The way that music is being consumed in the 20th and 21st centuries has undergone significant shifts and changes. These shifts include the use of electronic devices to access and consume music such as radio, vinyl players, cassettes, TVs, CDs, mp3s, to music being predominantly controlled by Information Technology companies leading to streaming tech shaping music consumption.
1) Music and Capitalism
Even though technology increases the passion to consume music, leading to more revenue for technological companies and to a higher desire of consumption, this passion and desire eventually results to the commodification of music and culture.This is because users experience the ‘’constructed’’ rather than innate passion and desire to consume – download, buy, or rent music, rather than experiencing music for what it is – a sensory experience. Thus we can talk about a shift from culture to commodification, as well as from true passion to manufactured desire and‘’atomised listening.’’According to Theodor Adorno “atomised listening’’ during his period, was linked to both recording and radio, privileging the perception of works as collections of seemingly disconnected moments rather than unified compositions.” We can expand this further to today’s mode of consumption, and argue that streaming music creates disconnected moments because the consumer can consume fastly and quickly change between streaming tracks without paying attention to the artist or producer.
2) A thing called free will
By streaming music, consumers can thus have the choice of which songs to consume, which playlists to play and what artists they want to follow. In a sense this is an act of self-control as the consumer can control which tracks they want to stream. Streaming tech has been influenced and influences to a greater extent a new sense of individualism through consumption leading to individualism and atomisation. Streaming music is not an act of consumption that is shared collectively but is predominately focused on the individual who constructs his own streaming playlists and arranges his/her music according to his/ her individual preferences.
Through bio-political techniques such as datafication, digital technology, and consumer manufacturing the streaming tech companies can actually create ‘’ideal’’ consumers and maximize the mode of music consumption. Even though before, record labels and producers focused on genres to reach consumers, digital platforms such as Spotify, Amazon and iTunes, have a set number of digital music consumers because they channel their products through services that collect data from their users. As a matter of fact, it is through data accumulation and research that these streaming tech companies are able to exist and create revenue. In particular, on iTunes, consumers can implement the tracks that they buy and create playlists which are then completed by suggested algorithms. When the user downloads, buys or rents a song, the data of that action is stored in order to suggest similar type tracts and artists. This is of course convenient and lucrative for providers and marketers, however from the consumer’s point of view it can be viewed as problematic since it means that the consumer has no privacy and is offered one dimensional options according to his/her preferences.This again problematizes the notion of the consumer as having free will as well as how much this free will is confined to algorithms and data tracking systems.
By streaming music, we can appropriate the mode of consumption and create value for ourselves. Part of appropriation is the fact that through streaming, consumers are not tied to their desktops in order to consume music but can use electronic devices anywhere they go. As consumers become more mobile and atomised, streaming music can be convenient as the user can appropriate the service according to his/her needs. The consumption of music is thus becoming more and more intangible suiting the lifestyle of consumers who are always on the move artists or djs can directly co-create with their fans by creating competitions, or asking the consumer to rate or interact directly with their Tracks – something which helps to build the career of an artists and his/her brand image. From this aspect we can then also influence how music is consumed by removing the barrier between producer and consumer.
From the one hand, it is a bit problematic to see that the people and companies who actually “cared’’ about how music is produced and consumed – such as record labels and publishing companies – had no say during this evolution by technological companies, but instead had to form deals and take part in order to make revenue and catch up. This is a clear example of how culture is commodified to reach larger segments of people and be consumed fastly to make profit. This change however, has eventually benefited both the technological companies and the record labels as they are now able to collect data, construct consumers and reach specific targets without much financial risk or excessive spending on marketing, it has therefore allowed smaller record labels and artists to emerge. From the point of the consumer, streaming tech has allowed co-creation to take place as well as appropriation, allowing us to directly influence both the production and distribution of music – something which again was not doable a few decades ago. On the other hand, our free will is put at risk since our choices of streaming can largely be influenced by algorithms and other data. Unfortunately or fortunately for some, change will be consistent in all aspects of our life and when it comes to music, the mode of consumption will be continuously changing.