The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age

Routledge Studies in Human Geography (HardCover 2016; Paperback 2017)

Editors: Brian J. Hracs, Michael Seman, Tarek E. Virani

This volume examines the evolving conditions and spatial dynamics of music production, promotion, distribution, and consumption in the contemporary digital age. It explores how new technologies, organizational forms, market dynamics and consumer behavior are restructuring the music industry at multiple scales (from global firms to local entrepreneurs) and in multiple spatial settings (from established clusters and burgeoning scenes to online environments), and charts the interconnected sonic ecosystem of cities, scenes, venues, festivals, record shops, and online communities that has emerged in the wake of the "MP3 Crisis."

For more information: 

The Routledge Series Website

Twitter @musicdigitalage


Sean Albiez (2016) Journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (PDF)

Toby Bennett (2017) Popular Music and Society (PDF)

David J. Keeling (2017) Growth and Change (PDF)

Jack Webster (2016) Information, Communication & Society (PDF)

Giuseppe Zevolli (2017) Popular Music (PDF)

Chapter Abstracts


Chapter 1: Introduction

Brian J. Hracs, Michael Seman and Tarek E. Virani

Chapter 2: Laptops, Pro Tools, and File Transfer Protocols: On the Extensification and Intensification of Recording Work in the Digital Age

Allan Watson

This chapter is concerned with the extensification and intensification of recording work. Specifically, the chapter considers how new recording and communication technologies - in particular laptop Digital Audio Workstations and networking and communication technologies - are exacerbating the spatial and temporal overflowing of work practices beyond the bounds of formal recording sessions in studios and into other spaces and times. The chapter demonstrates how new technologies are resulting in an increased overflowing of work into the home environment, and an increased client expectation of being ‘on call’ 24/7, with high levels of work intensity resulting from bulimic patterns of work.

Chapter 3: Disturbing Production: The Effects of Digital Music Production on Music Studios

David Arditi

The cheap cost of digital audio workstations makes every laptop and basement a potential site for professional quality studios. Digital technology makes professional recording available to everyone; therefore, there is no longer a need for major labels to run their own studios. Digital production disturbs the social relations of production in the studio in two ways. First, digital production altered and interrupted the Fordist model of musical production that the major record labels used in their in-house studios. Second, the new studio model relies on contracted studios that rely on exploited labor in the form of interns and unpaid apprentices.

Chapter 4: Working Harder and Working Smarter: The Survival Strategies of Contemporary Independent Musicians

Brian J. Hracs

Although digital technologies and restructuring in the music industry have furnished musicians with unprecedented levels of autonomy and are widely considered emancipatory, the working lives of contemporary independent musicians are fraught with risk and uncertainty. To date, however, little is known about the strategies musicians are developing to overcome the inefficiencies of the ‘Do It Yourself’ (D.I.Y.) model and mediate the risks associated with the hyper-competitive marketplace. Drawing on 65 interviews, this chapter explores the interrelated spatial, organizational and commercial strategies being used by independent musicians in Toronto, Canada.

Chapter 5: From Artist to Entrepreneur: The Working Lives of London-Based Rappers

Laura Speers

In the changing musical marketplace where regular live performances, sense of community, and CD sales are being replaced by digital purchases, piracy and a shift to merchandise, rappers are having to make sense of their changing role as artists. To be a professional rapper requires that you promote yourself, that you are resourceful, and that you network – all aspects of cultural entrepreneurship. The opportunities and challenges encountered by London-based rappers, mapped out in this chapter, are underpinned by three notable tensions: autonomy versus forced adaptation, economic viability versus underground values, and creative practice versus entrepreneurial activity.

Chapter 6: Hip-hop Tunity: Challenges and Opportunities for indie Hip-Hop Artists in the Dutch Music Industry

Joni R. Haijen

The digital revolution has transformed the landscape of the music industry, generating new business models, requiring musicians to diversify their skill sets. However, relatively little is known about how independent musicians cope with these changes. This chapter provides an empirical analysis of the challenges and opportunities within a niche genre, the Dutch hip-hop scene. It is argued that, due to changes in the music industry, the field of hip-hop music is more accessible and the supply of aspiring rappers is rising. This creates a need to be more professional and creative in order to distinguish themselves from other indie artists.

Chapter 7: “Working at the Candy Factory”: The Limits of Nonmonetary Rewards in Record Industry Careers

Alexandre Frenette

Work in the record industry involves a peculiar combination of precariousness and passion. Based on interviews and participant observation data, I consider how balancing these two extremes can prove tenuous over time. While nonmonetary rewards count as payment, disenchantment is identified as a key reason for quitting or getting let go, and occurs for three key reasons: precariousness; a changing relationship to music; and aging out. I thereby provide a snapshot of record industry work conditions and show how the digital era has exacerbated these three pressures to exit. I conclude with thoughts on future research.

Chapter 8: The Resilience of a Local Music Scene in Dalston, London

Tarek E. Virani 

It has been argued that the allure of local music scenes has been diminished in the digital age. This chapter challenges this notion. Based on research in Dalston, London, this chapter argues that this particular music scene has ensured its presence and influence as an important cultural node within the city of London through a process of resilience. This resilience has entailed a level of sophisticated dialogue between primarily a performance venue and organizations that have strong local and trans-local links. This has resulted in the venue being elevated to a ‘special’ status within the scene, extending its importance across London.

