Archive of posts tagged with "industry"

December 31st, 2018

AfrodiasporaPOP!

In October, I spoke to Rolling Stone (always wanted to say that!) about how, in their words, “reggaeton, dancehall, baile funk, afrobeats and other diasporic styles are mixing faster than ever — without much help from the U.S. music industry.” The topic has been a sustained thesis on this blog and in my work, of course, so I was happy to talk to Elias Leight about the phenomenon, especially its historical dimensions.

Leight’s article shines light on a number of contemporary intersections in this vein while framing them against the long view, especially with regard to the question of whether we’ve entered a new, internet-abetted era of diasporic interaction. Of course, I had to connect some of my favorite dots (and “dotted” rhythms). As the article opens–

Popular musical rhythms are always skipping and skittering back and forth between Africa and its diasporic communities, from Jamaica to Brazil to Colombia and elsewhere. “That’s a process that’s been going on for a long, long time,” says musicologist Wayne Marshall, who teaches at Berklee College of Music. “What was called, for a while, Congolese rumba and then evolves into soukous — the reason it’s called rumba is because it’s [based on] Cuban son records that became popular in the Congo. It’s circular: The son doesn’t exist without that African musical heritage in the first place.”

But in recent years, the musical conversations appear to be evolving more rapidly. “YouTube in particular has intensified and accelerated that process,” Marshall says.

That’s “nu whirled music” for ya, especially in an age when we bear witness to yet another iteration of this Afro-Atlantic exchange (and indeed, I could have noted that the African heritage that informs son cubano is, more specifically, deeply Congolese!). For more context, contemporary and historical, read the rest –>

     Elias Leight, “One Planet Under a Groove,” Rolling Stone, 17 October 2018.

Continuing the query into historical patterns of “borrowing” and exchange, I think it’s right for Light to raise the specter of cultural appropriation in the article. Many of the artists more involved in “lateral” Afrodiasporic circulation — i.e., between Brazil and the Dominican Republic, or Jamaica and Ghana, Angola and Oriente — are “structurally” disadvantaged when it comes to exploiting their productions in the global music industry to the same degree as their North American and European counterparts. Wizkid might get sampled on a Drake track and Janet Jackson can stay fresh with an afrobeats-inflected single, but we’ve yet to see a true paradigm shift where such (extractive?) gestures are enough to open up the stage. Shakira had the best selling reggaeton single of the century before Bieber helped Fonsi take the crown. Drake and Rihanna can’t help but eat Jamaica’s food, their heartfelt homages notwithstanding.

As the article does a good job reminding, there’s a lot more out there to listen for — and a lot more that people are listening to. These “lateral” movements across the diaspora can have resounding, inspiring effects everywhere. This was true in the days when recordings could more easily cross borders than people, and it’s as true as ever in the age of increasingly centralized online platforms (YouTube, Spotify) and a vast, diverse world of producers and participants with growing access and power. We’re not there yet but I still get the sense that the wave of the future, as far as global pop, is going to be a tide all its own, on its own terms, rolling along in its own way. We’ve been watching the ripples for a while, and they’re getting bigger and bigger: take, say, the remarkable dominance of Spanish-language bangers among all YouTube uploads in 2018. (Bigup to Elias for that article too! Can’t stop sharing it with students and colleagues.) Indeed, as Eddie Cepeda argues in Pitchfork this week, we might recognize that the sea change is underway and we’re already swimming in new waters. Latin pop is American pop is Afrodiasporic pop is global pop, and if that wasn’t always the case, it’s becoming harder and harder to deny.

At the end of 2018, I’ll leave it at this: what better represents this turn (and this blog — shoutout to ol’ rabbit holes!) than a 20-year-old slice of petróleo crudo by Cutty Ranks and El Chombo proving its enduring resonance (and/or prescience) by garnering nearly a billion views in a little over 6 months?! Talk about ahead of the curve. And while I can’t resist punning on the old Panamanian name for proto-reggaeton — i.e., petróleo — I really love that this track is sweeping the world this year unadulterated and un-remixed (if not unaccompanied). It’s as raw (and refined!) as it was in the first place, way back when it introduced Cuentos de la Cripta 2 in 1998.

Cutty may mean a lot of things when he says “Dame tu cosita” (or not), and while the music industry is not the first that comes to mind, suddenly I can hear it that way too. Here’s to even bigger cosas, y olas, in 2019–

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December 30th, 2018

Ich kann ein bisschen Reggaeton verstehen

ila, a German magazine devoted to Latin America published a special issue on reggaeton this summer, including an interview with yours truly. If you kann ein bisschen Duetsch lesen (like those of us who studied vergleichende Musikwissenschaft in graduate school), then you can click on that link in the last sentence and read it there.

If not, allow me to share our exchange in English, which is how it happened. This took place back in May, and I would have a lot more to say about some of these questions at this point in this year, but I’ll no doubt have another chance soon — yet another lingering “Despacito effect.” But more on that luego/pronto.

For now, please read on for questions by Britt Weyde, editor of ila, in italics, followed by some answers.

BW: After the „despacito effect“ in 2017 – What’s the actual position of Reggaetón according to your opinion?

W&W: Reggaeton is as popular as ever, at a grassroots and industry level, and on a national/regional as well as global scale. Reggaeton enjoys a strong presence across the pop / club landscapes of the United States, Colombia, Cuba, Spain, and the wider world. YouTube not only bears witness to Despacito’s staggering 5 billion views but to a remarkable presence of reggaeton artists and tracks among the top viewed videos of all time.

BW: The worldwide success of Reggaeton – is it simply demographics (increasing latino population in the US, migrated latino Diaspora in Europe, i.e. Spain)? – or are there other reasons, for example the immense possibilities/capability of the genre to merge/fuse/integrate always other/new musical styles? Is it because Reggaeton already had started as a hybrid genre it easily continues developing/integrating other styles?

W&W: I think demographics play a role in terms of the genre’s ability to establish metropolitan beachheads around the world, but I also think you’re right that there’s a broader aesthetic resonance there. To my ears, it has a lot to do with how reggaeton takes up dancehall’s modern, electronic distillation of a classic Afrodiasporic rhythm. It’s a rhythm that itself undergirds so much of reggaeton’s ability to integrate and fuse with kindred genres. Indeed, while the sound of reggaeton has changed profoundly over the last 20 years — in step with broader trends in hip-hop, dancehall, and global club music — that bedrock rhythm has remained its lynchpin.

