When I woke up this morning, I was greeted by the Chicago skyline I have enjoyed staring at so many times before. As is always the case when I come to this city for whatever reason, I find myself thinking about Wilco quite a bit. I still remember taking my own little pilgrimage to the Wilco loft the first time I came to this city, and standing outside the building smiling as if on sacred ground. It was thus not surprising to me that when I left the hotel for some coffee this morning I popped on the latest Wilco record – Star Wars – for the trip.
As I listened to this (in my opinion) masterpiece from Tweedy and company, I started thinking about the way it was released. Without any warning and free of cost (other than signing up for the band’s newsletter), the record was released online for download about a month ago. Combining the recent release styles of Beyonce’s amazing 2013 self titled record, which appeared with almost no warning on iTunes one day, and U2’s 2014 Songs of Innocence, which was released for free to all iTunes customers, the latest Wilco record continues a trend of innovative releases in recent years by artists in a wide variety of musical genres and career stages.
Although the past couple of years have seen more and more of these (often online) events as well as a dramatic rise in services for streaming music (often for free) online, I’m reminded of 2007’s “pay what you want” release by Radiohead and Ryan Adams releasing random full albums no one knew existed (that never have gotten official releases and likely never will) for free from his website around the same time. I also remember when the Wilco started streaming their albums for free prior to release from their website over a decade ago. As streaming music has become (best I can tell) as ubiquitous as standard dial radio stations once were, I find myself fascinated by the ways people react to and engage with these technological developments, release styles and events, and content delivery systems. What would analyses of streaming platforms, content delivery systems, and the ways people engage with and make sense of these technologies reveal? How do people engage with new types of musical releases, and how do these engagements mirror or diverge from traditional musical releases?
I can’t pretend to have answers to such questions, but I think this could represent an interesting area for interactionist analyses. While some of these efforts and offerings have met with widespread joy and critical acclaim, others have met with controversy, technical glitches, and disappointment. In either case, shifts in the ways artists release materials for public consumption provide fertile case studies in shifting landscapes and technological efforts in relation to music. I find myself wondering what might be learned from an interactionist examination of musical releases, ways of releasing music, and / or ways people interpret releases over time, between varied communities, and in relation to different musical types and mediums.
After all, technological innovations have always influenced the production and dissemination tactics of the arts and vice versa in varied and nuanced ways. What might we find via systematic explorations of these variations and nuances currently and over the passage of time? How might a concert attendee view the experience of seeing their favorite band both in an arena in their hometown and then again two weeks later utilizing a live streaming service capturing a concert two states away? How do people manage and use streaming services and are these endeavors similar to and / or different than the use and management of other mediums and formats? Do people react differently to a unannounced release by an artist than they do to one with traditional marketing, buildup, and individual song releases in advance? Regardless of what we might learn about these or other questions, I suspect there may be much of interest in the social experience of musical and other artistic release strategies, styles, technologies, and events.