Nancy Weiss Hanrahan

  • Hilla

    Dear Nancy, I am overwhelmed by how your critical perspective perfectly describes my experience as a music buff who on the one hand enjoys consuming a lot of music out there (yes, I’m a user…) and as one who grew up in the age of the record player and is terrified by the larger consequences of consuming music as data. Still, especially in this case the critique of technology begs the questions – what about the opportunities that artists do get for exposure or release of music that have broken the monopoly of the music corporations? are there ways to be conscious consumers of music nowadays without falling pray to the gods of algorithms? Most importantly, how do I convince my students with whom I am reading Arendt’s the Human Condition relating it to today’s world, that all the great points you make here are not just anachronistic “rejectionism”? Can we get back to owning rather than merely accessing our music? can we respect it as a piece of art as much as we did in the good old days of the dusty record? There must a way to do that in our digital world simply because we have no other world to speak of and we can no longer “access” the past or reclaim it…

    • Nancy Hanrahan

      Thanks for your comment and the excellent questions you
      pose. I don’t see these arguments as a form of “rejectionism” and I hope it’s not yet anachronistic to care about art. Rather, as a critical project in sociology, I see my work as illuminating the contradictions inherent in this new musical system. Yes, artists do have more opportunities for exposure and release of music, and that’s absolutely good. The problem is that there’s so much music available now that people report they can’t manage the glut of information and therefore rely on quantitative measures of popularity or on algorithms that return us, essentially, to ourselves. The most recent statistics I’ve seen indicate that 95% of people listen to less than 3%
      of the music that’s out there – and it’s likely to get worse the more refined the algorithms become. (If you’re interested, you might look at the Echo Nest website to see where this is
      going.) Under these conditions, where few people are really paying attention and exposure isn’t paying the rent, “opportunity” can’t be taken at face value.

      Despite my concerns about the de-aestheticization of music
      that the new technologies promote, I do believe that listeners and audiences still approach music as more than “users” – much more, in fact. Perhaps a place to start would be to change
      the discourse; to deconstruct the way the tech companies have re-framed our experience of music in utilitarian terms and start talking about it as art.

  • Hilla

    Dear Nancy, check this one out:, reviewing a couple of new books, one on the history of the MP3 format.

  • Johanna Bockman

    Such a beautifully written and argued post. I especially like, “we no longer have to engage with the difficult, the problematic, the
    potentially rewarding, or anything that falls outside of the realm of
    our established sensibilities.” Where do you see this challenging music going on right now? Do universities still play a role in this? This is also a brilliant insight: “Ironically, the truth of this situation has for too long been obscured
    by a narrative of democratization that seems blind to the monopoly
    character of the technology companies that are running the music show.” How do sociologists define aesthetics? What does a pro-aesthetics (vs. anti-aesthetics) sociology look like? I suppose it looks like your forthcoming book…

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