BW: Who are the most important/interesting artists representing the genre nowadays (according to your opinion, male and female)?

W&W: This question demands that we think about the genre’s contents — and discontents. Who represents the genre? Who has the authority to say so? Depending on how and where you locate the genre (and its boundaries), you may find that the most interesting or important things, in terms of stylistic innovation and a re-imagination of the genre’s contents, are happening along those borders of the genre (which, as I’ve chronicled, are often intensely policed and debated by reggaeton enthusiasts).

Though it had been floating around since the mid-90s, the term reggaeton only really came to prominence around 2003. Prior to that, artists and audiences were as likely to call it dembow, underground, Spanish reggae, or just reggae — or possibly even melaza (molasses) in Puerto Rico or petróleo (oil) in Panama, terms clearly linked to the genre’s black, working-class base. During the genre’s 2004-08 heyday, all manner of artists were happy to hitch their wagons to reggaeton, but after the hype died down (and perhaps a certain oversaturation), a number of artists sought to distance themselves from it, preferring more vague terms such as “música urbana.” Someone like Residente of Calle 13 rose to prominence on the reggaeton wave but he has long since embraced a range of other styles. Is he (still) a reggaeton artist? He’s definitely making some of the most ambitious and incisive music on the planet right now.

More recently, we’ve seen the rise of Latin trap as an alternative approach for a new generation of Puerto Rican and Latin American artists, and something like the #neoperreo movement queers the genre in more ways than one. Should we consider any of the artists associated with those movements part of the wider reggaeton genre? Are “soundcloud rappers” and DIY dembow scenes part of reggaeton? Are artists from the Dominican Republic, or elsewhere, who use reggaeton rhythms as part of a broader musical palette part of the genre? In which case, Amara La Negra definitely deserves attention for the ways she challenges racism within the music industry.

If the Despacito effect now entails a new wave of reggaeton, branded as such, centered in Colombia, should we consider someone like J Balvin a reggaeton artist? He’s making a strong play for global pop crossover stardom; as such, he’s certainly interesting as a force in bringing Spanish-language songs into the Anglo mainstream, and via reggaeton’s hallmark rhythms. Inevitably, such efforts will reshape the contours of the genre yet again — and inspire no end of debates.

BW: Is Colombia the new Reggaetón hotspot (since Reggaeton Superstars like Maluma, J. Balvin come from there and Nicky Jam lived there for a while)?

W&W: Clearly, Colombian artists have been making major waves for a few years now, and I might go so far as to argue that, where it once resided in San Juan, New York, or Colón, reggaeton’s new capital is arguably Medellín. Although Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee are Puerto Rican, “Despacito” was co-written with a Colombian songwriter, produced by Colombian producers, and initially pitched at the Latin American audience that increasingly looks to Colombia for reggaeton hits. The success of J. Balvin, Maluma, Karol G and others are part and parcel of this wave. Despite the expansion of audience and market-share for the genre this represents, this Colombian turn is not seen by all as a positive development. Some have argued that the Colombian industry has “sanded down” reggaeton’s rough edges to produce a slicker, pop-ready sound, an aesthetic form of gentrification, blanqueamiento / whitewashing, perhaps even appropriation.

BW: What about the postcolonial promise you named in your article “from Música negra to Reggaetón Latino” – that of a convivial, cosmopolitan multiculture – on the musical level we might have got another step closer, but regarding politics we seem far more away?

W&W: Indeed, one might hear global pop today sounding as convivial and cosmopolitan as ever, undergirded by Afrodiasporic rhythms, open to far-flung musical references, and even increasingly multilingual. Meanwhile, we seem to behold a deeply acrimonious social wedge being driven between people based on racism and xenophobia. The fact that a Spanish-language song like “Despacito” would dominate the US and global pop charts during Trump’s first year in office seems downright paradoxical. For me, it actually signals that the vast majority of people are not xenophobes and do not want to build huge walls, whether physical or cultural. For all the “top-down” industry meddling that can structure things, I still think of popular music as a deeply “bottom-up” movement, and the abiding (and sometimes surging) popularity of reggaeton perhaps prefigures the next political wave to come. People who have been voting “with their feet” so to speak, dancing along to beloved polyrhythms, may one day vote together with their ballots too, though that might be an optimistic assessment of the present political circumstances.

BW: With artists like Fonsi, Maluma, Nicky Jam, J.Balvin, Natti Natasha and even Europeans like Enrique Iglesias – Did we reach another stadium of whitewashing the original mostly black music? (exception regarding mainstream superstars is Ozuna)?

W&W: I think one can make the case that, yes, the artists most effectively able to exploit reggaeton in the mass market are artists who are less constrained by anti-blackness. The “mainstream” — which is to say, middle-class consumption — at least in the United States but also across the post-colonial world, is still a sphere of racialized class order. From Elvis and the Rolling Stones through Eminem and Justin Bieber, this has been the case. I believe this is less an indictment of any of the artists that we’re discussing here, however, and more an indictment of white supremacy.

BW: In mainstream reggaetón lyrics refer mostly to romanticism and love, in many hits the reggaetoneros not only rap, nowadays they also sing (p.g. Nicky Jam, Fonsi, Iglesias) – is this still reggaeton or simply latin pop?

W&W: This line, between reggaeton and Latin pop, has often been a blurry one. Certainly, many reggaetoneros have aspired to the level of success that would allow them to operate as pop stars rather than be confined to a smaller genre. Stylistically speaking, reggaetoneros have always mixed rapping with singing, which is the Jamaican way too. If anything, we can hear the recent pop-ification of reggaeton more in the “clean” production values that characterize the Colombian style. That said, Luny Tunes and other producers were pushing reggaeton in that direction during the genre’s initial heyday, and it’s worth remembering that reggaeton itself became Latin pop on its own terms before this more recent turn in which we might hear a more thorough remaking of reggaeton style by pop-leaning producers. Originally, reggaeton was a DIY music made by working-class producers who reveled in their ability to exploit recording technologies — and let these sonic seams proudly show; today, reggaeton is increasingly produced by middle-class or elite producers who approach it not as a tradition but as a stylistic palette.

