Soundtracking Every Moment: Music as Data

Maria Eriksson, Liz Pelly, Robert Prey, moderated by Tobi Müller

How has the platform economy changed the music world? How does the data business affect not just how music is listened to, but how it sounds? Music streaming is everywhere. Organized in playlists like soundtracks to our lives, it has replaced the act of listening to physical albums. Genre no longer matters; our music is organized by mood and activity. Listening to music is now time spent generating data.

The business model of ad-financed streaming services requires a media format that generates personalized activity and mood logs for consumers that is as non-stop and real time as possible. This is why they suggest predefined “mood” lists or “songs to sing in the shower,” which promote passive listening behavior and a homogeneous musical aesthetic. The playlist economy creates neo-muzak while music is industrially functionalized as an environment, for stimulation and self-regulation. But what happens to music that’s not playlist compatible? What data does the playlist produce and how does it translate listening to music into usable information? If playlists are already going on tour today, will bands and musicians in the future be replaced by artificial composition algorithms that deliver the desired hits and timbres?

Liz Pelly

Liz Pelly (music journalist) has been researching Spotify’s business practices for a few years. She is critical of the way streaming platforms combine principles of advertising and exploitation, naming the playlist aesthetic “streambait pop.”

Maria Eriksson

With a Swedish research team, Maria Eriksson (Humlab, Umeå University) reverse engineered the streaming service Spotify in order to grasp its inner workings.

Robert Prey

The media scholar Robert Prey (Center for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen) researches the interdependent processes of datafication and platformization and the relationship between technology, power and music culture.

Moderated by Tobi Müller (cultural journalist, Berlin)