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

[Cross-posted from]

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.


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.


Management, ‘leadership’, and academic work

[Cross-posted on‘leadership’-and-academic-work]

In a powerful essay cheekily posted on the website of what may be the UK’s most obsessively corporate university, Suman Gupta bluntly asserts that ‘[t]here is no place for leaders in academia.’ (2015, parag. 1) As he observes, once academics-turned-administrators begin ‘imposing some Great Order… by managing and strategising and propaganda, seeking compliance and exercising opaque executive prerogatives, they start killing off academic work’ (2015, parag. 2). With its recent series of questionable management initiatives, from concentration of resources on bureaucratically-selected ‘strategic research areas’ to development of a (second) free MOOC platform on its paying students’ tab, Gupta’s employer must certainly have provided him with ample opportunity to judge the truth of this proposition. But the relevance of his critique is much wider than a single institution, as we see from the tragic case of Stefan Grimm: a highly successful medical researcher who committed suicide whilst being threatened over his failure to meet arbitrary funding targets (see Parr 2014). While the killing off of scholarly work does not invariably mean the killing off of scholarly workers, it is clear that, across the UK, the term ‘academic leadership’ is ‘now unequivocally taken [to mean] “management of academic workers and institutions from above”’, and those that practise it have come to be ‘regarded as being worth more than academics of any sort.’ (Gupta 2015, parag. 5) In his last words to his colleagues, the late Prof. Grimm put it more forcefully, describing his employing institution in terms that at least some readers of this article may find resonant: as he saw it, it had become ‘a business with very few up in the hierarchy… profiteering and the rest of us… milked for money’, wherein the ‘formidable leaders’ that do the milking ‘treat us like shit.’ (Grimm 2014, parags. 12, 10, 16, reproduced in Parr 2014) It hardly needs pointing out that there has never been an attempt to demonstrate that academic work benefits from ‘leadership’ in the sense described by Gupta and Grimm: top-down control by target-setting, HR-sanctioned procedural bullying, and ‘strategic vision’. The drive for ‘leadership’ is, rather, part of an ideologically motivated investment in management at the expense of labour, clearly seen in the ballooning of executive salaries, both inside and outside educational institutions, during an age of so-called ‘austerity’.

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Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from]

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]

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]

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

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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Big data and the study of reading

By Daniel Allington and Andrew Salway

[Cross-posted from Comments disabled here; enabled on the original.]

We’re really looking forward to running the workshop on big data and digital reading on 6 March 2014. Here is your required reading… just kidding, but we’ve selected two discussion pieces that we think could be interesting to talk about, so if you could have a look at them ahead of the workshop and post any initial thoughts below, that would be brilliant.

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Livetweets from ‘Cultural work and cultural value’

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend Mark Banks’s AHRC-funded seminar, ‘Cultural work and cultural value‘. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, missing most of Daniel Ashton’s talk (which was shaping up to be very interesting by the time I had to run off) and all of Kate Oakley’s (which was guaranteed to be interesting, but which I missed every second of). So there was one fewer tweeter for their contributions. But there was a lot of tweeting overall, indicating the excitement and enthusiasm of the event. See below; that’s the point of this post. You will, I hope, find some hints of what was said by Mark himself on the value of work, Calvin Taylor on the history of the economic/aesthetic/ethical value trichotomy, Christina Hughes on valuing in the campaign to save Birmingham’s jewellery quarter, David Hesmondhalgh on the neo-Aristotelian conception of aesthetic/cultural value, and the aforementioned Kate Oakley and Daniel Ashton on, respectively, cultural policy and the training of cultural producers.

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Cultural capital, social capital, symbolic capital: what do we gain from an economic metaphor?

In an essay written in response to Colin Mills’s (2013) critique of Bourdieu’s use of the terms ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’, I discussed the use of the word ‘capital’ as a metaphor for forms of resource other than capital in its literal sense (Allington, 2013a). As I argue in that piece, such usage is by no means as unorthodox as some of Bourdieu’s critics have implied, since it dates back to the early 19th century and has entered common parlance. But it should be admitted that there is a difference between loosely figurative senses of ‘capital’, such as are to be found within the 19th century examples I drew from the Oxford English Dictionary, and the more tightly defined (but still metaphorical) sense of the word as used by some social scientists in recent decades.

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