BW: What do you think about the discussion about cultural appropriation? Most recent example: the discussion roundabout lesbian reggaetonera “Chocolate remix” from Argentina

W&W: As long as racialized, patriarchal structural inequality persists, we’re going to have these debates. Reggaeton itself emerges on the margins, but as a rather macho cultural formation, it also reproduces certain forms of oppression too — especially in terms of gender and sexuality. I’ve tried to chart certain openings with regard to some of reggaeton’s “harder” stances about gender roles or sexual identities, and I think there is a great deal happening in different local scenes that challenges some of these “established” features of the genre. Given a certain degree of exclusion and objectification, I think that women and queer artists should feel free to “appropriate” the genre for their own ends, especially if in service of political critique and intervention. As I explored in my chapter in our Reggaeton book, a great deal of ink has been spilled over whether reggaeton is essentially the property of Jamaicans, Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, Latinos, “morenos,” etc. Discussions about appropriation are, at bottom, about the question of who has the right to exploit some piece of (common / communal) property and whether they reside in or outside the circle.

BW: Some of the successful reggaetoneros of the moment are doing also Trap, recovering in these tracks the gansta/macho/blinblin/objectifying women “aesthetics” (p.e. maluma – cuatro babies, ozuna – la occasion) – is Trap digging Reggaetons grave?

W&W: Given reggaeton’s recent comeback and the fact that it has maintained popularity in so many places, it is hard for me to imagine it being swiftly or simply pushed aside by something like Latin trap. Because reggaeton moved away from hip-hop references at a certain point, the genres now seem further away from each other than, say, reggaeton from dancehall reggae. But hip-hop has always been a part of reggaeton, and Latin trap — and its inevitable intersections with reggaeton — just represents another set of possibilities for collaboration and stylistic innovation.

BW: Regarding gender – there are still not so many women doing reggaeton (or at least having big success) – why?

W&W: As I mentioned above, reggaeton remains a fairly macho genre, and the entire industry is, of course, part of the wider patriarchal culture and society we live in. This has made it difficult for women to succeed in the genre, until fairly recently, unless they were willing to play the sing-song, subservient foil: e.g., Glory or Jenny La Sexy Voz. One big exception of course is Ivy Queen, though it’s notable that she came to prominence by being as tough and fierce as any man in the genre. This is remarkably similar in some ways to the rise of women rappers, many of whom approached the art as hyper-competitive and took up the themes of powerful braggadocio that characterized their male peers’ performances. Over time, though, as we have seen in hip-hop, there are always ways to subvert or break that mold, and in the same way we’ve seen a wider range of possibilities emerge among hip-hop artists (and both men and women, notably), I believe reggaeton has that potential too. Indeed, the number of women participating as artists is as large as ever and offers quite a range of approaches.

BW: On the other hand: regarding lyrics, we don’t have the monolithic macho structures anymore, in J.Balvins “Ambiente” the girl he’s interested in is kissing another girl, or Maluma is up to a quite polyamory stile in his “Felizes los cuatro” – do you share these observations?

W&W: Yes, exactly, and I think this also mirrors popular culture more widely, which has softened in its ideas about policing ideas about gender and sexuality. This is as true for, say, mainstream television as it is for, say, hip-hop and dancehall and reggaeton.

BW: What are legendary producers like Luny Tunes doing today? In ´”The chosen few” they said they would like to do things together with “the Neptunes” (but Pharell is featured in Malumas “Safari” instead) … And some of the reggaetoneros present in “the chosen few” have still success nowadays (Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam …) what about the others?

W&W: I’m afraid I don’t know what they’re up to at the moment! I wish I’d had a chance to ask DJ Nelson last week. I haven’t really kept tabs on all of these artists, though their “disappearance” is in no way exceptional for popular music. There’s always a lot of turnover and churn. It’s not an easy way to make a career. That said, this does make the careers of Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam all the more remarkable. Twenty years of popular success is impressive in any genre.

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October 4th, 2013

To Make an Unforgivably Short Story Longer…

Thanks to all for passing around the raggamuffin hip-hop articles & mix. As it happens, the cosmos smiled on our cross-platform publication by arranging for a rather resonant listicle to appear at the bredrin-blog LargeUp just the next day: a Toppa Top 10 devoted to “Raggamuffin Gangster Rap“!

West Coast examples of raggamuffin rap only appear briefly toward the end of our mix, so it’s great to have the picture fleshed out a little more. Here’s the hook —

Back when Shabba and Super Cat were killing the game in the early ’90s, the influence of dancehall could be felt throughout hip-hop. While East Coast rappers with Caribbean backgrounds like KRS-One and Heavy D collaborated with dancehall’s heavyweights themselves, artists from the West Coast—where the connections to Jamaica were less apparent—had to get a little more creative. Hence, the faux raggamuffin deejay styles on records by NWA, DJ Quik and other gangster rap acts of the day.

Read the rest.

While I’ve got you here, I thought I should share something of an author’s cut of the Cluster Mag article, which had to be about half the length that I wanted it to be. At one point in the article, there appears a rather brief history of Jamaican soundsystem culture, accompanied by the disclaimer, “To make the very long story unforgivably short…”

Well, what else are blogs for? Here’s the longer version for any of you who care to read. For me, the little leaps of logic involved in the beginnings of reggae and rap really do deserve explication and emphasis —

Playing records to people, interactively, sounds totally commonplace today, because it is. But at the time that “soundsystems” in Kingston started holding dances backed not by bands but by savvy selectors with hot and hit records and powerful speakers, that sort of thing was hardly seen outside of sock hops or the first French discothèques. As they later did with the recording studio itself, Jamaicans were in the process of making the jukebox a live instrument, which required some little leaps of logic and a lot of ingenuity.

When Clement “Coxsone” Dodd was working as a migrant laborer in Florida in the 1950s, he attended lots of parties. And while picking oranges, he was also picking up plenty of the 45s running the local jukeboxes. Back then, there were two main sources for the soundtrack of the party: canned jukebox or live band. Returning home to Kingston, Coxsone decided to combine the two: to play records as live performance. He started with a PA at his parents’ pharmacy, bringing in customers with the slick sounds of Southern R&B. Before long Coxsone’s Downbeat soundsystems were operating across Western Kingston and beyond, vying with Duke Reid’s Trojan as keeper of the best downtown dancehall sessions. Soon after, he opened up Studio One, where the feedback loop between what dancers liked and selectors played could be made even tighter. Eventually, through the magic of dubplates and multitracks, selectors could rinse instrumental versions of popular tunes while, inspired by African-American radio disc jockeys, jive-slanging “deejays” such as King Stitt and U-Roy toasted in a local, cosmopolitan tongue. It didn’t take much longer, if another little leap of logic, for these masters of ceremony to become recording stars in their own right: in 1970, U-Roy’s first “talkover” singles—a trio of rocksteady-repurposing novelties—held the top spots on Jamaican radio for months.

