Article: Spotify, Music Consumption, and the Performance of Middle Class Identities

Currently under review

It is widely recognised that cultural omnivorousness – a ‘knowing’ engagement with diverse cultural forms – characterises contemporary middle-class tastes. However, the omnivore debate pre-dates the rise of music streaming services, such as Spotify, that are radically transforming the musical field. Not only do they offer on-demand access to vast catalogues of music, they are seeking to shape what and how people engage with it. Drawing on 42 semi-structured interviews with a combination of expert informants and everyday music consumers in the UK, this article explores if and how music streaming services are shaping the performance of cultural omnivorousness. It demonstrates that the provision of playlists and recommendations, the speed at which music is made available by streaming services, and generational and gendered divisions in music taste are shaping claims to class distinction. In doing so, this article nuances our understanding of changing nature of the cultural assets underpinning class privilege.

Article: Taste in the Platform Age: Music Streaming Services and New Forms of Class Distinction

Forthcoming. Information, Communication & Society

Music streaming services, such as Spotify, have the potential to transform how class inequalities are reproduced through music taste and consumption. These platforms facilitate anytime, anywhere access to vast catalogues of licensed music at little or no cost, making it possible for people from across class backgrounds to affordably access music spanning hierarchies of highbrow and lowbrow. Not only this, music streaming services are personalising the experience of consuming music. By drawing on music recommendation technologies that extract and predict similarities in music taste, these platforms have the potential to reinforce class divisions in music taste at an unprecedented rate and scale. Yet, little is empirically known about if and how music streaming services are shaping the part that music taste and consumption play in the reproduction of class. Drawing on over 40 interviews with a combination of music streaming key informants and everyday users, this article demonstrates that music streaming services are creating opportunities for the young and well-educated to achieve class distinction. First, it highlights how technical command over these platforms and the practice of playlist curation represent opportunities to mobilise technical and music expertise in the pursuit of distinction. Second, it demonstrates that consuming music in physical formats, such as vinyl LPs, is a way for others to achieve distinction by opposing music streaming services’ attempts to personalise the experience of consuming music. In doing so, this article contributes to debates about the changing nature of the cultural assets underpinning class privilege in the platform age.


Book Review: The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age

Information, Communication & Society


Article: Towards A Theoretical Approach For Analysing Music Recommender Systems as Sociotechnical Cultural Intermediaries

Proceedings of the 8th ACM Conference on Web Science, Hannover, Germany, May 23-25

As the rate and scale of Web-related digital data accumulation continue to outstrip all expectations so too we come to depend increasingly on a variety of technical tools to interrogate these data and to render them as an intelligible source of information. In response, on the one hand, a great deal of attention has been paid to the design of efficient and reliable mechanisms for big data analytics whilst, on the other hand, concerns are expressed about the rise of ‘algorithmic society’ whereby important decisions are made by intermediary computational agents of which the majority of the population has little knowledge, understanding or control. This paper aims to bridge these two debates working through the case of music recommender systems. Whilst not conventionally regarded as ‘big data,’ the enormous volume, variety and velocity of digital music available on the Web has seen the growth of recommender systems, which are increasingly embedded in our everyday music consumption through their attempts to help us identify the music we might want to consume. Combining Bourdieu’s concept of cultural intermediaries with Actor-Network Theory’s insistence on the relational ontology of human and non- human actors, we draw on empirical evidence from the computational and social science literature on recommender systems to argue that music recommender systems should be approached as a new form of sociotechnical cultural intermediary. In doing so, we aim to define a broader agenda for better understanding the underexplored social role of the computational tools designed to manage big data.

In Preparation

Slow Music: The Material, Temporal and Social Dynamics of the Vinyl Revival in the Streaming Age

Working Paper.

Even though music streaming services, such as Spotify, offer ‘anytime,’ ‘anywhere’ access to vast catalogues of music at little or no cost, ownership of vinyl records has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Drawing on 42 semi-structured interviews, this article considers why some consumers are willing to pay a premium to consume physical recordings. Making parallels with slow food and fashion, this article introduces the concept of ‘slow music’ to describe how the vinyl revival can be understood as a resistant and classed practice. It highlights how young and privileged consumers are (re)turning to vinyl to challenge the changing nature of music as a material good, the controversial business models of streaming companies, and the accelerated rate at which music is made available in the age of streaming. In doing so, slow music has the potential to represent a new form of social distinction.

Article: The Dynamics of Competition in the Music Streaming Marketplace

With Brian J. Hracs. Working Paper.

Music streaming has become the dominant mode of music distribution and consumption. Yet, with ongoing technological developments and intensifying global competition the marketplace is evolving quickly and there is a continual need for research which explores the ways in which firms, such as Spotify, Apple and Deezer, attract and retain the attention and patronage of consumers. Drawing on sixty in-depth interviews with music-industry informants and streaming users, this paper examines the value-creation strategies of rival platforms. Beyond merely providing on-demand access to similar catalogues of music for similar prices, it demonstrates how firms manipulate specific spatial and temporal dynamics and leverage different forms of ‘exclusivity,’ related to content, curation and experiences, to generate distinction, value and loyalty. In so doing, the paper nuances our understanding of branding, intermediation, the music marketplace and the platform economy more broadly.