Popular Music and Society ISSN: 0300-7766 (Print) 1740-1712 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpms20 The Playlist Experience: Personal Playlists in Music Streaming Services Anja Nylund Hagen To cite this article: Anja Nylund Hagen (2015) The Playlist Experience: Personal Playlists in Music Streaming Services, Popular Music and Society, 38:5, 625-645, DOI: 10.1080/03007766.2015.1021174 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2015.1021174 Published online: 10 Mar 2015. Submit your article to this journal Article views: 3595 View related articles View Crossmark data Citing articles: 4 View citing articles Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=rpms20 Download by: [University North Carolina – Chapel Hill] Date: 25 September 2017, At: 21:26 Popular Music and Society, 2015 Vol. 38, No. 5, 625–645, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2015.1021174 The Playlist Experience: Personal Playlists in Music Streaming Services Downloaded by [University North Carolina – Chapel Hill] at 21:26 25 September 2017 Anja Nylund Hagen Music streaming services encompass features that enable the organization of music into playlists. This article inquires how users describe and make sense of practices and experiences of creating, curating, maintaining, and using personal playlists. The analysis relies on a mixed-method study, including music-diary self-reports, online observations, and in-depth interviews with 12 heavy users of Spotify or/and WiMP Music. The findings suggest heterogeneous management of static and dynamic playlists based on structural and contextual schemes of aggregating music. User control motivates different playlist practices that demonstrate new ways of collecting music via streaming services but also derive from pre-digital collecting. Is it wrong, wanting to be at home with your record collection? It’s not like collecting records is like collecting stamps, or beermats, or antique thimbles. There’s a whole world in here, a nicer, dirtier, more violent, more peaceful, more colorful, sleazier, more dangerous, more loving world than the world I live in; there is history, and geography, and poetry, and countless other things I should have studied at school, including music. (Hornby 83) In the novel High Fidelity, Nick Hornby describes the contents of a record collection as more powerful (or at least more interesting) than real life. Originality governs the acquisition, combination, and organization of one’s records, and is the reason for the solace they provide. In contemporary Norway, where this study has been conducted, music-streaming services have supplanted records and CDs, as well as other digital music formats, to become the mainstream technology for everyday music listening. Norway is a leading international market when it comes to music streaming. In 2013 music-streaming revenues accounted for 75% of all recorded music revenues in Norway (Ifpi Norge), and seven out of ten Internet users accessed one of the two major services, Spotify and WiMP Music (TNS Gallup). Both these services are able to supply more than 20 million tracks—a truly extensive range of music that is available to both average listeners and hardcore fans. In this atmosphere of music abundance, listening and collecting are in flux. People listen to more artists than ever before (Maasø) using streaming technology on their q 2015 Taylor & Francis Downloaded by [University North Carolina – Chapel Hill] at 21:26 25 September 2017 626 A. N. Hagen personal mobile devices. This service model transforms Hornby’s obviously very possessive sense of music ownership into the relatively carefree, even whimsical status of the renter of access to vast musical archives via online subscription. As a renter, one assembles and maintains a personal playlist (or one chooses among playlists that are available for subscription from other users or the service provider). By looking at practices and experiences related to these personal playlists, this article investigates how people still manage to “collect” music in the age of the streaming service. I begin with the following research question: How do streaming users describe and make sense of their practices and experiences of creating, maintaining, and using personal playlists? By examining what is important to streaming users when they create and use their playlists, I will shed light on individual user logics, structures, and preferences regarding content creation, organization, and music use in this relatively new digital context. I will first review the existing literature as I begin to construct my analytical framework. The Literature Practices related to streaming services have yet to occupy researchers to any extent, even though the use of music-streaming services continues to grow, especially in the Western world. Referring to the values that reigned in collecting in the pre-digital era can help us begin to contextualize the perspective on collecting music in the digital age. Walter Benjamin’s “Unpacking My Library,” for example, commemorates the magnificent rituals of the book collector and emphasizes three qualities in particular: ordering—“For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?” (Benjamin 60); owning—“The phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its owner” (67); and desiring—“To renew the old world—that is the collector’s deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things” (61). Jean Baudrillard distinguishes collecting from the inferior activity of accumulating (22), noting that objects have two possibilities: they can be utilized or they can be possessed (8). The first refers to the ways in which people harness things in the interest