This interactive approach to playing commercial dance records is, of course, essentially the same insight that would engender disco right around the same time, and which carries forward via house, techno, and their EDM ilk as perhaps the dominant paradigm of modern musical experience. It is also the same insight that sparked hip-hop—quite directly, in fact.

As the story goes, hip-hop was born on a summer night in 1973 in a rec-room on the ground floor of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, an apartment building in the West Bronx, when Clive Campbell, better known as Kool Herc, hosted a party with his older sister Cindy. Born and raised in Kingston, Campbell was well familiar with the importance of a customized—and loud and clear—sonic experience. For the party, Herc borrowed a powerful PA from his father, a soundman for local R&B acts, and played the role of selector, hand-picking and cueing up records, as well as MC, using a mic to praise partygoers with rhyming routines, and to hype the musical selections, make announcements, and encourage dancing.

Like any good DJ, Herc sought to respond to the demands of his audience. Given the context, this entailed embracing certain soundsystem techniques—especially the license to manipulate a recording in realtime—while departing from what one might have heard at a dance in Jamaica. Despite borrowing liberally from soundsystem culture, Herc didn’t play reggae at the party. Among his peers, Jamaican music and style had yet to undergo the cool recuperation that eventually followed Bob Marley’s success and, more important in New York, the violent dominance of the drug trade by Jamaican gangs, or “posses,” in the mid-80s. Just as Herc made an effort to swap his Jamaican accent for a Bronx brogue, he played soul, funk, and driving disco tracks—especially records with stripped-down, percussion-led breaks—in place of reggae anthems.

Herc and Cindy began throwing parties regularly, and the audience steadily grew—as did Herc’s crew, including dedicated MCs like Coke La Rock and a coterie of flashy dancers. Running out of room at 1520 Sedgwick, Herc relocated to nearby Cedar Park where, repurposing what little civic infrastructure remained in a place haunted by the politics of neglect, electricity from a utility pole powered the soundsystem. In contrast to clubs, where cover charges and age restrictions kept teenagers out, the “park jams” were active incubators, stylistically and socially, of a new kind of public youth culture. In this way, Herc’s burgeoning audience, some driven West by gang violence in the South Bronx, helped essentially to co-produce a remarkable phenomenon: a vibrant party scene where local culture thrived as DJs, MCs, and dancers wrested new forms out of the resources at hand.

Hip-hop was so tied to realtime social gatherings in its early years that the idea of committing such performances to tape and selling them as commodities required some imagination. Recordings of parties were made, of course, and tapes circulated informally and even quasi-commercially, but it was not until a seasoned and savvy record executive, Silvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records, saw potential in the form that the rap song emerged as such, six years after Herc’s back-to-school jam on Sedgwick Ave. Most of hip-hop’s biggest names at that time were not easily convinced, or drawn away from the relatively lucrative party circuit, so Robinson’s first attempt was more a studio simulation than a faithful rendering of contemporary party practice. Assembling a ragtag crew of aspiring rappers as the Sugar Hill Gang, Robinson released a 15-minute single called “Rapper’s Delight” stitching together popular routines drawn from such prominent MCs as Grandmaster Caz over a replayed loop from Chic’s “Good Times,” then a current favorite among hip-hop DJs. Despite its unusual length for a pop single, as a passably genuine artifact of hip-hop’s sprawling party style, “Rapper’s Delight” became a massive hit on urban radio, selling millions of copies and offering the wider world its first exposure to hip-hop. (Multiple Jamaican acts recorded reggae-fied versions of the song before the year was out.)

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March 14th, 2013

Blogs and Works

A little late to report this here, but two weeks ago FACT Mag ran an interview with Mike Paradinas, aka µ-ziq, perhaps better known these days as the head of Planet Mu Records. FACT describes the label so —

Initially serving as an outlet for the IDM scene and its offspring, the label has since undergone a series of radical overhauls, consistently wrong-footing its detractors and cementing its position at the forefront of all things electronic. In the mid-2000s the label served as an essential platform for dubstep’s launch into the mainstream; in recent years it has become renowned for championing Chicago footwork, helping to plant a previously obscure music firmly in the global musical consciousness.

When the interview finally turns to footwork, Paradinas’s answer is, well, kinda awesome, maybe —

With footwork for example, how did you discover that? Was it something you stumbled across?

MP: “Yeah. I think Wayneandwax posted something on his blog, maybe, and I clicked a link. Then I just followed all the YouTube links from there, and there was shitloads of stuff, and it was all completely amazing in its own way. Although we got a lot of criticism from certain corners of Chicago for releasing DJ Nate. So then I suppose we had to redress the balance slightly.”

Noncommital attribution or not, I do appreciate the nod. (Thanks, Mike, if you still read on occasion.) Can’t help but be delighted by even the faintest possibility that this here blog had something to do with oddball Chicago bedroom / rec-room music crossing over into the global bass mainstream (for better and worse). I started blogging about juke back when I lived to Chicago and discovered imeem (at the same damn time). Sudden juke goldmine even if everything was pretty much streaming at horribly compressed levels. And I was a certified Nate booster, so that might explain some things too. If this really was the chain of events, sure was a roundabout way to finally score some Nate 320s!

Speaking of betterdom or worsement, allow me to share a bit more:

In general do the Chicago scene approve of what you’ve done with footwork?

MP: “I think they just want to make money. I mean I think they care whether they’ve been represented, individually, correctly or not, obviously. And that the scene has been represented OK. And that’s why they didn’t like what had happened about DJ Nate – self-appointed scene members were upset by it. But above that, I suppose everyone wants to be successful. I think artistically we were successful [with Footwork], but it hasn’t been the best-selling thing. Some of the artists made advances from us, and that’s been good for them. And Rashad and Spinn have been playing out a lot. I’ve always wanted Hyperdub to release some [footwork]. Because I felt like people were looking at Mu as if it was mental, releasing all this Chicago footwork. I wanted not to be alone. Though there are a lot of labels releasing pseudo-footwork – even us, even Planet Mu.”

What sort of things are you referring to?

