Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture documents the transition of recorded music on CDs to music as digital files on computers. More than two decades after the first digital music files began circulating in online archives and playing through new software media players, we have yet to fully internalize the cultural and aesthetic consequences of these shifts. Tracing the emergence of what Jeremy Wade Morris calls the “digital music commodity,” Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture considers how a conflicted assemblage of technologies, users, and industries helped reformat popular music’s meanings and uses. Through case studies of five key technologies—Winamp, metadata, Napster, iTunes, and cloud computing—this book explores how music listeners gradually came to understand computers and digital files as suitable replacements for their stereos and CD. Morris connects industrial production, popular culture, technology, and commerce in a narrative involving the aesthetics of music and computers, and the labor of producers and everyday users, as well as the value that listeners make and take from digital objects and cultural goods. Above all, Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture is a sounding out of music’s encounters with the interfaces, metadata, and algorithms of digital culture and of why the shifting form of the music commodity matters for the music and other media we love.
List of Figures
Introduction: The Digital Music Commodity
1. Music as a Digital File
2. Making Technology Behave
3. This Business of Napster
4. Click to Buy: Music in Digital Stores
5. Music in the Cloud
Conclusion: Exceptional Objects
Jeremy Wade Morris is Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies in the department of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has published in New Media & Society, Critical Studies in Media Communication, First Monday, and various edited collections on music and technology.
“Until now, the full story of music’s digitalization had not been told. Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture is that telling—a lively, textured, and meticulous account that challenges common wisdom and oft-repeated apocrypha. Required reading.”—Devon Powers, Associate Professor of Communication, Drexel University
“We’ve been waiting for years for a definitive account of the ‘digital moment’ in recorded music, one that draws skillfully upon a full range of social, cultural, and musical theory. That account has finally arrived in the form of Jeremy Morris’s fine, comprehensive book.”—David Hesmondhalgh, Professor of Media, Music and Culture, University of Leeds, and author of Why Music Matters
“Morris takes us to the code and user-interface levels of digital-music distribution and playback systems in a detailed and well-researched analysis. Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture demonstrates the infinite promises and notable disappointments of the music and computer software industries as they have fought to capture and retain music fans in their online webs of influence.”—Patrick Burkart, Professor of Communication, Texas A&M University
International Association for the Study of Popular Music–Canada 2017 Book Prize, International Association for the Study of Popular Music–Canada