How is the diminution of traditional, and often hierarchical, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life? You should choose one broad area of publishing, such as, for example, journalism or music publishing.
In the face of rapid technological advancement, the world of publishing is experiencing a dramatic shift in practice; and music publishing is no exception. What was once concentrated into the hands of a very few music conglomerates has now grown into a vast and complex unregulated system widely accessible to the public (Anderson, 1983). As Alan Rusbridger writes in ‘The Splintering of the Fourth Estate’, “That is the revolutionary change we are living through today – this transformation from transmission to communication. Williams would have added another significant difference: a move from impersonal media – which was what print was – to personal,” (The Guardian, 2010). The following essay will be engaging with the notions asserted by Rusbridger in relation to Bruno Latour’s ‘Actor Network Theory’ (ANT). It will thus conceptualize how the ‘diminution of traditional, and often hierarchical, authoritative intermediaries’ has changed the role of music publishing in social life.
The era of the 1980’s brought with it an emergence of theories that aimed to comprehend the evident social-technological changes that were taking place (Silverstone, 2006). Theorists such as Latour “redefined the boundaries between humans and machine,” (Silverstone, 2006). In ANT, Latour asserts that all actants, both human and non-human, have equal abilities. This claim is useful in approaching the current publishing landscape as it drives us away from the traditional ‘media effects’ model, which consists of a hierarchal system whereby humans participate as passive audiences, and directs us towards views of a more interactive-oriented culture, which consists of ‘interconnected nodes’ (Castells, 2005). For the purpose of this essay, the term ‘intermediaries’ will be defined in relation to Latour’s theory. Therefore, ‘intermediaries’ in this case refers to entities that carry a one-way flow of information. We are seeing a break down of these entities, and instead human and non-human actants are moving towards a more engaging assemblage of publishing.
This societal shift, which has changed the face of music publishing, is evidently correlated with the development of technology. When Johannes Gutenberg perfected the techniques of printing with movable metal type in 1452 (The History Guide, 2000), the circulation of music sheets laid mainly in the hands of a few publishers who had access to the limited availability of print technology. Ottaviano Petrucci was the first music publisher to print polyphonic music in quantities with movable type during the 16th century. As a result, he managed to run a 20-year monopoly of printed music in Venice (Wikipedia, 2012). Benedict Anderson depicts these early ages of publishing as the convergence of print technology and capitalism, the initiation of the ‘battle for men’s minds’ among publishing firms (Anderson, 1983). Come 1796, Alois Senefelder invented lithography. This cheaper method of printing allowed the mass circulation of music sheets. As communication technology continued to advance, music publishers no longer held the responsibility for printing music sheets; instead their roles evolved into the securing of artists’ statuses in ensuring the payment of royalties and fees (Wikipedia, 2012). However, modern-day music publishers find themselves up against a prevailing force – Web 2.0, the ‘so-called social, or open, media’ (The Guardian, 2010). Rusbridger explains the significance of this age in relation to the shift of power from corporations to the public at large. Users and machines now have the ability to freely collaborate in an unregulated digital space, creating, mixing and sharing music simultaneously.
By looking at David Gauntlett’s approach at ‘creativity’, we can further understand the revolutionary shift in music publishing at the age of Web 2.0. Gauntlett emphasizes that creativity is an essential aspect of being human. “Because we are inventive human beings, creativity is something we do rather a lot, and understood in this broad sense it includes everyday ideas we have about how to do things, many of the things we write and produce, acts of management or self-presentation, and even, of course, witty or insightful speech,” (Gauntlett, 2011). Furthermore, Gauntlett looks at ‘creativity’ as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who believes it to be a process that requires three main elements: A particular society, a person who brings something fresh and innovative into that society, and an association of experts who will recognize and give credit for that innovation. Therefore, early music publishers like Petrucci from the 16th century successfully reached a level of authority because he had access to all three elements. As communication technologies became increasingly accessible, publics found it a lot more convenient to creatively express their musical talents to a wide range of audiences. As a result, the 20th century introduced the boom of online platforms that encourage the act of ‘creating’. Youtube, Spotify, 8tracks, Facebook, MySpace and Limewire are all examples of social networking sites that allow publics to converse and collaborate musically.
This emergence of online platforms has changed the very concept of ‘flow’. While the public unleashes their inner creativity, they are engaging with a flow dissimilar to that of a hierarchal structure. This ‘flow’ is described by Deleuze and Guattari as the formation of connections among ‘machines’ (Rizzo, 2007). These machines don’t necessarily refer to technology, but ‘bodies’, or rather human and non-human actants. Furthermore, the flow of information is produced as interruption. The ability for users to create new tabs, jump from site to site, create and share music with one another in the digital realm of Web 2.0, creates the flow of data transfer through interactivity. According to Danah Boyd, information is everywhere – and we are living in the stream of it (Throughout, 2010).