MP: “People like Machinedrum. FaltyDL has been doing a bit of it, though I don’t think it’s been released. I think Machinedrum’s has been successful in that it wasn’t emulating footwork – he was taking a deeper sort of response to it. But there has been a lot of other things – like Krampfhaft – it’s all a bit pyrotechnic-ey. I don’t think the European and white American response, unless you’re in the [Chicago] scene, has been that successful. It’s not very grassroots is it, it’s just part of the post-dubstep scene, and so there’s not really a big reason for it to exist other than, ‘Oh I’ve been listening to a bit of this, I’m going to put it in my music’. Some of it’s more successful than others. I think the first successful track for me – apart from Machinedrum – was Mark Pritchard as Africa Hi-Tech, ‘Out In The Streets’. But then Mark’s a fucking great producer.”

My first reaction was: don’t blame me for future-juke! Just kidding, my actual first reaction was: gotta appreciate the candor. Paradinas appears to come by his love for and opinions about the music honestly. Gotta appreciate as well that he’s put some Chicago-based producers, established and emergent, into circulation for entirely new publics — and into little more posterity than the socialmedia “platform” du jour.

The Young Smoke album Planet Mu put out last year was one of my favorite things of 2012 and still resides on my smartphone many months later (which is something, trust me). To think that I might have had some passing influence on the processes that led to this music finding me 6 years later puts a little smile on my face, no lie.

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February 5th, 2013

Africa Remix

This Friday, February 8, Harvard’s “African Musics Abroad” seminar will stage a one day conference called “Africa Remix” with an aim to

probe the global circulation of African musics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, featuring presentations by major producers of African sound recordings, discussions with presenters of African musical performances live and mediated, and insights from and a performance by musicians who are themselves engaged in the process of remixing African music worldwide.

While African musics have been traveling (and transformed) for centuries, not least via the slave trade, the conference will focus on more recent musical movements and mixtures — namely those that have followed in the wake of the era of African independence beginning around 1960. According to the organizers:

The increased physical mobility of many African musicians has been amplified by an active recording industry. The global circulation of African musics has opened a space that accommodates both dialogue and dispute, one that has both reshaped musics from the continent and transformed musical creativity and performance internationally. Issues include questions of who is representing African music, the ethics of “musical borrowing,” and the economic dimensions of remixing practices for African musicians who are the sources of circulated musical materials.

The bulk of the day will be devoted to three panel sessions bringing together producers, practitioners, and scholars — “Producing Global Sounds,” “Shaping Local Reception,” and “Collaboration or Appropriation?” — and I’m happy to report that I’ll be chairing the third one, a conversation around a well-worn debate but, hopefully, offering some fresh angles thanks to the rich ethnographic and interpretive work the panelists will draw on in their presentations (which will range from roots reggae in Israel to Malian dance in diaspora to, possibly, Die Antwoord, though I have yet to confirm that last one).

The keynote speaker is Francis Falceto of Buda Musique in Paris, who will explore the conference theme through a discussion of his renowned Éthiopiques series, which to date has issued twenty-seven albums from the century-long history of Ethiopian sound recordings.

Rounding things out at the end of the day, there will be a free concert by Boston’s breakout Ethio-jazz group, Debo Band, following a conversation between bandleader (and erstwhile ethno student here) Danny Mekonnen and Prof. Kay Shelemay.

Actually, for those who are interested in really rounding things out, the perfect nightcap will involve following me & Chief Boima over to the Good Life, where he’ll join King Louie from Texas’s Peligrosa crew, Boston’s/Austin’s own Swelta (#FEELINGS), and resident DJs Riobamba & Oxycontinental for a very special edition of Picó Picante. After a long day of thinking and talking, actually embodying some “Africa Remix” vibes will be a welcome culmination & break, and these are the DJs to take you there —

Should be quite a day (& night). Here’s the full program:

Africa Remix:
Producing and Presenting African Musics Abroad


Friday, February 8, 2013
Thompson Room, Barker Center / Lowell Hall

Mahindra Humanities Center Seminar Conference
Organized by “African Musics Abroad”

CONFERENCE

8:30 am, Thompson Room, Barker Center

Welcome, 8:30 am
Homi K. Bhabha, Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard

Producing Global Sounds, 9:00 am
Chief Boima, “Africa is a Country”
José da Silva, LUSAFRICA
Ben Herson, Nomadic Wax
Chair: Patricia J. Tang, MIT

Shaping Local Reception, 11:00 am
Maure Aronson, World Music/CRASHarts
Jacob Edgar, Cumbancha
Banning Eyre, Afropop Worldwide
Russ Gershon, Either/Orchestra
Chair: Carla D. Martin, Harvard University

Collaboration or Appropriation?: Issues in Remixing African Styles, 2:00 pm
Sarah Hankins, Harvard University
Sharon Kivenko, Harvard University
Warrick Moses, Harvard University
Chair: Wayne Marshall, Harvard University

Keynote Address, 4:00 pm
Francis Falceto, Freelance editor and author
“éthiopiques vs. ethioSonic: Sense and Nonsense in Musical Globalization”
Chair: Kay K. Shelemay, Harvard University

CONCERT AND DISCUSSION
8:00 pm, Lowell Hall

Discussion: Remixing Ethiopian Music
Danny Mekonnen, Debo Band
Chair: Kay K. Shelemay, Harvard University

Concert by Debo Band

Concert is free, but tickets are required. Free tickets available at Harvard Box Office (617-496-2222).

Cosponsored with the Department of Music, Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities, Department of African and African American Studies, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and the Office for the Arts at Harvard.

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January 29th, 2013

Musical Publics

Here is the syllabus for a new course I’m teaching this spring at the Big H. It’s the culmination of a few years of piqued curiosity about “public” as term and concept, noun and adjective. As happy as teaching technomusicology made me, this sort of course — an intense, focused series of readings on a subject I find fascinating — has few parallels as far as intellectual pleasures go. Here’s hoping I have a good team of co-readers glad to read along. (I’ll note that, aptly, a great number of these readings are available, ahem, publicly.)

Without further ado…

Music 208r: Musical Publics

me, a phone, a receiver, a bike ride

Spring 2013
Tues 4-6pm
Davison Room

INTRODUCTION

In the age of technological reproducibility and mass media, and especially since the advent of the Internet, the Web, and social media, the notion of the public is an ever shifting but paramount concern. Thanks to its special affordances and remarkable ubiquity, music offers a powerful lens into questions of publicness and public spheres. How do musicians and musical texts—never mind musicologists—address particular publics, and how has this changed over time?

