Networked Cultural Production and the Discourse of Autonomy in Underground Record Labels

Authors: James Vail*, University of Manchester
Topics: Cultural Geography, Economic Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Cultural geography, cultural production, consumption, music, digital, translocal
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Though much research into underground and fringe music focuses on local sites (or scenes) of production and consumption, most underground music production, in fact, takes place in trans-national, multi-scalar networks that involve diverse actors. Self-proclaimed ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) record labels in the US, Europe, and Japan release music from a transnational network of musicians via the internet but on physical formats such as cassette and vinyl to consumers across the globe. Record labels are frequently run as informal not-for-profit organisations, resting on the unpaid labour of label owners, that work to generate a small amount of revenue for the artist. These labour relationships are validated by a discourse of digital DIY cultural production that places emphasis on the alleged purity and autonomy of the sites of musical creative production: the ‘untouched’ domestic sphere of the artist. However, this discourse renders invisible a much larger network of actors, obfuscating the changing role of the distributor and manufacturer within underground music production in the digital age. Companies such as Boomkat work with record labels, offering to manufacture and distribute physical copies of the music on the condition that they are able to select which records to release. In doing so, these companies essentially transform DIY record labels into outsourced and unpaid A&R labour. Thus, this paper examines the way in which DIY discourse, coupled with a narrative of the digital sphere as geographically unrooted, serve to manipulate the forms of creative labour under emergent, networked forms of capital.

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