‘Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening’
by Robert Prey
If you know me, you probably find it as no surprise that Knoxville has made me prouder in the last 72 hours than it has in the three years I’ve lived here. I would expect some form of solidarity in uncertain times, but I never imagined it would be quite like this. Not to minimize the efforts of the millions who marched around the country and world today, but I know you didn’t come to this site to read my thoughts on those issues (not directly, anyway… plus, if you are anywhere near a device capable of accessing the internet, you’re probably fairly caught up by this point). I just wanted to include that preface to acknowledge the gravity of the times before changing tracks to sharing a great recent chapter on… [ready?] streaming music.
On one of many great tracks from his latest album, Jeff Rosenstock (ex-Bomb the Music Industry!) sings
Born as a data mine for targeted marketing,
and no one will listen up
until you become a hashtag or a meme
but hate’s not a fad that dies with its virality.
They want you to be a ghost
when they rob you of your hope,
but you’ve got power when they’re not expecting anything.
Rosenstock is (finally) well-known (enough) for his iconoclastic approach to making, marketing and selling music, so him singing about frustration over the squandered potential of social media is nothing surprising. But that first line is particularly biting, especially since few people in the developed world exist outside of that matrix, and the ones who were too old to embrace social media have been dying out. Tell me the idea of being a “data mine” from birth doesn’t make you shiver at least a little bit. But, here we are.
Anyway, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and others have undergone heady analysis from social scientists and independent marketing firms. This chapter by Richard Prey in the new book Networked Music Cultures (link up above, citation down below) presents a new window into the data mining that’s become inextricable from streaming music listening. I’m not too familiar with Prey’s work, but he begins the chapter with an anecdote about Theodor Adorno, whose name you cannot have a single philosophical discussion about music, film, or television without mentioning at some point.
He goes onto pick apart how Spotify and Pandora manicure their profiles on users, which includes both individual listeners and businesses. So many shops, doctors’ offices, and eateries have actually dumped commercial radio in favor of Spotify and Pandora that it’s strange that Clearchannel and other corporate interests that have
ruined consolidated radio haven’t mounted a more visible campaign against them (then again, I could be overlooking something).
If I had more time to flesh out my thoughts, I would provide a more comprehensive list of everything I dislike about streaming music. Aside from their tacit devaluing of music, their abject disregard for audio quality, and an even more insidious brainwashing of consumers into guilt-tripping other consumers for actually spending money on music (that sociological “Apple effect” is the worst one for me, honestly), Prey’s chapter provides a great overview of how Spotify, Pandora, and similar services integrate something as enjoyable as listening to (and discovering, on occasion) music into the data mining superstructure. How prescient Adorno’s rantings about “the culture industry” were. Enjoy the chapter and feel free to pass it along when someone looks at you funny and asks you why you don’t use Spotify.
Also, I’m aware of the irony of me posting this on various formats of social media in order to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.