Disruption in the Music Industry

The research project centered around Spotify that I am in charge of, Streaming Heritage: Following Files In Digital Music Distribution, is slowly picking up speed. One example is a book project that I have been invited to join, Business Innovation and Disruption in the Music Industry edited by Patrik Wikström and Robert DeFillippi which will be published by Edward Elgar next year. “During the past fifteen years”, the rationale for the book states, “the music industries experience a truly disruptive process of digital transformation. The process reshapes most aspects of the music industry and in 2014 the contours of a “new music economy” begin to emerge. The structure and mechanics of these evolutionary processes vary considerably between continents, countries and regions and this volume will examine these processes and present evidence of business innovation and disruption in national and regional music industries.” I have recently submitted an abstract of my article which I have called, “More Music is Better Music”. What I have in mind to write is the following:

From an audience perspective, one of the core motives underlying the disruption process within the music industry during the last decade, has been the establishment of vast online music archives. Streaming services wouldn’t have been able to gain global and rapid popularity if it hadn’t been for the swelling back catalogues of music providers. The number of tracks available at popular music streaming sites have, as a consequence, during the last years been constantly promoted as a market advantage—Xbox Music claims 30 million songs, Grooveshark 15, Deezer, Rdio and Spotify 20, Soundcloud 16 and Last.fm 12 (at least according to the latest figures). Most digital entertainment services are also grappling with the so called ”discovery challenge”, i.e how to make users consume more—all in order to make the service indispensable. As a consequence, the deep back catalogue of streaming sites market constant rediscovery; functionalities at Spotify as ”Discover”, ”Radio” or ”Browse” are all algorithmic archival modes based on its long-tail-catalogue.

However, digital technology also has the inherent ability to go berserk, undermining classical notions of archives and/or collections as trusted repositories of material or cultural objects. Spam is the obvious example. But there are other ways where aggregating musical content à la web 2.0 runs the risk of a technological back-fire, damaging the very notion of what a musical archive is—and should be. Machines pose the biggest threat. Still, humans can also subvert the archive. Take Matt Farley, for instance, who has apparently earned more than $20 000 from his music since he has written, recorded and released over 14 000 songs.

The purpose of my article is to discuss and elaborate around a kind of robot (or spam logic) currently in vogue online in various ways—from semi-automatic (positive) bought reviews on Amazon to robot writers as Philip M. Parker, who has developed a method to automatically generate books and claims to have written over 200 000 of them, to aggregation of spam-music or the ability to buy 10 000 new twitter followers (in the form of social bots) for a thousand dollars on Swenzy (or similar sites). Given the focus at music streaming sites on sheer quantity, what do digital developments as the ones described actually impose? Is more music always better music?