Culture is future »

04.21.2016

Contribution: "Enjoying music in the digital age" by Quentin Dagobert

In the early XIXth century, when aviation was in the process of development, American law number 19 was passed to define the concept of property for land owners. This jurisdiction stipulated that they did not only possess their portion of land, but also its undergrounds and the sky above it, with no limitation. But when numbers of airborne connections started drastically increasing, this law became obsolete in practice and needed to be revised[1]. The evolution of our everyday practices often have an impact on our laws and cultures. Philosopher Jean-Edouard André makes use of this demonstration (created by Lawrence Lessig) to explain our current situation in the digital era. A great deal of French thinkers such as Pierre Bourdieu, Gilles Deleuze or Michel Foucault have extensively written about how our habits are influenced by the legal structures around us, but our everyday practices may equally in turn determine the societies we live in.

Keeping these dynamics in mind, we may now focus on our main subject: enjoying music in the digital age. The technological breakthroughs of the digital age have not only turned the music industry upside down, they have also deeply modified the ways in which we consume and listen to music. Despite these evolutions, ‘oldschool‘ habits of consuming music have not disappeared and they are even making a come-back. Music-lovers prove to have an emotional attachment to their audio cassettes, vinyls and compact-disks when played on high-quality sound systems. This proves that music-lovers don’t only appreciate their music as such, but also the mediums they use to listen to their favorite artists and songs.

The musical industry has been going through a major decay since the advent of the digital age in the XXIst century. Physical sales of music in the world have been divided by two since 2002[2]. Yves Michaud has attempted to define the changes in our attachment to cultural goods in the Kurt Salomon study published on the 10th of June 2015: « we shifted from a creative function of art to a productive function. Leisure and social dimensions are now a key component of how we experience art ». Digital music on the Internet has recorded increasing profits (4% in 2008, 5,9% in 2013), the music industry is clearly in the process of digitalization[3]. The prominence of social parameters, as expressed by Yves Michaud, can be illustrated in the collaborative process of producing music and later on, in how users consult, share and ‘like’ playlists among themselves. In the digital era, music-lovers are becoming music promoters and consciously or unconsciously making use of the web’s viral-marketing principles in spreading the word about the music and artists they love.

Music is being more and more explored through web sites and playlists, rather than in taking the time to listen to full albums. This creates a need for music producers to evolve and adapt their practices accordingly. 

Today, music streaming platforms such as Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music or Google Play Music now make use of user-generated metadata to tailor marketing strategies[4]. When music is being listened, data is being collected to enable these plateforms to offer the listener a set of artists of possible interest with a great likelihood of just nailing it. Despite these new features and understanding, the digital age is generating a phenomenon that is still unexplained: In 2013 physical sales still amount for 51% of music sales worldwide[5]. Why are music-lovers still attached to physical music mediums in the digital age?

Music-lovers are still attached to vinyl, CD and other physical mediums for several reasons. First of all, it is a matter of respect towards artists. They receive most of their money from physical sales[6] and count on the support of their fans. Furthermore, the material attachment to the object creates more serendipity, a "fortunate happenstance" or "pleasant surprise". We have the possibility of randomly stumbling upon a great record at a friend’s place for instance. Most of the time, such encounters will result in a special bond to the physical object, it becomes filled with memories and spurs curiosity to explore more tunes in that specific style or from that specific artist. Another interesting point is that the digitalization of music has created decreased sound quality and opposition thereof. Digital formats such as the mp3 are a mere compression of sound and thus spoil the quality of the music we listen to[7]. Music-loving activists have fiercely demonstrated their frustration and pleaded for better sound quality; Canadian folk singer Neil Young is one of them[8]. Finally, music in the digital age is often played on poor quality sound-systems such as computer speakers, or even worse, directly on smartphones. Unfortunately, this way of listening to music is more and more accepted amongst younger generations and prevents users from enjoying the music properly.

Artists and music lovers are the first victims of the digital age’s negative impacts on music[9]. Music-lovers around the world are advocating for better sound quality, not getting rid of beautiful physical mediums and building more human and social interactions around the music we love. This resistance illustrates how we are still attached to enjoying our music in the most satisfactory ways as possible. Consequently, streaming platforms such as Blitzr are now going down that route in directly channeling users to the online stores of artists and encouraging listeners to buy concert tickets. Better sound quality is also in the process of being spread in the digital age, formats such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) or Neil Young’s Pono Player are concrete examples. Despite the increasing sound quality that we will get from digital music in the coming years, records and other beautiful physical music mediums still have a place in the hearts of music-lovers and long days in front of them. Digital music platforms will simply support us in discovering the artists we will buy music from and see live in concerts, while connecting us to like-minded people. The question isn’t how our legal systems and music industries will change the way we enjoy music, it is how our ways of enjoying music will change them.


[1] Jean-Edouard André’s conference : « le Web 2.0, la capitulation culturelle ? », http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1bvzii?fbc=143

[2] The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t, Steven Johnsonaug, site du New York Times, 19 Aout 2015, available here : http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/magazine/the-creative-apocalypse-that-wasnt.html?_r=0

[3] Alain Beuve-Méry, 2014, « Les majors de la musique veulent croirent au streaming », Le Monde, Cahier Economie et Entreprises, wenesday 19 mars 2014, page 3

[4] Sylvain Siclier, 2015, « Streaming : dix sites au crible », Le Monde, 2 octobre 2015, page 18-19.

[5] Alain Beuve-Méry, 2014, « Les majors de la musique veulent croirent au streaming », Le Monde, Cahier Economie et Entreprises, wenesday 19 mars 2014, page 3

[6] Alain Beuve-Méry, 2015, « Vers une rémunération plus équitables des artistes », Le Monde, 2 octobre 2015, page 19.

[7] Greg Milner : Perfecting sound forever : An aural history of recorded music, Editions Le Castor Astral, 2009 (2014 for french translation), page 393

[8] Neil Young bans his music from streaming due to 'worst' sound quality, Reuters, The Guardian web site, 16 juillet 2015, available here: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jul/16/neil-young-bans-his-music-from-streaming-due-to-worst-sound-quality

[9] Alain Beuve-Méry, 2015, « Vers une rémunération plus équitables des artistes », Le Monde, 2 octobre 2015, page 19.

About Quentin Dagobert

Quentin Dagobert graduated from Sciences Po Bordeaux in 2016, specialized in the engineering of cultural projects linked to territorial issues. Interested in contemporary music and mediation, Dagobert Quentin is also a musician and participates in various projects on Bordeaux proposing regularly live music and more unusual performances as the drawn-concerts. Quentin holds a Psychology Degree obtained in 2010, and is also attuned to the sharing and exchange of pedagogical knowledge and artistic practices.