 Created: 2019-10-30 Last updated: 2019-10-30
4. In Pursuit of Musical Identifications: YouTube Content ID and the Politics of Audio Fingerprint Technologies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>In Pursuit of Musical Identifications: YouTube Content ID and the Politics of Audio Fingerprint Technologies
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
media and communication studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-164736 (URN)
Available from: 2019-10-30 Created: 2019-10-30 Last updated: 2019-10-30

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