Mark Thorley (Conventry University): Participatory music culture: the challenges for identity, creativity and recognition
The advent of recording technology served to break down the link between musician and audience (Eisenberg 2005), and the music participant became the music consumer. Emerging digital technologies are now reversing this trend and music participation is all the more possible. Though the environment for recorded music continues to experience significant threat, the environment for music participation now thrives in ways not previously imaginable.
Much of this new participation is enabled technologically, and its likely impact has received attention. For example, the concept of the ‘Prosumer’ was originally established by Toffler (1980) and participation culture has been examined by Jenkins (2006). Additionally, the potential of networks is considered by Benkler (2006), and the concept of peer-production by Tapscott and Williams (2006). As the opportunities for the music creative expand, and the role of the music consumer shifts to participant, key questions emerge as to how this change challenges established roles.
Drawing on concepts outlined in a chapter in ‘Music and Virtuality’ published by Oxford University Press, this paper focuses on key impacts on the Producer and Fan. For example, in adopting Crowdfunding, how does the shift challenge the music producer? For the fan, what does engaging with the funding of projects do for their identity and recognition within the process?
[JB comment] I first met Mark at the Art of Record Production conference 2013 – here’s his excellent session entitled ‘Crowd funding and its potential to create an alternative culture of production‘.
Mark begins by talking about the ‘old’ model of cultural production, whereby there were many cultural intermediaries between musician and listener. He now discusses the implications of the shift to crowdfunding. One of the attractions of these new models is that money can get to the musician/producer more easily. He discusses the previous ‘barriers to entry’ for aspirant musicians, but acknowledges that it isn’t quite as simple as that, due to the quality threshold that the work must meet to achieve crowdfunding. [JB comment – so crowdfunding has a quality threshold, even though it is controlled by a larger number of people. Gatekeepers still exist?]
So what are the implications of crowdfunding for creators? Firstly there is an argument that everyone is become a producer rather than a music ‘creative’. Not all aspirant creators will be aware of this shift. The work must shift up the ‘value chain’ and creatives may need new capabilities to achieve this. Thirdly there is a ‘reactive’ motivation to adopt crowdfunding – and new creatives still need to compete with other creatives, and there is a huge range of alternatives available to the crowd [i infer, projects that they could choose to fund instead].
New creatives may underestimate the depth and breadth of cultural intermediation (the common assumption among some bands that A&R’s job is to ‘discover’ the band then lead them to it). Funders (of any sort) have a vested interest in the creative product and may want to influence it. If your funders are manifold there are many challenges associated with giving them what they want. There are no ‘second bites’ – if a project doesn’t get funded, there is no environmental feedback regarding why. The (crowdfunding) platform itself has influence. If funders want an economic return (an equity-based platform) they will want the product to be commercially successful. A reward-based platform is different – this motivation is not present. Finally, there is the issue of ownership of IP. Does the crowd want the IP? Does it have the means to exploit it?
Mark now addresses the attraction for fan funders. There are three categories – group influencers, manager/investor and group fanatic (based on McQuail’s Uses and Gratifications Theory). He goes into some detail about the possible personal motivations of fan funders. The manager/investor types are arguably aspirant cultural intermediaries themselves.
We look at the implications and challenges of crowdfunding models. There is a proximity of fan/artist relationship, which may include creative contributions (playing on someone’s album). This diminishes the ‘speciality of the producer’.
In summary, there is an opportunity for producers that challenges their previous identity. The fan as funder highlights uncertainty over motivation and creates questions relating to recognition and reward.