Reflecting on the digit(al)isation of music
First Monday

Reflecting on the digit(al)isation of music


AbstractThis paper is a collection of notes written in response to the main themes contained in Martin Kretschmer’s essay "Artists’ earnings and copyright: A review of British and German music industry data in the context of digital technologies" (2005), which was published recently in First Monday. These notes are intended to focus briefly on the exploration of these themes with the intention of generating and developing questions that may open doors for future study. The objective of this piece is not the review of Kretschmer’s essay; rather it is an attempt to probe, to examine, and to question its findings and guiding themes. These notes, therefore, are left as a set of open suggestions rather than defining statements. It is hoped that this fits with the emergent and yet to be embedded field of study to which they relate.

Contents

Introduction
The study of the digit(al)isation of music
Krestchmer’s article: An overview
History/context
Unrealised potential
Noise
The Impact of digital technologies
Empiricism
Blurring
Artistic motivations
Hero or villain?
Conclusion

 


 

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Introduction

The Internet, and digital technologies in general, are creating numerous questions about music and music ownership. These socio–technological transformations have created, and continue to create, new opportunities for research projects. This piece is a set of open reflections based upon one of these emerging pieces of research, namely Martin Kretschmer’s "Artists’ earnings and copyright: A review of British and German music industry data in the context of digital technologies" (2005). These reflections are intended to continue, and hopefully to begin to develop, some of the themes generated by Kretschmer’s research article. It is hoped that the following reflective notes will be useful in opening up further questions about the relationship between music and digital technologies.

 

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The study of the digit(al)isation of music

The relationship between music and digital technologies is a rapidly emerging field of academic study. A number of studies are now emerging which take this either as a central issue [1] or as a secondary issue [2]. The number of books and articles on this topic is still relatively small but since the turn of the millennium the number of texts dealing with the issue has accelerated. If we look at First Monday, the journal in which Kretschmer’s essay was published, as an example we find that both the December 2004 (McGee and Skågeby, 2004) and the January 2005 (Kretschmer, 2005) issues contain articles on the digit(al)isation of music. These are not alone. It is my expectation that over the coming years the number of texts on music and digital technologies will expand greatly. It is my position that as this field develops and proliferates it is important that some form of critical interaction occur between the protagonists. It is with this in mind that I have assembled the following reflections on Kretschmer’s essay. It is hoped that this will play a part in developing the emerging conversations about the relationship between music and digital technologies. The detailed examination and categorisation of the positions being taken and developed would require the luxury of a much longer piece. The field of study may also require further time for development in order for a more complete typology to be constructed. This essay is intended to be a beginning in the construction of future typologies by offering the analysis of one of the key positions amongst the emerging body of literature. I will begin by describing the structure and central arguments of Krestschmer’s essay.

 

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Krestchmer’s article: An overview

The notes contained in this brief response to Kretschmer’s essay are intended to represent and question his position, arguments, and research findings. I will begin by offering a very brief overview of the essay under examination before exploring the specific threads that can be drawn from the article.

Kretschmer’s essay is broken into four sections — excluding the detailed appendices that contain tabulated research results. The first section is concerned with setting the scene for the article. It also offers a brief and useful overview of the history of digital music technology.

In the second part of the essay Krestchmer develops his research methodology, in which he defines the key terms and lays out the three research techniques used in his study. These three techniques are intended to combine to construct a more complete picture of the "impact of digital technologies" [3]. Interestingly Kretschmer combines "desk research" and "in–depth interviews" with "visits to industry events" [4]. In the final paragraphs of the discussion of his research methodology Kretschmer is careful to detail the limitations of his approach. This then opens the door for the article’s central conclusion concerning the development of future research methodologies. In the final section of the essay Krestchmer uses this opportunity to offer a model for a more complete future study.

In the third part of the essay (which is separated into two sections) Kretschmer discusses the results of his research; he also makes a collection of interesting and conclusive statements — some of which are discussed below. A more detailed analysis of the individual points raised is a necessity for future studies.

In the final section of the essay Krestchmer offers a brief overview of his position and offers a suggested framework for future research. This is presented as a possible fourth strand of research to accompany the three he has already conducted. The missing strand is, of course, the quantitative questionnaire. Kretschmer includes a suggested questionnaire for possible use in future research. This brief conclusion is highly pragmatic and developmental, a useful point of departure for research and critique. Whether accepted or contested, this essay is a useful resource for the development of future studies and interactions. This type of work in progress is highly valuable, particularly when it forms part of an emerging field of study such as this.

