Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music

Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music

Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music

Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music


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An innovative investigation of the inner workings of Spotify that traces the transformation of audio files into streamed experience.

Spotify provides a streaming service that has been welcomed as disrupting the world of music. Yet such disruption always comes at a price. Spotify Teardown contests the tired claim that digital culture thrives on disruption. Borrowing the notion of “teardown” from reverse-engineering processes, in this book a team of five researchers have playfully disassembled Spotify's product and the way it is commonly understood.

Spotify has been hailed as the solution to illicit downloading, but it began as a partly illicit enterprise that grew out of the Swedish file-sharing community. Spotify was originally praised as an innovative digital platform but increasingly resembles a media company in need of regulation, raising questions about the ways in which such cultural content as songs, books, and films are now typically made available online.

Spotify Teardown combines interviews, participant observations, and other analyses of Spotify's “front end” with experimental, covert investigations of its “back end. ” The authors engaged in a series of interventions, which include establishing a record label for research purposes, intercepting network traffic with packet sniffers, and web-scraping corporate materials. The authors' innovative digital methods earned them a stern letter from Spotify accusing them of violating its terms of use; the company later threatened their research funding. Thus, the book itself became an intervention into the ethics and legal frameworks of corporate behavior.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262038904
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 286
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Maria Eriksson is a social anthropologist and a PhD candidate in the Department of Culture and Media Studies at Umeå University.

Rasmus Fleischer is a postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Economic History at Stockholm University.

Anna Johansson is an Associate Senior Lecturer in Ethnology at HUMlab at Umeå University.

Pelle Snickars is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Umeå University.

Patrick Vonderau is Professor of Media Studies at Stockholm University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

Intervention: The Swedish Unicorn 19

1 Where Is Spotify? 31

Intervention: Record Label Setup 69

2 When Do Files Become Music? 79

Intervention: How We Tracked Streams 105

3 How Does Spotify Package Music? 115

Intervention: Too Much Data 139

4 What Is the Value of Free? 149

Intervention: Introducing Songblocker 173

Conclusion 181

Intervention: Work at Spotify! 193

Notes 205

Bibliography 255

Index 273

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“We live in a world that has changed beyond all recognition. Spotify Teardown is a powerful book exploring the new dimensions of streaming culture. Think of it as a roadmap to the near future of online media. Streaming has redefined how we consume media, and this excellent investigation into how, and why, we have all changed our media habits is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of media. It's that good!”

Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky

Spotify Teardown pries open the streaming giant's black box, looking under the service's glossy interfaces, curated playlists, and 'personalized' algorithms to provide an essential analysis that holds lessons not only for music but for digital media writ large. The book traces Spotify's rise from its pirate origins in the Swedish music/tech start-up scene to its current status as a publicly traded global media company enmeshed in a complicated assemblage of ad networks, venture capital investments, and major record label music licenses. This team of creative researchers shows how methodology is the new punk and provides a breakdown of one digital era's biggest players. The authors show how a company, platform, and metaphor outline the changing standards, values, and politics that 'map and shape the lives of streaming users.'”

Jeremy Morris, Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison; author of Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture

“Employing a unique set of methods to study a streaming giant, Spotify Teardown provides an important investigation into the potential impacts of new media platforms on artists, culture, and the creative economy.”

David Touve, Senior Director, iLab, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia

“A highly entertaining tale. You'll learn about: music spam, what constitutes a 'play,' the mysterious power of 'a better algorithm,' and mostly how venture capital and marketing hype have built an experiment with no exit.”

Geoffrey Jennings, Rainy Day Books

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