The Digitalization of the Distribution Process in the Music Industry

The Differences Between Two Artists

Seminar Paper, 2018

29 Pages, Grade: 1,7





1 Introduction

2 Topic and Area of Focus
2.1 Research Question
2.1.1 Scope and Level
2.2 Context and Background
2.3 Phenomenon of Digital Disruption and Change

3 Literature and Popular Perspectives

4 Actor-Network Theory - Conceptual Perspective
4.1 Motivation and Suitability

5 Method of Qualitative Research

6 Analysis
6.1 Choice of Artists for the Case
6.2 Case: Application of Actor-Network Theory
6.2.1 Michael Jackson’s Actor-Network Emergence Development Stabilization
6.2.2 Macklemore’s Actor-Network Emergence Development Stabilization
6.3 Findings and Discussion

7 Conclusion



Digitalization transforms organizations, professions, politics, education and even the cultural sector, for instance the music industry where this study belongs to. Digital disruption, collaboration and change have affected the music distribution process. But how exactly? And did it influence the balance of power among the actors involved?

The study uses Actor-Network Theory to represent the distribution networks of two artists before and after the start of the digital age: Michael Jackson, as the most successful artist of the 80s; and Macklemore, as the first artist being No.l without label-backing.

The tracing of their socio-technical networks shows that labels controlled the distribution channels in the past, but digitalization has shifted some power from the label to the artist. It enabled him to handle the distribution process largely on his own. Due to streaming services distributing music is way more efficient nowadays and artists can reach a huge community of streaming users. Social media enables collaboration and new partnerships in the music industry, which are not restricted to an artist's familiar environment. Additionally, it is a platform for viral marketing enabling a closer relationship between artists and their fans.

Overall, digitalization has broken up the enduring domination of the major labels and empowered artists to become successful without the backing of them.


Fig. 1 Turnover with Music Streaming Worldwide 2010 - 2017

Fig. 2 Michael Jackson‘s Actor-Network - Emergence Stage

Fig. 3 Michael Jackson’s Actor-Network - Development Stage

Fig. 4 Michael Jackson’s Actor-Network - Stabilization Stage

Fig. 5 Macklemore’s Actor-Network - Emergence Stage

Fig. 6 Macklemore’s Actor-Network - Development Stage

Fig. 7 Macklemore’s Actor-Network - Stabilization Stage


Abbildung in dieer Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

In the digital age technology have changed and changes the society in many ways. Digitalization affects almost every conceivable sector or industry by transfomiing organizations, professions, politics, education or even cultore. The introduction of the internet as well as information and conmiunication technology in general, have led to a variety of phenomena attributed to digital disruption, collaboration and change. The equally titled seminar, which provides the context for this study, is concerned with understanding these phenomena. The chosen field of research is the music industry with emphasis on the new media-enabled change in the process of music distribution. In chapter 2 the topic and area of focus will be introduced in more detail.

New media is a temi originated in the digital age, describing “products and services that provide infomiation or entertainment using computers or the internet” (Cambridge Dictionary 2018). In the context of the music industry this includes especially social media and streaming services. These technologies emerged with a lot of potential to change the routines in the music business so that artists, but also the major labels (Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, EMI) whom have constantly mied the sector, had to adapt to new dynamics within the field.

Chapter 3 will review the claims made in the literature about these transfomiations happening in the music industry, following an introduction of the conceptual perspective (see Ch. 4) this thesis aims to apply, to provide a more sophisticated view on the phenomena. In chapter 5 the used research method for data collection and analysis will be explained briefly. Subsequently, the actual analysis is conducted with an application of the prior chosen conceptual perspective on a case, which will be described in detail in chapter 6. Finally, chapter 7 will draw a conclusion including the main results of this study.

2 Topic and Area of Focus

This thesis is written in the context of the seminar Digital Disruption, Collaboration and Change which is concerned with the role of Information and Communication Technology in contemporary organizations and societies as well as how it is implicated in transforming them. The objective is to understand technology and the related disruption, collaboration and change emerging from it.

The chosen field of study is the music industry and how technology enabled change within it. Chapter 2.1 will introduce the research question more specific, before the context and background (see Ch. 2.2) as well as the phenomena of digital disruption and change (see Ch. 2.3) will be presented.

2.1 Research Question

The thesis seeks to analyze how the music industry have changed since the introduction of technology. The main focus will be on the distribution of music including the channels that were and are used. Thus, a special interest lays in new media as an ingredient of music distribution and how it may have changed the balance of power in the industry. Furthermore, the thesis tries to give a better understanding of the actors involved in the distribution process, both human and non-human (e.g. technology).

Accordingly, the formulated and resulting research question is:

How did new media change the distribution channels and the balance of power among the actors involved in the music industry?

2.1.1 Scope and Level

Due to the fact that the first occurrence of technology in the distribution of music was in the beginning of the 90s (see Ch. 2.2) the thesis will focus on the time between 1980 and 2018. It is commonly known that the music periods are divided in decades and the reason to start in the 80s is that the industry should be analyzed before and after the start of the digitalization.

The analysis will be based on a predefined case (see Ch. 6) from which the thesis will try to derive findings that stand for the whole music industry in general. However, the level of analysis depends on the chosen case and obviously the made assumptions for and circumstances of the case limit and shape the outcome. Thus, the claims made in this thesis should not be seen as hard truth, but rather as one way of understanding and grasping the digital change in the complex and huge music industry with its many actors and distribution channels.

2.2 Context and Background

Due to the digitalization many new media channels occurred that provided new opportunities for music distribution. It started with the introduction of the MP3 format in 1992, which made it possible to send music over the internet without loss of quality. The quality of the music approximated that of CDs and from that point on it was possible to store music directly on a computer. (Tschmuck 2012, p. 183)

In 1997 started to offer an online music locker service МуМрЗ that allowed users to upload songs and access them whenever and wherever they are. (Tschmuck 2012, p. 191) In 1998 the student Shawn Fanning started Napster, which made it possible to share music over the Internet. (Tschmuck 2012, p. 183) In this time many Internet start­ups were dominating the digital music market. Emusic, for example, has started in 1998 as a digital music subscription service and was able to offer downloadable MP3 songs. (Tschmuck 2012, p. 190) This is something no one could have imagined before 1992. Afterwards Apple introduced their iTunes Music Store in 2003, Amazon opened a music download platform in 2007 and Google bought YouTube in 2006 as well as started Google Music in 2011. (Tschmuck 2012, p. 191) In the same time social media platforms emerged and enabled artists to directly communicate with their fanbase. MySpace dominated the scene and also started an online music service called MySpace Music in 2008, but was overtaken by Facebook in temis of visitors in April 2008. (Tschmuck 2012, p. 193)

At the end of the decade so-called content aggregators named The Orchard, Tunecore, and Rebeat started and provided single artists as well as independent, relatively small labels a distribution platfomi for their music. “They enable single musicians to distribute their music to nearly all digital music services in the world. This shows [..] how dramatically music distribution has changed in the digital age.” (Tschmuck 2012, 192 f.) Additionally, other streaming services like Spotify, Simfy or Deezer started to gain popularity, too. By having a look at the worldwide turnover that have been made with music streaming between 2010 and 2017, it becomes clear how fast this music distribution channel has grown in the past years, (see Fig. 1)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: (statista 2017, p. 8)

Fig, 1 Turnover with Music Streaming Worldwide 2010-2017

With $0,32 billion in 2010 the turnover started growing slowly and reached the milestone of $2 billion five years later. It was a milestone, because from that point on this five year growth just happened again. However, not in five years, but in one. The turnover just doubled from 2015 to 2016 and reached its peak of $5,6 billion last year.

2.3 Phenomenon of Digital Disruption and Change

The introduced timeline of technologies influencing the music industry (see Ch. 2.2) clearly shows that the digitalization changed and is changing the music business. Laying the focus more on the main topic of this thesis, named distribution of music, one can already say that distributing music is way more efficient nowadays. From the customer perspective music is something trivial today. Technology enables the user having easy and cheap access to it. Paying a monthly fee to get access to a massive amount of songs, compared to buying every single or album individually, is way more user friendly. Anyway, it is rather an ongoing than a disruptive change what already becomes clear through the fact that 20 years are between the introduction of MP3 and the start of music streaming services (see Ch. 2.2).

To sum up, everyone agrees on the technology enabled change in the music industry, but what exactly has changed need to be analyzed further. Thus, this thesis seeks to review popular claims about this phenomena (see Ch. 3) and provide a different perspective by applying a theoretical lens (see Ch. 4).

3 Literature and Popular Perspectives

This chapter aims to provide a review of popular claims about the technology related change in the music industry, starting with Tschmuck who views it as a so-called paradigm change. “In a paradigm change [...] it is the old regime that is challenged by a new one. At first the representatives of the old paradigm will ignore the new regime, and then they will try to prevent the new regime from taking over. In the end they fail at this task, because the old regime is no longer able to control all of the simultaneously altering factors that cause this change.” (Tschmuck 2012, p. 230) With this statement he agrees on the rather ongoing than disruptive character of the change, by stating that the old and new regime coexist. It takes time till the new regime takes over and thus, it is not an event at one specific point in time, but a process. Furthermore, Tschmuck is describing it as one regime is challenging the other. This clearly addresses the balance of power between the two. The moment when the new regime is taking over could also be described as a power shift from the old to the new one. How and why this is happening in the music industry is definitely worth further investigation (see Ch. 6).

In addition, Taylor especially emphasizes technology’s relation to its social system, by claiming: “Whatever music technology is, it is not one thing alone. It is not separated from the social groups that use it; it is not separate from the individuals who use it; it is not separate from the social groups and individuals who invented it, tested it, marketed it, distributed it, sold it, repaired it, listened to it, bought it, or revived it. In short, music technology - any technology - is not simply an artifact or a collection of artifacts; it is, rather, always bound up in a social system [...].” (Taylor 2014, p. 7) Thus, this thesis needs to choose a conceptual perspective (see Ch. 4), which does not view technology separately from social systems, but as an ingredient of it. Furthermore, it could be interesting to compare the social systems Taylor talks about before and after the introduction of technology and what possibilities came with it for the individuals in the music industry, like the artists.

Tschmuck contributes the following to this topic: “Apart from large music industry conglomerates, the musician is enabled by the recent development to market her-/himself. Whereas prior to the digital revolution the record defined the value-added network in the music industry, the focus is now on artists and their managements.” (Tschmuck 2012, p. 195) With the “recent development” he is especially referring to the already well established social media in 2012 (see. Ch. 2.2). Now six years later it should be analyzed if this claim still stands (see Ch. 6). The thesis seeks to provide further insight for this marketing aspect of music distribution and will analyze if the focus is still on “artists and their managements” or if it should be redefined.

In addition, Wikström characterizes the relation of the music industry and media as an interdependency. “Music is an integral part of most media. Movies, radio, video-games and television all depend on music as the core of the enhancement of their products. The music industry, on the other hand, is completely dependent on the media, as a promoter, user and distributer of its products. Most professional musical artists communicate with their audience primarily via some kind of electronic medium” (Wikström 2013, p. 86). As the thesis is interested in how new media changes the music industry, the focus will be on analyzing the latter dependency and not on how media is built upon music. A change in the communication between artists and their audience is an interesting aspect to consider in the analysis.

Another provocative claim is that “[digitization has shifted the balance of power within the industry, giving more decision-making authority to consumers and musicians themselves. While streaming music services may have reduced the amount of royalties that artists receive when listeners tune in to their music, the increasing digitization of the music industry has granted recording artists greater opportunities to involve themselves in more revenue-producing opportunities within the industry.” (Kent State University 2017) The thesis seeks to investigate a possible shift in the balance of power within the music industry and therefore, it is conceivable that the analysis (see Ch. 6) will approve this claim.

To conclude, all authors agree on a change in the music industry, some are emphasizing more the social context of technology and how it provides new communication and marketing possibilities, others rather focus on the shift in the balance of power. Thus, a more sophisticated view is needed that combines, approves or rebuts the reviewed claims and thereby the thesis aims to serve this need by applying the in the following chapter introduced conceptual perspective.

4 Actor-Network Theory - Conceptual Perspective

The Actor-Network Theory (ANT) belongs to a movement within field of the sociology of science named the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT). (Consiglio 2009, p. 16) SCOT views technology as a social construct and “brings out the interpretative flexibility of technological artefacts” (Pinch and Bijker 1984, p. 419). It highlights the multidirectional character of the relation between society and technology, human and non-human.

“Broadly stated actor-network theory [..] offers conceptual sensibilities to both exploring and understanding the complexity and dynamics of the heterogeneous arrangements (or networks) of actors and their inter-dependences.” (Vidolov 2014, p. 3) ANT aims “to describe a society of humans and non-humans as equal actors tied together into networks built and maintained in order to achieve a particular goal.” (Consiglio 2009, p. 16) People and technology are viewed as equal actors who are fomling networks. “The network consists of actors and an actor consists of a network of interactions and associations.” (Consiglio 2009, p. 17) Thus, these two systems are interrelated which means that one cannot exist without the other.

A network follows three stages named emergence, development and stabilization. The emergence phase includes the translation process of the actors generating the network. Translation is the process of actors identifying other actors and relate them together. (Callón et al. 1983) “It is the number of other people who enter into the business that indicate the amount of power that has been exercised.” (Law 1986) An actor grows by aligning more and different actors and the network’s importance depends on the number of actors belonging to it. (Consiglio 2009, p. 17)

For the next phase named development two directions are possible: divergence or convergence. On the one hand, convergence means that every actors’ activity fits easily with those of the others, whereas divergence is used if the translation process is denied by some actors and the links between them become weaker. “The actors then begin to diverge and the integrity is lost.” (Consiglio 2009, p. 18)

Finally, in the stabilization phase a consensus is reached among the different social groups, every actor aims for stability in the network and interpretative flexibility diminishes. (Bijker 1997, p. 86)

However, “the actor network should not [...] be confused with a network linking in some predictable fashion elements that are perfectly well defined and stable,


Excerpt out of 29 pages


The Digitalization of the Distribution Process in the Music Industry
The Differences Between Two Artists
University of Münster  (Information Systems and Information Management)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
digitalization, distribution, music, industry, artists, digital, disruption, collaboration, change, culture, Actor-Network Theory, Michael Jackson, Macklemore, new media, social media, streaming, labels
Quote paper
Tobias Riegel (Author), 2018, The Digitalization of the Distribution Process in the Music Industry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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