of asserting practical control in the real world. The second refers to the subjective and social status of the object divested of its utilitarian function and abstracted from any practical control. Its destiny is now to be collected, rather than used (8). Baudrillard further finds that the practices of “true” collecting include pursuing a succession of singular objects, cultivating the passionate abstraction that is called possession, and, of course, seeking out, categorizing, gathering, and disposing of objects themselves (8– 10). The collection cannot exist as such without an internal scheme that may speak to others but always, first and foremost, speaks to oneself (22). The collection’s value is often individually assessed. Roy Shuker insists that “[t]here is no ‘typical’ record collector” (237); his study describes significant variation in the given fan’s association of recordings with identity formation and life history, accumulation and completism, and discrimination and connoisseurship (237). Downloaded by [University North Carolina – Chapel Hill] at 21:26 25 September 2017 Popular Music and Society 627 Whereas Baudrillard, Benjamin, and Shuker consider the collection of physical things, the present article considers the collection of something that has now apparently surrendered its physical materiality: music. What role the music’s material form, the music media’s “thingness,” plays in the storage, processing, and transmission of information (Straw 233) is of interest. “As key elements in the material culture of music, formats—like the 78 rpm record, vinyl album, and compact disc—were marked by distinctive sizes, storage capacities, and characteristic relationships between musical and nonmusical information” (233). Attending to a format’s aggregative features can reveal inherent, and telling, differences—or what media theorist Friedrich Kittler (qtd. in Straw 233) would call a format’s “storage capacity.” For example, an LP’s material form carries with it a distinctive protocol for listening, and for encountering a given performer’s personality via the information and a deliberately ordered series of tracks (Straw 234). However, with LPs too, audiences have been able to subvert given music structures in personal listening practices, and customization has been cultivated in individual recording practices, e.g. in home taping and cassette mix taping. Nevertheless, digital formats like CDs and, later, MP3 files have made the disruption of artists’ “album” presentations easier by enabling the listener to select and reorder at whim (Straw 234). Also, at least since the advent of Napster in 1999, online music practices including music downloads have facilitated mass customization of the musical experience with aggregation of songs independent of artist, genre, etc. (Jones 230) often with emphasis on single songs rather than albums (Jones and Lenhart 194). This already hints at how the digital format affects the listener in the context of music aggregation. In understanding digital music collecting the user interface of MP3 players and online music services is key, incorporating a range of material infrastructures, processes, and practices (Beer 85). The properties or features of objects, or specific settings available to a given technology, invite particular uses (Ian Hutchby quoted in Gillespie, Boczkowski, and Foot 23). Still, users are always able to find ways around this attempt at interpretive closure so that any given object or piece of technology encompasses a range of intended or unintended uses. The relation between how something is supposed to work and how people actually use it will impact both the argument and the conclusions of the present article. Its detailed look at audience practices will engage both the technology’s capacities and the user’s capabilities and interests, specifically in light of contemporary conditions for consumption and the individual premises for music listening. In comparing music-streaming practices with earlier ideals for music collecting (recall Hornby) one immediately encounters the dilemma that digital formats and streaming services make it impossible to “collect” music as such (Burkart 247) because the format offers music through subscription rather than ownership. Symbolic substitutes for physical collections must then arise through software interfaces designed to enable (or restrict) access to music and other cultural objects encoded in digital formats (247). These interfaces require us to cede control to technology in a way that in turn offends the music collector’s sensibility: “The controlled life of the music user within the digital Downloaded by [University North Carolina – Chapel Hill] at 21:26 25 September 2017 628 A. N. Hagen enclosure seems incommensurable with the empowered music user who once went to record stores and bought, sold, traded, and collected CDs, LPs, and cassettes, who retained the rights of first sale with which to build a collection” (249). Nevertheless, as the forthcoming analysis will demonstrate, users continue to covet, collect, stockpile, and enjoy music in these digital formats as though music remained somehow a cultural object, which should be analyzed in relation to artifacts even if they are not artifacts but only software (Sterne 831 –32). Digitized music via streaming services and MP3 files, after all, is “designed for massive exchange, casual listening and massive accumulation” (Sterne 838). These qualities have liberated recorded music from the traditional economy of exchange value, within which ownership status is central. Relatedly, Marjorie Kibby found that music listeners who are actively engaged wit

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