The Social Music Evolution

PART 1 OF 2: I teased this essay from music industry philosopher and frequent Hypebot contributor Kyle Bylin with a graphic yesterday,"One View Of The Musical Middle Class". Today Kyle delivers on his promise with a thoughtful look at the on going evolution of the music industry. Set some time aside as we all slow down for the holidays to absorb what Kyle has to say. It’s a worthy read. READ PART 2 HERE

Talcott Parsons, a former Harvard professor, believed society was in a natural state of equilibrium or balance.  In reference to his equilibrium model, when changes occur in one part of society there must be adjustments made in the others.  If this does not take place, the equilibrium of society would be endangered and tension is placed on its social order.  Parsons goes onto illustrate how society changes by dividing evolution into four distinct and inevitable processes.    Evolution_3

2. Adaptive Upgrading
3. Inclusion
4. Value Generalization

Using these four processes, I will reflect on how they relate to what social changes have been occurring in the music industry.  This is an attempt to move away from the concept of The Digital Music Revolution and begin the exploration of the four stages in The Social Music Evolution. 

Stage One – Differentiation, also known as division, refers to the increase in complexity of social organizations which in turn creates functional subsystems from the main system.

In The Fall Of Communization And The Rise Of The Music Fan I elaborated on what professor Mike Wesch called a cultural inversion and found that his insights in An anthropological introduction to YouTube brought forth a perfect example of how the way people interact with music has changed. 

  • As a society we’ve developed very diverse and complex listening habits…

The more individualized these habits became, the more value we
placed on our sense of want and need for community.  As the ability to
form communities around our favorite artists became more feasible, many
of us wanted to belong, participate, and identify with our music tribe.

  • As a music industry made up of people, artists, professionals we’ve
    become increasingly independent which has brought forth the desire for
    stronger relationships.  Within the presence of this longing and the
    advent of the Internet, we’ve been given the ability to connect. 
  • All around us, commercialization was happening, which led music
    fans to develop a strong desire for music that is real, authentic, and
  • In the late 1990s and early 2000s, MTV placed a stronger focus on
    reality shows and began its transition from a Music TeleVision that
    played music videos to Reality Television that played licensed thirty
    second clips of music during The Hills.
  • In 1995 Clear Channel owned 45 stations, empowered by the passing
    of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it went onward to own 1,500 by
    2003.  Payola became the slam dunk method to get the hits played and
    the shiny discs sold which has led to stations that play the music
    based on genre and the different the eras of its success.
  • Major Labels became faceless corporations driven by money and two
    song smash hit albums for 17$.  In September 2000, about a year into
    Napster, MTV began airing a show called Cribs, which featured
    celebrities and artists with houses and possessions beyond most
    people’s wildest dreams.
  • From that perspective, it doesn’t seem like a mystery why an
    industry with that kind of public image looked doomed on February 2001
    when Napster’s peak of 26.4 million users justified stealing music.
  • With the launch of MySpace in August of 2003, there was at least a
    beacon of hope to hear something different. People could more readily
    hear and discover new music on their own terms.

Due to the increasing complexity of the music industry, we’ve only begun to see the creation of functional subsystems from the main system.  These subsystems are Facebook, Imeem, Last.com, Pandora, SonicBids, PumpAudio, Rumblefish, Itunes, Amazon, eMusic, CD Baby, Tunecore, Sellaband, Slice The Pie, YouTube, OurStage, ReverbNation, TopSpin, and many others. 

The key word here is functional, in other words, clearly its functioning, just not exactly as we would have imagined that it would.  Without these subsystems, The Musical Middle Class would be a theory, but this gap between conventional music industry wisdom is opening wider as written about here on Hypebot and explained by Ian Rogers of TopSpin Media in his keynote at the Grammy Northwest Music Tech Summit.

Stage Two – Adaptive Upgrading occurs when those subsystems evolve into more efficient versions and social institutions become more specialized in their processes.

In theory, we are currently in Stage Two.  The effectiveness of places like Facebook and Last.fm are evolving and social institutions like ReverbNation and Top Spin Media are becoming more specialized in there processes.     Depending on its outcome, this stage is what I believe allows for the creation of potential for The New Musical Middle Class to succeed on its own terms. 

While there may be other key bullet points, I think these three play the most significance in social change, because when mass-democratization happens ideas like Google (search), Wii (gaming), and Target (design) not only spread, but win almost every time.

I believe that stage two will not complete until we reach the democratization of:

  • Services which allow users to instantly identify any song playing at any given moment.  They are out there on cellphones, but they aren’t everywhere.
  • Services which measure each individuals tastes and continues to learn from the data its given.  I believe that the personalization of music recommendations will become advanced to the point where artists don’t search for fans for their music, their music on its own merit will find its fans.
  • Basically, what I believe democratization would do is empower everyone with the ability to be curious about music.  Filtering out music that is not up to the individuals standards and allowing them to freely explore what they may not have found otherwise.

READ PART 2: Inclusion, Value Generalization and Conclusions

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  1. Kyle,
    Interesting post, and some thoughtful analysis. Im wondering if you’ve seen this idea of the Celestial Funnel from Bruce Warila
    Basically, the idea relates to what you are saying about music finding its fans, in some combination of emerging technologies (song recommendation engines combined with universal access to “the celestial jukebox”).
    Looking forward to the next piece.
    Bill C

  2. great article..
    I have a network for Christian indies.
    We’re a mix of CD Baby, i-tunes, Pure Volume.
    members get 100% of music sales.
    We are member supported and have 700 members.
    We’re having a good time being independent… together!
    Keith Mohr

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