How Platform Capitalism Devalued the Music Industry

DeForrest Brown, Jr.
15 min readFeb 4, 2020

This essay was originally commissioned by online electronic music magazine and community platform Resident Advisor for its 2010–2019 End of the Decade run of features. Upon reading the essay, Resident Advisor chose to cancel the project citing issues with the essay’s position and focus on major shifts in the standards of music consumption and criticism in the 2010s alongside declining album sales in an increasingly oversaturated digital market. Over the course of a decade the music industry widened and diversified from traditional written artist profiles and reviews by staff journalists to paid media advertising and marketing communications initiatives at the cost of music’s personal and economic value.

In the book Platform Capitalism political theorist Nick Srnicek reflected on the abstract value system of data in a “knowledge economy” developed in the start-up tech industry after the global financial downturn in 2008. Srnicek defines platforms as digital infrastructures that enable individuals to interact within the roles of a user or producer. A platform provides and regulates a space with tools for users to build and exchange their own products in a “lean production model” that both outsources all of its labor to free or freelance workers and uses data as a resource to optimize production and intel on consumer preferences, effectively creating a streamlined production process with little to no overhead with a focus on the ownership of information before sales. The introduction of Platform Capitalism to the music industry through streaming services and online media brands more or less reoriented the music industry’s function of supply and quality of demand by flooding the market with valueless content in the form of user-uploaded music and evergreen “click-bait” articles. After a decade of imperceptive belief in algorithms and platforms that sell music “wholesale”, the market is deflated and can be directly linked to the overall devaluation of music.

Image from Spotify for Brands — Culture Next: Global Trend Report

On July of 2019, Spotify for Brands — Spotify’s platform for data-driven marketing, brand partnerships and sales — commissioned the research agency Culture Co-Op to produce a trend report called…

DeForrest Brown, Jr.

DeForrest Brown, Jr. is a New York-based theorist, journalist and musician. Primary Information will publish his book Assembling a Black Counter Culture in 2020