To better understand music’s role in public culture, this course examines the idea of the public sphere in historical and theoretical perspective. From philosophy to the social sciences to more recent theoretical propositions and ethnographic work, we will consider a variety of publics, the (musical) media that bring them into being, and the implications for acknowledging music as part and parcel of collective experience. Our study will span the rise of print culture, the broadcast era, and the more recent development of what have been dubbed networked publics.

WEEKLY TOPICS & READINGS

Week 1 / Jan 29 — Introduction
Syllabus review, preliminary discussion

Week 2 / Feb 5 — Foundational Texts
Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. (p. 1-78)

Habermas, Jurgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991 [1962]. (browse all, but esp: 1-56, 159-243)

Week 3 / Feb 12 — Critique & Elaboration
Calhoun, “Introduction.” In Habermas and the Public Sphere, 1-42. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992.

Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56-80.

Hansen, Miriam. “Unstable Mixtures, Dilated Spheres: Negt and Kluge’s The Public Sphere and Experience, Twenty Years Later.” Public Culture Vol. 5, No. 2 (1993): 179-212.

Week 4 / Feb 19 — Print Cultures & Imagined Communities
Anderson, Benedict. “Imagined Communities.” In Nations and Nationalism, a Reader, eds. Philip Spencer & Howard Wollman, 48-59. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.

Bohlman, Philip V. “Composing the Cantorate: Westernizing Europe’s Other Within.” In Western Music and Its Others, eds. Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, 187-212.

Kay Kaufman Shelemay. “Musical Communities: Rethinking the Collective in Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Summer 2011): 349- 390.

Week 5 / Feb 26 — Mass Culture’s New Musical Publics
Middleton, Richard. “‘Roll Over Beethoven’: Sites and Soundings on the Music-Historical Map.” In Studying Popular Music, 3-33 (esp 3-16). Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990.

Suisman, David. “Prologue,” “When Songs Became a Business,” and “The Musical Soundscape of Modernity.” In Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music, 1-54, 240-72. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Gitelman, “The Phonograph’s New Media Publics.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 283-303. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Hilmes, “Radio and the Imagined Community” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 351-62. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Week 6 / March 5 — Aural Public Spheres
Hirshkind, Charles. “Cassette Sermons, Aural Modernities, and the Islamic Revival in Cairo.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 54-69. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Ochoa Gautier, Ana María. “Social Transculturation, Epistemologies of Purification and the Aural Public Sphere in Latin America.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 388-404. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Byron Dueck. “Public and Intimate Sociability in First Nations and Métis Fiddling.” Ethnomusicology Vol. 51, No. 1 (Winter 2007): 30-63.

Week 7 / March 12 — Racial Authenticity as Public Form
Radano, Ronald. “Music, Race, and the Fields of Public Culture.” In The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, eds. Clayton, Herbert, and Middleton, 308-316. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Gilroy, Paul. “‘After the Love Has Gone’: Bio-Politics and Etho-Politics in the Black Public Sphere.” In The Black Public Sphere, ed. The Black Public Sphere Collective, 53-80. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995.

Diawara, Manthia. “Homeboy Cosmopolitan.” In In Search of Africa, 237-78. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Novak, David. “Cosmopolitanism, Remediation, and the Ghost World of Bollywood.” Cultural Anthropology 25:1 (2010): 40-72.

Week 8 / March 19 (No class – Spring Recess)

Week 9 / March 26 — Counterpublics
Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2002. (p. 1-188)

Bickford, Tyler. “The New ‘Tween’ Music Industry: The Disney Channel, Kidz Bop and an Emerging Childhood Counterpublic.” Popular Music 31/3 (October 2012): 417–36.

Week 10 / April 2 — Networked Publics (part 1)
Castells, Manuel. “Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society.” International Journal of Communication 1 (2007): 238-266.

Ito, Mizuko. “Introduction.” In Networked Publics, ed. Varnelis, 1-14. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.

Varnelis, Kazys. “The Meaning of Network Culture.” In Networked Publics, ed. Varnelis, 145-64. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.

Week 11 / April 9 — Networked Publics (part 2)
Benkler, Yochai. “Emergence of the Networked Public Sphere.” In The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, 212-72. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

boyd, danah, “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In A Networked Self, ed. Papacharissi, 39-58. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Week 12 / April 16 — Publics & Social Media
Baym, Nancy & danah boyd. “Socially Mediated Publicness.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56:3(2012): 320-329.

Marwick, Alice and danah boyd. “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.” New Media & Society, 7 July 2010: 1-20.

Crawford, Kate. “Following You: Disciplines of Listening in Social Media.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 79-90. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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

Week 13 / April 23 — Precarious Publics & Platform Politricks
Dean, Jodi. “Why the Net is not a Public Sphere.” Constellations Vol. 10, No. 1 (2003): 95-112.

Gillespie, Tarleton. “The Politics of ‘Platforms.’” New Media & Society Vol. 12, No. 3 (2010): 347-64.

Kelty, Christopher. “Preface: Crowds and Clouds.” LIMN 2 (March 2012).

Gillespie, Tarleton. “Can an Algorithm be Wrong?LIMN 2 (March 2012).

Droitcour, Brian. “Public Spaces.” The New Inquiry, October 29, 2012.

Week 14 / April 30 — Class presentations

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March 22nd, 2012

Me @ EMP

I’ll be in NYC this weekend participating in the annual EMP pop conference, always a lively gathering of people who not only care about music but care about finding the right words to talk about music. I’m pleased to be involved in two promising panels — a roundtable with the likes of Eddie Stats, DJ Rekha, Chief Boima, and Venus X on Friday; and a panel with some Cluster Mag family on Sunday.

Here’s the deets (more here):

Roundtable: Tropical Music, Appropriation and Music “Discovery” in the Global Metropolis
Friday, March 23, 2012, 2:15 – 3:45

The explosion of international sounds in the pop sphere—associated with Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and M.I.A, among others–has been paralleled and driven by a mirror-underground usually simply called global bass, ghetto bass or tropical bass for lack of a better umbrella. Ghetto bass in particular implies the convergence of urban centers around the world—New York, Johannesburg, Rio, Bombay, Kingston, Luanda and others—into a single urban space–a ghetto archipelago–connected by youtube, DJ blogs, filesharing and software sequencers.