The ‘flow’ of information effectively illustrates the flat ontology of a network society we currently live in. As a result of this flow, the power of publishing is equally distributed across the network, making it increasingly more challenging for traditional music publishers to thrive. Power, as defined by Boyd, is the ability to ‘command’ and ‘influence’ the attention of others (Throughout, 2010). “We give power to people when we give them our attention and people gain power when they bridge different worlds and determine what information can and will flow across the network.” (Throughout, 2010). While music publishers had the power to do so in the past with their traditional roles of funding recording sessions, manufacturing, marketing and distributing products (Wired, 2007), these roles are being challenged by products of Web 2.0. Presently in our network culture, every actant is given equal power to potentially command and influence the public. Such ability to do so is proven to be powerful by Manuel Castells. In ‘Informationalism and the network society’, he states, “Since innovation is the source of productivity, wealth and power, there is a direct relationship between the power of sharing and the sharing of power.” (Castells, 2005) The emergence of social networking sites have encouraged user-generated content that no longer requires the typical process traditionally undergone by music publishers. As a result, audiences are able to partake in the distribution and attainment of one another’s attention.
The diminution of traditional intermediaries has also triggered a shift from impersonal to personal media. In the past, passive audiences consumed music that was distributed through radios, television and other platforms of direct broadcasting. Sites like Youtube and 8tracks have now opened up opportunities for users to create and personalize their very own music archive. In ‘Programming your own channel’, Teresa Rizzo describes the consequences of these changes in relation to broadcast TV. “Rather than producing viewers who are caught up in broadcast flow, the televisual experience becomes one of co-participation and interactivity” (Rizzo, 2007). In consuming and adding to this flow, publics have the ability to customize individual playlists, shifting the “locus of control” from traditional intermediaries to users (Rizzo, 2007). For example, Youtube, a video-sharing website, supports various channels and playlists. Users stumble across music clips related to their interests, filter through mass videos to find specific bands, ‘like’, subscribe, save and organize videos of their favourite artists. This plays a major role in affecting one’s sense of individuality. These personalized archives are responsible for shaping a user’s attitude towards music. It’ll store past and present clips, enabling users to browse through them whenever they like, and ‘tags’ and other forms of categorization predict future music tastes. As a result, audiences find themselves creating a sense of musical identity.
To further comprehend this behavior, we will have a closer look at Jacques Derrida and Eric Prenowitz’s concept of ‘Archive Fever’ (Derrida & Prenowitz, 1995). The ability to effectively record data and store them in a manageable fashion with the assistance of technology has proven to be gratifying for individuals alike. This stems from the ability to create a permanent record of an event, a significant capacity for one who’s constantly caught in ‘the now’ (Mattogle, 2010). As Derrida and Prenowitz states in relation to stored data, “this place where they dwell permanently marks this institutional passage from the private to the public”. It ultimately acts as a point of reference for our modes of living and contains essential ‘personalized’ information that makes up who we are as individuals.
Furthermore, the ability to create through the digital realm has also led publics to connect and form an ‘imagined community’ (Anderson, 1992). Danah Boyd explains this further, “In a networked world, people connect with people like themselves: consequently, it is easy not to get access to views of people who don’t think as you do.” We see this increasingly in the online music publishing landscape as audiences connect with one another through the sharing of similar musical interests. Diverting away from the music scene, Anderson explains the significance of print and its influence in forming communities in ‘Origins of National Consciousness’, “…They created unified fields of exchange and communication below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars. Speakers of the huge variety of Frenches, Englishes, or Spanishes, who might find it difficult or even impossible to understand one another in conversation, became capable of comprehending one another via print and paper. In the process, they gradually became aware of the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people in their particular language-field… [these formed] the embryo of the nationally imagined community.” The ability to segregate the population according to shared values is further demonstrated in Web 2.0, as users interact and form communities that are dedicated to specific bands, artists and music genres. While traditional forms of music publishing were once capable of authoritatively influencing audiences in their choices of music, users in the age of Web 2.0 are able to freely browse and filter through music in their own liking.
The advent of technology has changed the structure of flow and distribution for music publishing. While traditional music publishers once believed they had absolute power over the public’s attention, this has changed and will continue to change in the age of Web 2.0. The interactive flow in which audiences actively participate in enables them to create and share music in a highly accessible and convenient manner with mass audiences – thereby influencing others, personalize and build music archives – forming, in the process, their musical identity, and connect with communities that share similar interests in music. The breaking down of hierarchal and traditional music intermediaries has moved publics to a ‘make and do’ culture, where individuals are caught up in the network of constant interaction with one another.
Anderson, B., 1992, The Origins of National Consciousness, In: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, ed. Revised., New York: Verso. pp. 37-46
Gauntlett, D., 2011, Introduction, In: Making is Connecting: The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to Youtube and Web 2.0, pp 1-15
Silverstone, R., 2006, Domesticating Domestication. Relfections on the Life of a Concept, In: Berker, Thomas et al, (Eds). Domestication of media and Technology. Berkshire, UK: Open University Press. pp. 229-248
Castells, M., 2005. Informationalism, Networks and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint.” In: The Network Society: A Cross cultural Perspective. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, pp. 36-45
The Printing Press, 2000, The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History, [online] Available at: <http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/press.html> [Accessed 4 June 2012]
Rizzo, T., 2007, Programming Your Own Channel: An Archaelogy of the Playlist, In: Kenyon, A. ed. TV Futures: Digital Television Policy in Australia. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press, pp. 108-134
Derrida, J., Prenowitz, E., 1995. Jacques Derrida. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, [e-journal] 25(2), Abstract only. Available through: Diacritics [Accessed 4 June 2012]
Archive Fever: A love letter to the post real-time web, 2010. Mattogle [online] Avaialble at: <http://mattogle.com/archivefever/> [Accessed 4 June 2012]
This entry was published on June 8, 2012 at 3:37 am and is filed under Uncategorized
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