Music Industry and Digital Youth Culture

Next Tuesday (Feb 2) will be the initial meeting of the first class I’m teaching at MIT. I’m excited about the course, a new one, which invites students to read along with me and collectively investigate what I’ve been calling music industry — that is, a broader understanding of musically-propelled cultural practice than something like “THE music industry,” with its focus on commerce, tends to demarcate — in particular as it relates to the more well-worn (if no less confusing) term, digital youth culture.

Wording aside, the subject matter should be familiar for readers of this blog. The discussions about music I try to host here are often, and perhaps also increasingly (see, all the youthful youtubery posted here in recent years), centered on the fraught and fertile intersections between musical/cultural practice, technological tools, industry and commerce, public debates, and the stories we tell about all these things.

If the subject matter is familiar to regular readers, I suspect some of the specific readings I’ve selected might be new to some — in part because some are fairly new. In sketching out the course’s — and my larger project’s — purview, I reach across various disciplinary literatures and genres (from the dry to the webby) to focus our foray on a few primary areas of inquiry: music/culture industry history; digital/media theory; and youth ethnography.

Finally — & this probably goes without saying — I welcome any comments, other suggested readings, etc. I will likely offer this course again in 2011 and intend to keep tweaking it. Plus, as already noted, this course emerges out of my current research project, and any help on that would be, as the digital youth used to put it, teh awesome.

Without further…

21F.060 / 21M.539: Topics in Media and Cultural Studies
“Music Industry and Digital Youth Culture”

Spring 2010

Wayne Marshall
Mellon Fellow in the Humanities
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Music and Theater Arts

Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-4:00 pm
Room 16-628

Course Description

Giving emphasis to the specific tools used to produce and disseminate media today, this course examines how digital technologies — especially peer-to-peer networks and so-called social media sites — are shaping and being shaped by the practices and values of the people using them. Taking into account a variety of forms and platforms, our study will focus on music as a crucial connective thread in contemporary media and culture.


The convergence of global pop, social networks, and international digital youth culture constitutes a profound shift in how we imagine and access the world around us, but one which has yet to undergo a sustained and appropriately interdisciplinary examination — in particular, an approach which attends to specific tools (e.g., YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, imeem, blogs, torrents, production software, etc.) while situating them in the broader contexts of media studies, social science approaches, and digital humanities. Reading across these perspectives, we will ask: What is music industry today? And what can it tell us about the possibilities and constraints of cultural production in our digital, increasingly networked, and perhaps “post-scarcity” age.

Class meetings will involve discussions of readings and various musical and video texts as well as regular demonstrations/investigations of particular technologies of production, circulation, and representation. Assignments will include documentation of collective and individual research topics, developing a hands-on familiarity with particular digital tools, conducting online ethnographic experiments, composing critical appraisals of readings and media texts, as well as a final research project which – in terms of topic, scope, and expression – will be primarily developed by individual students depending on their areas of interest.

Course Requirements and Grading Distribution:

Discussion, Attendance – 20 % – Throughout term
Response Papers / Wiki work – 30 % – Throughout term
Individual Presentations – 20 % – Week 14
Final Paper (8-10 pages) – 30 % – Due last day of class (5/13)


Part I: 20th Century Pop Culture and Music Industry 1.0

Week 1: Mass/Pop/Web Culture & Its Discontents

Middleton, Richard. 1990. “‘Roll Over Beethoven’: Sites and Soundings on the Music-Historical Map” (short excerpt: p. 13-16) and “‘It’s All Over Now’: Popular Music and Mass Culture – Adorno’s Theory” (34-63). In Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Shirky, Clay. “The Shock of Inclusion.” Edge: World Question Center. Jan 2010.

Keen, Andrew. 2006. “Web 2.0: The second generation of the Internet has arrived. It’s worse than you think.” The Weekly Standard (Feb 15).

Week 2: Music Industrialization, Commodification, & Consolidation

Suisman, David. 2009. Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (prologue, ch. 1, 8)

Taylor, Timothy D. 2007. “The Commodification of Music at the Dawn of the Era of ‘Mechanical Music.’” Ethnomusicology 51(2): 281-305.

Kot, Greg. 2009. Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. New York: Scribner. (ch. 1, 2)

Week 3: Enclosure and Read-Only Culture

Boyle, James. 2008. The Public Doman: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press. (ch. 3, 4, 6)

Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press. (ch. 1, 3)

Part II: Digital Turns in Music, Culture & Society

Week 4: The Politics of Digitization (Napster, Mashups, & Hip-hop)

Abelson, Hal, Ken Ledeen & Harry Lewis. 2008. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion. New York: Addison-Wesley. (ch. 1, 6)

Gillespie, Tarleton. “The Politics of ‘Platforms.’” New Media & Society, 2010.

Katz, Mark. 2004. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press. (ch. 7)

Week 5: The MP3 Era

Sterne, Jonathan. 2006. “The MP3 as Cultural Artifact.” New Media & Society 8(5): 825–842.

Katz, Mark. 2004. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press. (ch. 8)

Rodman, Gilbert and Cheyanne Vanderdockt. 2006. “Music for Nothing or, I want my MP3.” Cultural Studies 20(2): 245-261.

Kot, Greg. 2009. Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. New York: Scribner. (ch. 3, 20)

Week 6: Peer Production

Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press. (ch. 1, 3, 8)

Week 7: Dot Organizing

Shirky, Clay. 2009. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin. (ch. 2, 3)

Weinberger, David. 2008. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Holt. (ch. 1, 7)

Week 8: Spreadability, Virality, and Value

Jenkins, Henry. 2009. “If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead (parts 1-8).”

Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press. (ch. 5, 6)

Part III: Digital Youth Culture and Music Industry 2.0

Week 9: Digital Youth Practices & Problems

Palfrey. John and Urs Gasser. 2008. Born Digital. New York: Basic Books. (Introduction, ch. 5, 6)

Watkins, Craig. 2009. The Young and the Digital. Boston: Beacon Press. (ch. 1, 4)

Week 10: New Media Literacies & Cultural Production

Lange, Patricia G. and Mizuko Ito. “Final Report: Creative Production.” In Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.

Horst, Heather A., Becky Herr-Stephenson, and Laura Robinson. “Final Report: Media Ecologies.” In Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.

Week 11: YouTube & Participatory Culture

Burgess, Jean and Joshua Green. 2009. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Week 12: Blogs & “Nu” World Music

Zuckerman, Ethan. 2009. “From protest to collaboration: Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ and lessons for xenophiles.”

Marshall, Wayne. 2007. “Nu Whirl Music, Blogged in Translation?”

Dacks, David. 2009. “State of the World: How Globalistas Are Tearing Down Cultural Barriers.”

Clayton, Jace. “World Music 2.0.” The National, 31 December 2009.

Week 13: Social Networks, Network Culture, and 21st Century Music Industry

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. 2007. “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13(1): article 11.

Andrejevic, Mark. “Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor.” In The YouTube Reader, eds. Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, 406-23. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.

Varnelis, Kazys. “The meaning of network culture.” Eurozine, 14 January 2010.

Williamson, John and Martin Cloonan. 2007. “Rethinking the Music Industry.” Popular Music 26(2): 305-322.

Week 14: Project/paper Presentations