Kretschmer’s central concern is with the examination of the dominant rhetoric of the digital revolution in terms of the transformation of music and musical culture. His focus is upon tracking the reality of the assumptions that have become entwined in the understanding of the effect that digital technologies have had upon music. In the essay Kretschmer takes the two most prominent amongst these assumptions and tests them through empirical research. As a result, engagement and disintermediation become the two central issues within the piece. In the concluding paragraphs, Kretschmer concludes his findings by suggesting that the breakdown between creator and user suggests a greater engagement with musical texts as a result of the increase in access facilitated by digit(al)isation. On the second issue of disintermediation, unsurprisingly, Kretschmer notes that the evidence is "contradictory" [5]. This, in my opinion, should not be understood to be a failing of Kretschmer’s research. Rather it should be embraced as a reflection of the increased complexity that digital technologies have created, particularly with regard to mediation. The development of notions of complexity [6] should now be the focus of future research in this field in order for the binary opposition between mediation and disintermediation to be overcome. Digital technologies, and specifically the Internet, have created a virtual space in which mediation is far more complex and concealed. As a result mediation must be treated with extreme care, and its presence and mutated form requires detailed analysis. Getting access to these details is now a problem that confronts the analyst.

I will now continue by reflecting upon some of the specific points raised in Kretschmer’s essay.

 

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History/context

The early sections of Kretschmer’s essay are concerned with the sketching out of a twofold history. The first is concerned with the history of copyright, the second with the history of digitisation. Both are succinct and useable points of reference that frame the essay successfully both temporally and culturally. The construction of a context on which to build the essay is particularly important in the absence of defining histories of these fields, particularly with the ongoing development of digital music technologies. Of course, the type of article within which Kretschmer is constructing this context means that limitations are placed upon its scope. Perhaps here possibilities remain for the construction of detailed and more inclusive histories to be mapped out. This is no criticism of Kretschmer’s work, the necessity of a framework on which to hang his empirical findings necessitate a whistle stop list of key events. It is now up to the music sociologist, or the sociologist of music [7], to construct collections of histories that incorporate the complexity of the development of these technologies. One such example of this process can be found in Pinch and Trocco’s (2002) history of the Moog synthesiser. This type of dialectical historical account includes the problems, limitations, and techno–financial constraints that shape the development and sounds of music technologies. Within this history, Pinch and Trocco also attempt to include the competition that occurs between contemporaneous technologies (the Buchla Box and the Moog). This kind of detail is something, along with the nature of appropriation, which, understandably, tends to be absent from condensed histories. Kretschmer’s empirical research leaves open the possibility of the construction of a detailed genealogical history (or histories) of digital music technologies (alongside other related technologies such as the Internet). These histories will, of course, need to be left open ended at this time.

 

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Unrealised potential

Kretschmer’s piece is based upon the notion that recent digital technological developments in music have not achieved the potential identified at their apparent points of innovation. He narrows this down to two apparent effects. The first is that these technologies may facilitate a "breakdown" of the barriers "between creator and user" [8]. The second is that these technologies, and specifically the emergence of the Internet, will allow disintermediated distribution, and music will therefore be democratised. As identified and illustrated in Kretschmer’s essay, these two effects have not been realised in any substantive sense.

Perhaps, however, it is possible that these two utopian ideals have been achieved on a smaller scale as dystopian forms of concealed subversion and resistance. This is something toward which Kretschmer tacitly intimates.

Perhaps the reason for this unrealised potential can be found in the sets of constraints that are embedded in the construction and development of new technologies. Technology is often understood to be liberating and enabling. It is my position that packaged alongside liberation and enablement come new sets of constraints and restrictions. Technologies are often spoken of as either monsters (dystopia) or angels (utopia). An example of these two opposing positions can be found in the recent exchange between Breen and Forde (2004). Very few attempts have been made to overcome this dichotomy [9]. The Internet both enables and constrains. It allows files to be shared instantaneously on a global scale while simultaneously creating a cacophony of competing voices crying in the wind. Kretschmer revealingly labels this "the noise of creative ambition" [10].

 

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Noise

The Internet is a site of noise and chaos. It is at once facilitating conversation while simultaneously drowning out acts of attempted communication. This creates a problem with the notion of the Internet as being a site of disintermediation or pure democratic exchange. A related example that illustrates this cacophony would be the innumerable individuals and collectives now making their music available for download (free–exchange, restricted exchange, or for purchase) across the Internet. These numerous voices are all shouting for attention, hence the "noise of creative ambition."