Chapter 9: Landscapes of Performance and Technological Change: Music Venues in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Nashville, Tennessee

Ola Johansson, Margaret M. Gripshover and Thomas L. Bell

In order to explore how live music has been affected by technological change, we investigated performance venues in two U.S. metropolitan areas – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Nashville, Tennessee. Despite the cities’ disparate economic bases and built environments, we found significant commonalities in the mix of music venues. Responses from venue owners/managers and a supplemental literature review indicate that technology has allowed an areal expansion of the marketing for, and attendance at, performances. Larger venues are better positioned to take advantage of these technological changes and a creeping corporatization of the live music industry is detectable.

Chapter 10: What’s the ‘Newport Effect?:’ Music Festivals, Touring, and Reputations in the Digital Age

Jonathan R. Wynn and Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas

Live performances are a considerable concern for the music industry, and a newfound importance for cities as they transition from production to entertainment-centers. This chapters examines how festivals affect the wider music map for touring musicians and disparate music scenes by analyzing the changing relationship between festivals, bands, and the places they perform. We match interview data with music industry professionals and quantitative data on touring to offer a new way to approach the cultural geography of music: cities and bands create a ‘geography of genre’ that serves as an opportunity structure for people in and around the music industry.

Chapter 11: Musicians and Temporary Spaces: The Case of Music Festivals in Sweden

Johan Jansson and Jimi Nilsson

Recent technological developments have altered the nature of where, when, and how music-related creativity, production, and distribution takes place. The aim of this chapter is to examine the changing role of music festivals for individual musicians working in the music industry. More specifically, we identify important spaces at influential Swedish music festivals and analyze how these spaces relate to each other and how the processes taking place within these spaces are extended beyond the actual event.

Chapter 12: Exploring the ‘360 Degree’ Blur: Digitization, Sonic Capital and the Strategic Orientations of Electronic indie Labels

Hans-Joachim Bürkner

Digitization in popular music markets has forced stakeholders to change their production strategies. Many are engaging in open-ended, trial and error activities in order to make up for the lack of income from physical recording sales. Exploring the case of electronic dance music (EDM) production in the city of Berlin, this chapter undertakes a critical revision of the very rough 360 degree thesis that is influencing recent debates on the restructuring of music markets. By introducing the concept of ‘sonic capital’ as a heuristic analytical tool, it identifies a more sophisticated, pathway-dependent logic of scene-based adaptations to the digital challenge.

Chapter 13: More than Just Bytes? Responses to Digitization in the Paris Cluster of World Music Production

Amanda Brandellero and Robert C. Kloosterman

Historically, Paris has positioned itself as an important cluster of world music production and consumption, offering a portal to other cultures and traditions. Based on in-depth interviews with key actors in the field, we explore how some actors within that cluster perceive digitization as helping to get access to larger markets, while others fear the erosion of the layered experience of culture that world music affords. Our analysis reveals three distinct art worlds within one localized production system, each with its own market orientation, and need for tailored strategies to address digitization.

Chapter 14: Emotional Landscapes and the Evolution of Vinyl Record Retail: A Case Study of Highland Park, Los Angeles

Tyler Sonnichsen

In order to cater to this increasingly niche market of music consumers, new vinyl retailers need to recreate and cater to consumers’ nostalgically and romantically driven ideals of place. In doing so, they forge new spaces that could reinvent classic perceptions of the record shop. I argue that emotional geographies have been an overlooked yet undeniably major influence on music collecting, particularly of vinyl records, both prior to and concurrent with the digital era. In this chapter, I present findings based on qualitative research conducted in such recently opened retailers in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Chapter 15: Music Rights: Towards a Material Geography of Musical Practices in the ‘Digital Age’

Andy C Pratt

This chapter argues for the need to attend to the situated nature of the practices that constitute music in the digital age. In so doing I break the binary divide of the digital and material and remake it as a hybrid. The structure of the chapter is as follows: I first introduce the idea of copyright and ownership in music. In the second and third parts I elaborate the issues through the exploration of ownership and trade. I focus on two types of “rights” in music: moral and mechanical and demonstrate how these are interwoven and embedded in space.

Chapter 16: Unpacking the ‘Digital Habitus’ of Music Fans in Santiago’s indie Music Scene

Arturo Arriagada

This chapter examines the practices and dispositions towards information and communication technologies (ICTs) of a group of music fans that produce websites about local and global music scenes. It is based on nine months of fieldwork (2011) in Santiago, using an ethnographic approach, following the everyday practices of the creators of eight music websites through which cultural flows are mediated, organized, and circulated. The chapter explores how music websites operate as spaces through which music fans objectify their dispositions towards ICTs, as well as representations of the scenes and their flows.

Chapter 17: The Evolution of Music Tastemakers in the Digital Age: The Rise of Algorithms and the Response of Journalists

Bastian Lange

Digital technologies are altering the relationship between listeners and tastemakers, often removing boundaries between the two. The overwhelming amount of music available online combined with digital technologies that allow listeners to assume new roles threatens the status of music journalists as pivotal rating entities. At the same time, the rise of digital music algorithms, which mine the histories and taste preferences of listeners, is creating a rating and curation system which also circumvents the role of music journalists. However, this chapter demonstrates that music journalists are still valued and highlights the emergence of a hybrid curation model in the marketplace.

Chapter 18: Leveraging Affect: Mobilizing Enthusiasm and the Co-Production of the Musical Economy

Andrew Leyshon, Nigel Thrift, Louise Crewe, Shaun French and Pete Webb

This chapter considers the promises and problems of fandom and enthusiasm within capitalism.  Crowdfunding has emerged as an alternative way of funding creative projects in the face of the more cautious investments of record companies following the MP3 crisis. Through crowdfunding artists seek to harness the affect and emotions of fans to access new sources of money.  However, the process is not without its costs.  These include the demands placed on its users, not least that of being able to navigate a system that requires considerable reserves of social, cultural and financial capital.