Multi-format music use at the intersection of downloading and streaming practices

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This paper will investigate the restructuring of digital online music use related to the remediation of the music download as a music stream. The paper draws on the empirical findings of my PhD-study based on qualitative interviews with young listeners (n16), professional musicians (n10) and distributors from Spotify, TDC Play, Tidal, and 24/7 Entertainment (n4). Interviewing three different social groups (n30 total) represents a unique approach with which to answer the question how music files are understood and used in the intersection between download-based and stream-based music practices.
The paper draws from a theoretical framework reaching from medium theory though to cultural studies and software studies. The paper presents itself as a theoretical and empirical extension of format theory, which is a recent re-formulation of the aforementioned theories originating from the interdisciplinary field of Sound Studies (Sterne, 2012).

The analysis of perceptions of digital online music use, presented in this paper, is informed by key findings from my PhD-study:
• The sociocultural aspects of digital music use can be seen as articulated through the stream format as the withholding of an already reticent and inconspicuous cultural artefact. Streaming as a product is represented as a very user-friendly substitute to the download-based music use. This is only possible because the distributors have locked the music file of the stream in a highly regulated infrastructure maintained in accordance with the licensed agreements between the music industry and the IT-industry. The listeners seem unaffected by the technological changes and even the less tech-savvy listeners can easily stream-rip to produce music files from stream, which they then re-commodify by adjusting the metadata inscribed in the formats.
• Sound quality does not matter much to the listeners. If necessary they predominantly improve it through hardware changes and search word optimizations. But the musicians value the sound quality of the music formats they use in their production of music. Professionally the musicians balance two strategies. On the one hand trying to maintain the highest appropriate level of ‘bitrate’ (the recent cultural transcoding (Manovich, 2013) of sound quality). On the other decrying the sound quality of particularly YouTube, which one musician compares to a dustbin, although a vibrant one. Likewise the distributors accept sound quality as competition-differentiation and all aim to transcode sound quality for infrastructural efficiency whereby the streaming is to be experienced as quick and effortless.
• Visually, the downloaded music file has been remediated as stream for a more immediate music use, where play icons and progress bars afford a different kind of music use than the file-icon of the download that they replace. Finding and collecting music is now afforded by playlists, which as formats are produced to be as inconspicuous as the stream itself. The playlists are ideal for maintaining the listeners entrenched within the streaming system. The musicians are sceptical about the lack of engagement afforded by digital online music and this is also a concern to the distributors who are striving to (re)produce ‘the full musical experience’ digitally.

Accordingly this paper investigates the use of music formats through the relation between sociocultural and technological conditions of what should be regarded as multi format scenarios. The goal is to understand the meaning of the remediated digital music formats as reflected in the restructuring of everyday digital online music use. This is accomplished through an analysis of the variabilities and patterns in the production, representation, uses, and regulation of the music formats in the circuit of culture (Gay et al., 2013) of the everyday digital online music use.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes
EventNordMedia 2017: Mediated Realities - Global Challenges - Tampere Universitet, Tampere, Finland
Duration: 17 Aug 201719 Aug 2017


ConferenceNordMedia 2017
LocationTampere Universitet
Internet address

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