Does Spotify Create Attachment?
Algorithmic Playlists, Intermediation and the Artist-Fan Relationship
Keywords:streaming, cultural intermediaries, attachment, playlists, Spotify
This paper seeks to measure the extent to which algorithmically generated playlists, conceptualised herein as cultural intermediaries (Bourdieu 1984), create ‘attachment’ between consumers of music and producers of music. This was undertaken following debates in the professional music press problematising the ability of streaming platforms to create relationships between artists and listeners and, in a wider discussion, to generate sustainable income for musicians (Chartmetric 2018, Mulligan 2019 in Griffiths 2019, Music Ally 2019). We develop the idea from cultural and economic scholars that intermediation results in ‘attachment’ on behalf of consumers (Callon et.al 2002, Smith Maguire & Matthews 2012) by formulating a definition of the term informed by insights from consumer psychology and applying this framework to a 115-question survey completed by listeners to Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ Playlist for a one-week period. The findings suggest that the playlist was able to generate close to no attachment for those considered poorly-involved new music consumers, and only minor to mid-levels of attachment for those participants considered heavily-involved new music consumers. We therefore propose that algorithmically curated playlists can influence low-cost audience attachment behaviours while their overall impact on the economic success of artists may be limited. This paper contributes towards academic debates concerning the role and impact of cultural intermediaries and lends early empirical support to discussions within the professional music industries and wider public policy (GOV 2020) concerning the uncertain ability of playlists to influence the artist-fan relationship. In addition, by developing a methodologically precise definition of ‘attachment’, it is hoped that the framework provided by this modest study can act as a guide for other researchers to explore the concept of intermediation and attachment with larger sample sizes on alternative playlist types and on other digital platforms.
Aguiar, Luis and Waldfogel, Joel (2018): “Platforms, Promotion, and Product Discovery: Evidence from Spotify Playlists,” JRC Technical Reports, JRC Digital Economy Working Paper (2018–04): 1-44.
Ball, Dwayne and Tasaki, Lori (1992): “The Role and Measurement of Attachment in Consumer Behavior,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 1:2, 155–172. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327663jcp0102_04
Barna, Emilia (2017): “The perfect guide in a crowded musical landscape: Online music platforms and curatorship,” First Monday. No issue number: No pagination. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i4.6914
Bateman, Ian J. and Willis, Kenneth G. (2001) Valuing Environmental Preferences: Theory and Practice of the Contingent Valuation Method in the US, EU and developing Countries, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1984): Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1990): Photography: A Middle-brow Art, Cambridge: Stanford University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1991): Language and symbolic power, Cambridge: Polity in association with Basil Blackwell.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1993): The field of cultural production: essays on art and literature, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bowlby, John (1982): “Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospect,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52:4, 664–678. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.1982.tb01456.x
Bonini, Tiziano and Gandini, Alessandro (2019): “First Week Is Editorial, Second Week Is Algorithmic: Platform Gatekeepers and the Platformization of Music Curation,” Social Media + Society, 5:4, 1-11. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305119880006
BPI. (2017): 2017 All about the music: recorded music in the UK: facts, figures and analysis. London: BPI Limited.
Callon, Michel, Méadel, Cécile and Rabeharisoa, Vololona (2002): “The economy of qualities,” Economy and Society, 31:2, 194–217. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03085140220123126
Chartmetric. (2018): “How Spotify Playlist Curators Turn Listeners Into Followers,” Beats & Bytes, 31 May 2018:https://blog.chartmetric.com/how-spotifys-gatekeepers-are-turning-listeners-into-fans-or-not/ (accessed 2 August 2020).
Datta, Hannes, Knox, George and Bronnenberg, