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2- Popular Music Without Ownership: The Status of the Commodity in 21st Century Musical Culture - Paul Théberge, Carleton University

1:30 PM, Friday 24 May 2019 (2 hours)
Coffee break   03:30 PM to 04:00 PM (30 minutes)

Throughout the 20th century, popular music culture was intimately tied to commodities in one form or another: indeed, popular music has been enabled, expressed and experienced through a seemingly endless array of commodities. And ownership – possession of the commodity – was central to its economic as well as its aesthetic appeal. Understanding the relationship between music as both a form of cultural expression and an industrial commodity became central to the formation of popular music studies at its inception: beginning with Frith, Attali, Chanan, and others, the record assumed the status of the central commodity that defined 20th century popular music experience.

For a time, the dematerialization of the record – its conversion into MP3 files – seemed to call into question the very status of music as a commodity: available for free and shared through decentralized networks such as Napster, MP3s challenged the record industry’s control over the distribution and sale of commodities. If Apple iTunes brought a temporary return to the idea of ownership, the rise of subscription services like Spotify suggest that, in a post-digital world, the ownership of commodities is unnecessary. Spotify belongs to an emergent political, economic and cultural utopianism that valorizes the development of cloud distribution and other technologies with slogans such as “Own nothing. Access everything.” In this paper, I want to reconsider the status of popular music as a commodity, and in particular the economics and the aesthetics of ownership, and consider what a world without them might mean for both musicians and fans.
Carleton University
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