Networks of value in electronic music: SoundCloud, London, and the importance of place

[Cross-posted from http://valuingelectronicmusic.org/2015/08/21/networks-of-value-in-electronic-music/]

The first peer-reviewed journal article arising from the Valuing Electronic Music project has now been published in Cultural Trends as part of a special issue on empirical research into cultural value guest-edited by Dave O’Brien. It focuses on a key finding of the project: even though musicians can now distribute their music for free via the internet, their real-world location remains hugely important. Through qualitative research, we found that electronic musicians in London (a) considered themselves to benefit from being based in that city, and (b) considered a particular part of that city (the highly gentrified, ‘hipsterish’ district of Shoreditch and its immediate surroundings) to be particularly advantageous for less commercial kinds of music. Through quantitative research, we found SoundCloud users based in London to occupy a position at the centre of a network of ‘following’ relationships in which the next best locations appeared to be New York and Los Angeles. Our findings are consistent with the view that the 21st century ‘new media’ produce similar exclusions to the ‘big media’ of the 20th century and do not create anything resembling a level playing field between signed and unsigned artists, provincial and metropolitan scenes, or the developed and the developing world.

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The article is open access so please download the full text to read for yourself.

Allington, D., Dueck, B., and Jordanous, A. (2015). ‘Networks of value in electronic music: SoundCloud, London, and the importance of place’. Cultural Trends 24 (3): pp. 211-222.

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Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from https://culturalvalueproject.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/dr-daniel-allington-dr-anna-jordanous-and-dr-byron-dueck-online-networks-and-the-production-of-value-in-electronic-music/]

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

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SoundCloud and the social networks of electronic musicians: my talk at the Mitchell Centre, 16 June 2015

Last month, I was invited to speak at a Sociological Review symposium on Music and Social Networks, hosted by the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis and organised by Nick Crossley, the author of Networks of sound, style, and subversion: the punk and post-punk worlds of Manchester, London, Liverpool and Sheffield, 1975–80 (MUP, 2015). It was a brilliant event, and I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing. As I was extemporising from slides, I don’t have any proper notes to put up here – but I do at least have the livetweets. So here they are. They’re a pretty good record of a lot of my main points, provided you read ‘@dr_d_allington did X’ as ‘@dr_d_allington and his colleagues did X’ whenever the topic is music, and remember that those colleagues were the brilliant Anna Jordanous and Byron Dueck (or do I mean @annajordanous and @ByronRDueck?). I’ve inserted comments on the tweets where necessary.

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The geography of SoundCloud: who’s following whom?

[Cross-posted from http://valuingelectronicmusic.org/2014/09/08/geography-soundcloud-following/]

Wanting to find out what was typical SoundCloud behaviour – as opposed to what our case study users were doing – we took a random sample of 150000 SoundCloud accounts earlier this year and downloaded their profile data, plus the profile data of everyone they were following (plus some other stuff, but that’s for another time). One of the things we did with this data was to construct a social network graph showing ‘follow’ relationships at city level: every time our computer program found that a sampled user self-identified with city A followed a user self-identified with city B, it created an ‘arc’ (represented with an arrow) from city A to city B. We then combined all the arcs so that instead of, say, 2000 arcs from city A to city B, there would now be a single arc with a ‘weight’ of 2000. We then imported this data into Gephi, sized the nodes representing cities to reflect the total weight of all the incoming arcs, positioned them with the Force Atlas algorithm, and used the Louvain community detection method to identify ‘clusters’, where a cluster is a group of nodes that are better connected to each other than they are to nodes from outside the group. And here’s the result, with five colours to represent the five clusters.

Cities on SoundCloud: who's listening to whom?

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part II

[Cross-posted from http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/vem/2014/06/exploring-genre-on-soundcloud-part-ii/]

In my previous post on this topic, I introduced a problem – how to understand the work that explicit genre categorisations are made to do by people uploading tracks to the SoundCloud audio-sharing website – and a potential solution – identifying the three categories most frequently used by each individual in a sample and studying regularities in the ways in which pairs of categories tend to pop up within the same group of three. I also presented some partial and preliminary findings in the form of a matrix comparing co-occurrences of the five genre categories most frequently used by people within an initial sample. And I either glossed over or left unmentioned a slew of problems, some of which we’ve been more successful in addressing than others at present (because these are only blog posts, and we haven’t finished the research yet). The biggest problem is the sample itself: the analysis was done on the basis of a snowball sample, when a random sample would be more appropriate. Hence the provisionality of all this. The analysis will be redone soon on the basis of a sample that will enable us to make more robust claims, but in the meantime I wanted to share our thought processes and working methods with the world because – quite apart from anything else – I’m excited about the patterns that are emerging.

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part I

(Cross-posted from http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/vem/2014/06/exploring-genre-on-soundcloud-part-i/)

One of the problems you’re always going to face when studying electronic music is the need to decide what you think ‘electronic music’ means. It’s a question of genre, and as Paul DiMaggio acknowledged in one of his most influential papers, genre is at once a formal and a social concept:

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Announcement: ‘Online networks and the production of value in electronic music’

Investigators: Daniel Allington (Open University), Anna Jordanous (King’s College London), Byron Dueck (Open University)
Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council [1]
Duration: 3 Feb to 31 July 2014

Cultural value is one of those areas in which (as the saying goes) perceptions are also realities. Thus, sociologists have argued that the production of cultural value is actually the production of a form of belief. Although popular accounts of how art gets made tend to focus on brilliant individual creators, research has highlighted over and over again that their work typically emerges from a creative milieu, in which value (or belief in value) comes into existence. This highlights the complex relationship between professional, semi-professional, and amateur cultural production, and may explain why so many cultural producers create work primarily for appreciation by their peers.

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