We propose a roundtable to explore the politics of this convergence, in particular tracing: 1) the connections of specific, localizable urban styles; rap, Bollywood, kwaito, Baltimore club, dancehall, baile funk, bhangra, cumbia villera, etc.—where they merge into this new melting pot/marketplace 2) the power dynamics of cultural appropriation, tastemaking and music discovery within this digital space–and how technology has altered (or reproduced) the dynamics of previous iterations (world music, “race” music, ethnomusicology, etc.) 3) the model of “post-raciality” as it collides uncomfortably with the realities of music production.

We believe the best way to engage these issues is not through the presentation of papers but in a dialogue between critical voices and the creative producers behind the actual events and recordings under discussion. Drawing on NYC’s status as a global metropolis par excellence (and home to flagship nights like Basement Bhangra, Que Bajo, NY Tropical, Made in Africa, Ghe20 Gothik, etc.) members of the roundtable will include (but not necessarily be limited to): Edwin STATS Houghton, Rekha Malhotra, Wayne Marshall and Venus X Iceberg.

Utopian Spaces in an Accelerated Age
Sunday, March 25, 2012, 11:15 – 12:45

“Music as Social Life in an Age of Platform Politricks”

The advent of socially networked media sharing sites such as YouTube and SoundCloud have facilitated an unprecedented democratization and deprofessionalization of popular music. Thanks to the relative ease and affordability of pro-grade production software and global publishing capacity, today we bear witness to an interminable flurry of new and endlessly reworked musical texts. Local and translocal scenes alike have sprung up around shared musical signifiers, software presets, and hashtags. In the wake of such striking industriousness, the conglomerate formerly known as “the music industry” is increasingly overshadowed but hardly out of the picture. For today’s cultural vitality coexists with a state of precarity as video and audio uploads routinely disappear or become muted, victims of an outmoded copyright regime and clunky audio-detection algorithms. Despite a sea change in how music is made and circulated, emerging from broadcast culture into a more decentralized, peer-to-peer process, twentieth-century business models and interests continue to shape popular music, often in subtle and insidious ways. Public culture is being remade in the age of social media (and music’s outsize role in it), but these popular “platforms” for our individual and collective creativity are far from the public resources we imagine them to be.

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March 1st, 2012

Ecological Frictionstep

I’m happy to report, as exhorted about back in December, that Filastine & his collaborators, Nova & Tooliq, have completed the first of the two videos they successfully kickstarted.

Before I offer an embed, allow me to cut-n-paste their poignant, soulful framing of the project and its settings & subjects —

Colony Collapse is filmed at sites of ecological friction, the fault lines of conflict between humanity and (the rest of) nature. For examples we used….

Lapindo (Sidoarjo) Mud Disaster is an eruption of scalding mud and flammable vapors triggered by a gas drilling gone awry. It has buried more than a dozen villages and blocked a major highway, and is expected to keep expanding for the next 25 years. Lapindo is located close to the home town of the the director (Tooliq) and singer (Nova).

Below a freshly shattered dam on the shoulder of Merapi mountain. This required a meeting with an important Islamic mountain shaman, who wanted to know we weren’t up to anything frivolous or disrespectful. After the vetting he sent his crew to guide and protect us, some men went upriver a few kilometers to warn us by mobile phone if a new flood was coming down.

Bantar Gebang is a landscape of trash. Garbage stretches farther than the eye can see. Mountains, rivers, and even villages where the trash-pickers live. Not something easy to summarize in words.

A supermarket nested in a mega-mall within a skyscraper. Air conditioning, shopping carts, muzak, just like any posh supermarket. But right outside is a the permanent traffic jam of Jakarta, a sprawling mega-city of at least 10 million.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thanks to the many who graciously tolerated us filming in the midst of their disasters: be it a sea of toxic mud or just the daily commute. Extra thanks to those who hosted, drove, filmed or loaned gear. And of course it wouldn’t have been possible to complete without all of you who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign.

It’s a vivid, stunning piece of work. If you have the luxury, take Filastine’s advice and watch it in HD with some headphones or through speakers with a good subwoofer. If you don’t, no doubt there remains plenty to see and hear here —

-

February 3rd, 2012

Mega Uh-Oh

I’ve got a piece in this week’s Boston Phoenix discussing the spectacular shuttering of Megaupload and the collateral damage produced by an increasingly aggressive copyright regime in tandem with a remarkable nonchalance about preserving the digital libraries we build. Some will recognize this as but the latest instance of platform politricks, just another rug yanked out from under folks tryna dance with each other. (Though it looks like another series of SoundClowns may be on its way!)

Anyway, check it out and tell me what you think. Shouts to Carly Carioli for reaching out about the piece and, along with Sara Rosenbaum, helping to whittle it down into something pretty darn sharp, if I say so.

As for this space, allow me to share a few linked-up grafs below that ended up on the cutting room floor, as well as some germane and entertaining media:

As with its predecessors, the sudden shuttering of Megaupload leaves a whole lot of holes in the e-ther. Among other random disappearances to tick across my timeline: the only copy of a personal video a friend’s father had recently stored there; and the sole upload of Nehru Jackets, the acclaimed new mixtape from Himanshu Suri of Das Racist (at least until a few hours later, as Suri’s supporters quickly re-upped the zipfile to similar sites). No doubt thousands of other innocent files were disappeared on January 19, but none are likely to get their day in court.

Of course, it’s hard to sympathize with anyone who’s thinking is so clouded that they would entrust their only copy of something to a service that explicitly warned, in both its ToS and FAQ, of the possibility of complete data loss (with no liability on their part). And it’s even harder to sympathize with Kim Dotcom, the cartoonish founder of Megaupload. So apparently full of money, food, and hubris is Dotcom that Hollywood could hardly hope to cast a better villain. Indeed, few embody the foreign rogue in the crosshairs of SOPA and PIPA as well as Dotcom with his extravagant nose-thumbing at the MPAA and RIAA – never mind prior convictions for computer fraud, insider trading, and embezzlement.

But if Dotcom comes across as an odious parasite, it’s telling that many seem to prefer him as their middleman over more established gatekeepers. In the weeks before it was shut down, Megaupload had been getting under the skin of the recording industry not simply because of piracy; rather, the site was becoming a special thorn in the side because some of the industry’s marquee artists were publicly endorsing it. A promotional song and video (see below) featuring testimonials from the likes of Kanye West, will.i.am, Lil Jon, and Sean Combs began to make the rounds, as did rumors that producer Swizz Beatz had become CEO of the company. In the wake of the raid, Busta Rhymes took to Twitter to defend Swizz Beatz and Megaupload alike, arguing that the site offered a more promising and direct revenue stream to artists than Spotify.

