Your last book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, examines how new media change the ways we communicate. How does that work carry forward into your current study? Does thinking of music as communication, as opposed to commerce, take us beyond questions of "industry"?
Personal Connections is about personal relationships. More than ever, as a consequence of disintermediation, the relationships between musicians and their audiences have elements of personal relationships. You can't just be a rock star and let your label and publicist moderate the relationship with audience anymore, you have to be engaged, and that means you have to confront many of the same issues that we struggle with in personal relationships — what kind of relationship do I want this to be? How much do I disclose about myself? What boundaries do I need to draw? Even if you decide you don't want to use social media at all, you still have to think through those issues in ways you didn't have to 20 years ago.
It gets us beyond industry because it recognizes that music making and listening and the relationship between musicians and audiences is not just a market relationship. It's never been solely about manufacturing and paying for product, it's always been more social and more meaningful than that. The challenge now is how musicians and industries can meld the market perspective that underlies the term 'industry' with a social perspective that respects these connections as social as well as economic. I don't like the term "the music industry" — though I've used it myself — since it's often used to mean "the recording industry" and neglects the many other industries that are involved in producing, teaching, and disseminating music. Rethinking music means rethinking the idea that there is "a music industry."
A lot of your work has proceeded under the banner of "fandom," yet your current book project, Beautiful and Strange, shifts to speaking of "audiences" — is this a meaningful shift? Whither fandom in an increasingly peer-to-peer era?
Good catch! The current project looks at engagement from the perspective of musicians, and there are many people with whom they engage who are not fans — they may be casual listeners, former fans, people who hate their songs. I wanted to let the musicians be the ones to choose the labels and I think "audience" is the vaguest term. They often do talk about "fans" but one consequence of social media is that they have to deal with the haters and the lukewarm in new ways too. They talk about people who come to the shows with friends and aren't that into them, people who send them nasty emails because they don't like their politics, people who leak and who trash their music, and so on. Fans are not the only listeners who matter. That said, fans are increasingly influential in a p2p era, and fandom is, as I've described it elsewhere, superpowered by the Internet in terms of having many more ways to connect with one another, to share, to build informational repositories, to collectively interpret, to influence one another's musical taste, and ultimately to sustain musical careers.
: Music Features
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