The Valuing Electronic Music workshop took place yesterday at the Open University’s London offices in Camden, with contributions from Kate Oakley, Nick Crossley, Maddy Radcliff, Simon Tanner, Charlotte Tupman, Alistair Willis, and Matthew Yee King as well as Anna, Byron, and myself. It was a great opportunity to share what we’ve found so far with an expert audience and get informed feedback on the project as a whole.
Here’s an example of the sort of thing that was discussed. A single SoundCloud user may be linked to many thousands more by several different means. These include following others, joining groups with them, and favouriting, commenting on, and reposting their tracks. Should we focus selectively on certain kinds of link, combine them all (perhaps weighting certain kinds of links differently), or treat them as constitutive of parallel networks? As if the sheer variety and volume of quantitative data were not challenging enough to deal with, our qualitative research has brought us face to face with the ambiguities of its interpretation. For example, we’ve learnt that some users will favourite – and even comment on – a track without having listened to it, simply as a way of getting the attention of the person who uploaded it. Having time to talk through these issues with such a fantastic group of experts was hugely beneficial.
We’re still really busy with the project (and not least with organising the forthcoming public event on 6 June), so there isn’t time for a full report on the day right now. But it’s worth highlighting some of the most central points arising from yesterday’s discussions. For one thing, they helped to reaffirm the importance of our theoretical starting point, which is to understand value in terms of acts of valuing. As Kate Oakley put it: for us, ‘value’ is a verb. For another, they brought home the significance of one of the clearest themes emerging: that it matters who values cultural work.
We’ll be uploading our presentations to the website in podcast form once the editing’s done. In the meantime, try to keep the evening of 6 June free in your diary!
This sounds like a fascinating project! I was particularly struck by your mention on SoundCloud users leaving comments on tracks without having listened to them. I’m wondering how you could be certain of this – is it to do with the timing of their comments or is there a clever way of using the API, for instance?
Thanks for your kind words! Actually, that’s something we learnt from the interviews we did: one of our interviewees noticed that he would sometimes get completely inappropriate comments (e.g. ‘banging track!’ for a downtempo piece), and concluded that they were being placed strategically.
As I’m sure you know, something similar happens with comments on blogs. For example, I got this comment on a post on my personal website (which uses a monochrome theme!): ‘I trulʏ love your website.. Very nice colors & theme.’ Superficially, that’s the same phenomenon: a message complimentary to the page owner that’s been posted in order to sneak in a hypertext link. But under the surface, it’s something quite different: that comment was posted by a bot, whereas our interviewee’s intuition was that human users were posting spurious comments ‘by hand’. Also, blog comment spam is there to boost search engine rank for the linked page and perhaps also to attract anyone to click on the link, the idiotic compliments being added simply in order to flatter the page owner into approving them, whereas on SoundCloud, I suspect that a person commenting on a track he/she hasn’t listened to is fishing for a ‘follow’ from the track creator. I think I’ve observed a comparable behaviour with the ‘favouriting’ of tracks, too: there are some users – actual music-makers, not people selling replica handbags and bootleg medications – who favourite very large numbers of tracks, often right after the tracks have been uploaded. And these people often have large numbers of followers, so perhaps it works.
Of course, the bot comments are there too on SoundCloud. Those are easier to spot because you get a run of comments that are completely identical, right down to the punctuation.
Thanks for the response Daniel, that’s very interesting. I’ve seen the exact same thing happen on YouTube & MySpace so it does appear to be rife!
I would have liked to attend your event on 6 June but unfortunately I already have plans. I’m involved in an AHRC collaboration between the OU & the Royal College of Music, called The Listening Experience Database project (LED). We’re collating unsolicited listening experiences to music of all kinds, from any culture or period. One of the challenges that we’re facing at the moment is whether to capture listening experiences via social media platforms. Your comment highlights one of our primary concerns in that we can’t always be certain that they are genuine experiences. It does raise some interesting questions concerning the relationship between the critic and the audience though – is the authority of the critic changing etc.?
Anyway, I’ve given your page a ‘like’ via our Facebook page as I suspect there’s a degree of overlap between both of our projects. I’d be keen to watch any podcast/recording of your event in June if you plan to record it. I hope it all goes well.
Thanks for the ‘like’, Simon!
I’m really interested in LED, and enjoyed the presentation you gave at the OU in March. In fact, I used to be involved with its predecessor, the Reading Experience Database (RED), and the issues you’re bringing up with regard to social media remind me of issues that come up even with regard to the apparently more reliable data sources used by RED: diaries, autobiographies, etc. I wrote a chapter on this a few years ago that you might like to read if you have time: it’s in Bonnie Gunzenhauser’s Reading in history: new methodologies from the Anglo-American Tradition, although you can also request a free copy of my chapter from the OU’s repository.