Popular Music Pub Date : 2021-04-26 , DOI: 10.1017/s0261143021000064 Thomas Hodgson
The corporate rhetoric of streaming platforms often assumes a tight link between their scale-making ambitions on the one hand and the creative interests of musicians on the other. In practice, most musicians recognise that claims of musical ‘democratisation’ are deeply flawed. The creative ambivalence this produces is an understudied pillar in scholarship on digital music platforms and suggests that these systems can be more creatively constrictive than empowering. Based on ethnographic research among Spotify engineers, record labels and musicians, this article explores how music recommendation systems become inculcated with a corporate rhetoric of ‘scalability’ and considers, following Anna Tsing, how this impacts musical creativity further down the value chain. I argue that the ‘creative ambivalence’ that these technologies produce should be more fully understood as woven into a complex web of social relations and corporate interests than prevailing claims of technological objectivity and ‘democratisation’ suggest.