 

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The impact of digital technologies

Kretschmer notes that "The selection of artists aimed to capture experiences that reflected the impact of digital technologies" [11]. These remarks note one of the key problems facing the study of the digit(al)isation of music. Understanding the relationship between technology and culture as being based upon the impact of one upon the other is problematic [12]. As Hand and Sandywell note, when we look closely at this relationship we find it to be a far more complex and multidimensional set of imbricated and ill–defined appropriations. As a result of pieces such as Kretschmer’s it is now possible for the details of this relationship to be explored rather than reduced to a one–way street of one impacting upon another. What then is the relationship between music and digital technologies and how can it best be described? How can this relationship, or set of relationships based in the sphere of everyday life, be translated into discourse? This is a highly complex and problematic question. The point I wish to make here is only that it requires further attention.

 

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Empiricism

Kreteschmer should be given a great deal of credit for developing systems for producing empirical research in the field of digital music technology. The study of the digital collapse of objectified exchange makes empiricism increasingly problematic. Access to these virtual landscapes, or soundscapes, in which praxis occurs, is more accessible while simultaneously being less reliable and more fragmented. Perhaps Kretschmer’s interesting and informative study now creates an opportunity for its themes to be continued within new sets of empirical methodologies that utilise the interactivity of the Internet.

 

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Blurring

Kretschmer notes that "The distinctions between composer, performer, and producer became increasingly blurred" as a result of the emergence of the digital environment [13]. This appears to be a valuable conclusion. However, there is a problem with this position. It could be argued that the blurring between composer, performer, and producer occurred the moment that the performer began to write (compose) and produce their own recordings. This was possible in the analogue environment, and, therefore, it is problematic to argue that this blurring is a digital phenomenon. An example of this analogue blurring can be found in Brian Wilson’s role as composer, performer, and producer on The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds (1966). Digit(al)isation, and particularly digital sampling, has rather had the effect of blurring, or increasingly melding, production and reproduction, or, perhaps more accurately, creation and consumption.

 

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Artistic motivations

Has artistic motivation been increasingly commodified by digitisation? Does l’art pour l’art exist in the digital environment? Kretschmer’s decision to leave artistic motivation as an ambiguous site is valuable in itself as it leaves the question open for consideration. As Kretschmer suggests, linking artistic motivation with money purely to increase the ease of studying copyright would be too simplistic. Perhaps motivation can be captured within some form of empirical research based upon in–depth interviews. However, I am unconvinced of this; it seems to me that this may remain an unanswered question. It may not even be possible for the sociologist who composes or performs music to recount his or her own motivations. This does not mean that this issue should be discarded. Rather it should be used to create questions about artistic freedom, the power of the culture industry, resistance of dominant ideology, and the role of technology in enabling and constraining creative desires.

 

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Hero or villain?

For Kretschmer, the findings in his study paint a contradictory picture of music copyright as both hero and villain. Copyright both protects musicians’ incomes whilst restricting distribution and playback, and, therefore, limits audience scope and accessibility. It appears from Kretschmer’s piece that copyright is currently perpetuating and reinforcing a musical elite, a small band of copyright success stories, while suppressing those in the income categories below. It could be argued, paradoxically, that the virtual space of the Internet has further concretised social division. Perhaps digital technologies have had the effect of continuing this type of cultural domination in the field of music. The nature of this domination is open to examination. Perhaps in addition to the interesting and valuable questions and directions highlighted in Kretschmer’s essay we should also be studying copyright (income) mobility. Has this copyright hierarchy been reified by the virtualness of the Internet and other digital phenomena? Do the democratising potentialities of the Internet create an opportunity for the dominant musical elite to be challenged? Is copyright important in the object–free exchanges of the Internet or must it now be reconsidered to suit the medium?

 

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Conclusion

Taylor suggests that:

"Technology, however awe inspiring and anxiety producing it may seem to be upon its introduction to the realm of human social life, quickly becomes part of social life, naturalized into quotidian normality as it helps people do things they have always done: communicate, create, labor, remember, experience pleasure, and of course, make and listen to music." [14]

The task is for the analyst to capture these practices. As Taylor suggests, this requires the study of both music and music technology within the "realm of human social life," or, as it is often described, everyday life. Tia DeNora (2003; 2000) has been involved in constructing ways for some of these to be captured within empirical research. For example, the relationship between music and memory is particularly predominant in her recent work [15]. DeNora makes use of qualitative interviews to capture some of the ways in which music becomes a part of memory. She also takes this further by analysing how humans use music to reflexively activate or stimulate memories or emotions. It seems that this type of approach offers numerous paths for future empirical research of the type with which Krestchmer is involved.