Even if Megaupload was an obvious target, that doesn’t make it easier to hear the pathetic giant paper-crumpling sound of thousands of non-infringing files disappearing behind a JPG of an eagle carrying a bad pun in its talons. As the chilling effects spread to similar sites, one has to wonder whether Megaupload’s demise heralds the beginning of the end of yet another functional but far too ad-hoc system for sharing media with each other.

And just in case you can’t appreciate the logo on the right up there, here it is a little more up close, deconstructing its own silly self and making a mockery of our supposedly noble National Bird —

Actually, as the title of my piece implies, the real National Bird looks more like this —

Screen shot 2012-02-03 at 11.44.31 AM
Screen shot 2012-02-03 at 11.44.44 AM
Screen shot 2012-02-03 at 11.44.56 AM

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December 27th, 2011

Kickstart Kolony Kollapse & Other Worthy Projekts

This was supposed to be a last minute entreaty to recruit a few more backers for Filastine’s attempt to kickstart the making of two rad music videos. But I just looked over at the page again, and it turns out it’s totally funded. Woo-hoo! Go go crowd-sourced critical culture! (That said, it’s still a great way to get his next album.)

As with most things Filastine involves himself in, I couldn’t endorse this project enough, and I’m thrilled to see it going forward. A singular artist-activist, Filastine gets creative when it comes to making stuff — and distributing it — recently offering up project-related mixtapes, appearing on occupy-themed compilations, and releasing tracks on his own label alongside a baker’s dozen remixes. And here’s an “artist statement” of sorts, via an email sent around about the project, to die for rise up with:

In case you you haven’t noticed, there is a worldwide uprising for social justice and against the supremacy of finance. From Cairo to Madrid, NYC to Oakland, it’s an exciting time to be alive. This dispersed movement against power and corporatism has re-inspired me, and given some hope that my art might resonate with a new public and reinforce the insurrectionary meme.

While I’m here, then, let me give a nod to another active kickstarter project worthy of some support. A longtime collaborator with Filastine, Maga Bo has recently finished his next album and is looking to help round out the release. Go over there and see what Bo’s offering in exchange for a little backative.

Also, while I’m here, I may as well send out a BIG big-up to Kickstarter itself. I’ve been roundly delighted with the projects I’ve supported there this year — the Loog Guitar, Beyond Digital, Music from Saharan Cellphones, and others — and in addition to the satisfaction of having helped these projects come to fruition, I’ve got some great stuff to show & play with & listen to as a result.

beyond digital returns!
music from saharan cellphones
september-2011-055

All that said, there may be a day in the near future when your favorite bloggers’ favorite bloggers ask you to do a little something for a little something we’ve got stewing. Watch out 2012!

bubbeling cover

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April 21st, 2011

Rethinking Music Industry w/ Nancy Baym

For this week’s “Back Talk” — the Q&A that runs on the back page of the Phoenix — I had the pleasure to pose a few questions to Nancy Baym, a scholar who’s work (& Twitter feed) I’ve been following for a few, especially as my own research turns more to questions of music “industry” in an age of “social” media.

Nancy is coming (back) to town next week to take part in Rethink Music, “a solutions-focused conference” being staged by Berklee and MIDEM “in association with” the Berkman Center & Harvard Business School. I was also supposed to join a panel there, but I withdrew from the program a couple weeks ago based on contractual language that seemed, in short, out of step with any meaningful “rethinking” or reform of the way business gets done in “the” “industry.” (I was surprised and disappointed that the “association” with the Berkman Center failed to produce better boilerplate.)

I confess that I was lukewarm to the prospect anyway: the last thing I want to do, really, is to forestall the crash-and-burn of the current regime by sharing ideas about creativity and grassroots practice with them. (Though I’m still wondering who the audience will be for this event, given the hefty pricetag.)

At any rate, I’m happy to contribute in my own little way to any rethinking that might happen here in the next week by amplifying some of what Nancy has been thinking and writing about recently. You can read the full interview online here (the physical paper features an abridged version), but allow me to share a pull quote or two —

Does the question of “social exchange” (as opposed to economic) become more important in an age of “social media,” or just more noticeable? Where does something like (unpaid) “fan labor” fit into the equation?

Social exchange is both more noticeable and more important. It’s always been there. When I talk to musicians about what they find most rewarding in their engagements with audiences, they never talk about the fan who paid them $100 for a CD when they were only asking for $10. They talk about hearing that their music helped someone deal with a loved one’s death, they talk about realizing people had traveled far just to see them perform, they talk about receiving art that fans had been inspired to create because of their music, they talk about getting to travel and meet people in different cultures. These are all social rewards and none of them rely on social media, though they often arrive through those means.

Fans engage in unpaid labor for social reasons rather than economic ones. In fact, they often view monetary compensation as devaluing what they do, which is common in fan communities. They do what they do for one another because they want to share the pleasure they take in the music. They also do it to build their own status in fan communities. They do it because it brings more music into their inbox. They do it because it’s a way to form social relationships with the artists they love. Sometimes they do it to build a base for a career in music themselves, and some do move on from running a fan site to working for the label, but it’s rarely intended from the get-go as a way to make money. Just as people in the music industries need to recognize the social values that matter in the music ecosystem, people who think about the work fans do as exploitation need to recognize and respect the social rewards that these fans receive and value in exchange for their labors. That said, the potential for exploitation is always there and is something everyone involved should be sensitive to.

Your current research has brought you into conversation with rock stars, singer-songwriters, and globetrotting DJs. Are there ways in which certain genres lend themselves better to this moment of transition/disruption?

It’s been hard to get a pulse on this, because even within genres people are having such different experiences. Genres that are already heavily technological (like electronica) or highly personal (like singer-songwriters) lend themselves better to this era, the former because they are already game for experimenting with technology and playing with technological mediation as a means of creating connection, the latter because there is already a sense of intimacy and personal connection between musician and listener. But it’s really more about the attitude of the individual musicians and the team of people they’re working with than about the kind of music they’re making. This moment serves people who like to socialize with strangers and acquaintances, it doesn’t serve people who prefer to be private and just make music. Those differences exist within as well as across genres.

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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