Sunday, February 10, 2008

Socially Adept and Immersed Already Thank You: Beginning to Make the Case for Popular Music Studies as a Means of Understanding Web 2.0


I am working in a very smart, interesting and relatively congenial department these days, which is also going through some identity issues, as are all telecommunication/media/mass comm departments. That old one-way media just isn't sexy anymore. I, myself, am suffering professionally as it seems jobs that once fit my description are becoming less and less so. Of course I have always published in odd areas where the issue of the "social" has always been placed at a premium. Studying what makes music popular means understanding how everyday intellectuals operate tactically with their everyday media environments to negotiate and produce everyday aesthetic expressions. In other words, how does an everyday person take the stereo systems, mics, guitars and CDs that they didn't necessarily produce and rearrange them for their own aesthetic expression? Most often they do this in groups and the means involves negotiating sets of social groups that change on the dime and conveniently dissolve when they are no longer useful. See "social media."

However, despite this fact when we say those two words many of us think point-to-point digital communication, which is both interesting and lazy. Interesting because as I blog this I am fully aware of digitals reach: it can reach far, internationally, transnationally, etc. It can reach my dad, my sister, my cousin, my enemy and a friend to be on the whim of a click or a google search. The cost of physical distribution and storage are zero dollaring themselves out. And, yes, I use them all. I use Pownce, Blogger, Facebooked and MySpaced, Goooglemapped, used various IMs and VOIPs. I have podcast, blogged, flickr'd, taught myself many We 2.0 basics and am learning more. It's not that hard and there are plenty more to come and go (average days of use for a new web 2.0 device is around 45 and then you move onto another, or so I have been told). And yes, I love them dearly because they were driven by cheap, user-oriented technologies that are designed bring groups of people together.

But this was exactly what I love about popular music. Note, I said music. Popular music has always been driven by cheap, user-oriented technologies that are designed to bring people together. Call it a dance floor, a party or even a "boomin system", a great popular music gathering was one designed to immerse you and engage people in a set of aesthetic expressions that they help alter and generate (dance, fashion anyone?). Can't anyone understand that so-called new media's sexiness is predicated on the very items that popular music culture is predicated on: sharing and alterating mass generated expressions in order to express one's unique distinct nature in a mass society? I mean, is it any wonder that the media industry most affected by Web 2.0 has been not only the music industry, but the one that media scholars understood the least?

This may be born out of frustration with the job market (where right now I am searching), but it is also generated by hearing claims claim that we have not studied this before in our field. These claims are often made by those who simply cannot make the connection between what many of them loved in their past youth and continue to love now or, because of professional biases, refuse to do so. It's frustrating. There is a literature of people utilizing these music techs for their purposes. And there is a literature to be written of how these new techs operate with people to generate not simply income but new aesthetic dimensions. There is a literature that can be written not simply drawing from sociology but a form or marginal media studies. An area of media studies that was marginalized precisely because with its many underground networks and home-grown talents it often openly worked to defy, with various levels of success, centralization and complete control. There is a lot of work to do here and I, for one, hope to do some of it.