Music is an awkward subject; it does not easily present itself for study. It often leads us astray; it tempts us into the overly–abstract, the axiom, or the generalisation. It is my position that small–scale empirical research projects are now required in order for us to unmask the secrets of the illusory triangulated relationship between music, technology, and the individual agent — a relationship that is veiled by ‘naturalization’ and ‘normalisation’, it is, in other words, embedded in everyday life. These studies need not bow to traditional research practices; in fact it is important that music is used to challenge traditional notions of empiricism. The qualitative interview is important in the construction of the details of music in everyday life, yet it should not be a solitary focal point. It has its limitations. Instead it should be combined with ethnographies (virtual or actual), thick–descriptions, recorded–observations, emailed questionnaires, chatroom conversations, topographies, and aesthetic accounts of music technologies and its packaging, or, in short, further case studies — the importance of which is clearly highlighted by DeNora [16].

It is clear that a number of tacit conversations are now emerging on the subject of music and digital technologies. This, as always, is occurring in the wake of technological innovation and appropriation. Krestchmer’s insightful essay is one article amongst a proliferating field of study. This response to Kretschmer’s piece is intended to continue these conversations, and, it is hoped, it will create some new questions that can be followed up in the future. It is important that this emerging field of study communicate in order for it to develop a multi–directional and ongoing critique of the positions and perspectives that are being developed and adopted. Reflexivity is of profound importance at this time. End of article

 

About the author

David Beer is currently conducting research on music technology and performance at York St. John College as well as being involved with teaching in the School of Arts. He is also studying for a PhD on the digitalisation of music in the Sociology Department of the University of York (U.K.).
E–mail: david [dot] beer [at] britishlibrary [dot] net

 

Notes

1. For example, see Goodwin (2000); Taylor (2001).

2. See Théberge (1997); Pinch and Trocco (2002); and, Warner (2003).

3. Kretschmer (2005), p. 3.

4. Ibid. In this article it is unclear as to how valuable these "visits to industry events" were in developing his findings and conclusions.

5. Kretschmer (2005), p. 11.

6. See Urry (2003) or Sandywell (2004) for different approaches to this.

7. See DeNora (2003) for an exploration of this distinction.

8. Kretschmer (2005), p. 2.

9. With the exception of Hand and Sanywell (2002) and Sandywell (forthcoming).

10. Kretschmer (2005), p. 10.

11. Op.cit., p. 3.

12. More on this can be found in Nicholas Gane’s interview with Saskia Sassen; see Gane (2004).

13. Kretschmer (2005), p. 9.

14. Taylor (2001), p. 206.

15. See DeNora (2003).

16. Op.cit., p. 58.

 

References

M. Breen & E. Forde, 2004. "The music industry, technology and utopia — an exchange between Marcus Breen and Eamonn Forde," Popular Music, volume 23, number 1, pp79–89.

T. DeNora, 2003. After Adorno: Rethinking music sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

T. DeNora, 2000. Music in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

N. Gane, 2004. The future of social theory. London: Continuum.

A. Goodwin, 2000. "Sample and hold. Pop music in the digital age of reproduction," In: S. Frith and A. Goodwin (editors). On record. London: Routledge.

M. Hand and B. Sandywell, 2002. "E–Topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and de–democratizing logics of the Internet, or, Toward a critique of the new technological fetishism," Theory, Culture and Society, volume 19, number 1–2, pp.197–225.

M. Kretschmer, 2005. "Artists’ earnings and copyright: A review of British and German music industry data in the context of digital technologies," First Monday, volume 10, number 1 (January), at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_1/kretschmer, accessed 27 January 2005.

K. McGee and J. Skågeby, 2004. "Gifting Technologies," First Monday, volume 9, number 12 (December), at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_12/mcgee/, accessed 27 January 2005.

Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, 2002. Analog days: The invention and impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

B. Sandywell, forthcoming. "Monsters in cyberspace: Cyberphobia and cultural panic in the information age," Information, Communication and Society.

B. Sandywell, 2004. "The myth of everyday life: Toward a heterology of the ordinary," Cultural Studies, volume 18, number 2–3, pp. 160–180.

T. Taylor, 2001. Strange sounds: Music, technology and culture. London: Routledge.

P. Théberge, 1997. Any sound you can imagine: Making music/consuming technology. Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press.

J. Urry, 2003. Global complexity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

T. Warner, 2003. Pop music — Technology and creativity. Aldershot: Ashgate


Editorial history

Paper received 3 January 2005; accepted 21 January 2005.


Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Reflecting on the digit(al)isation of music by David Beer
First Monday, Special Issue #1: Music and the Internet — 4 July 2005
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1463/1378





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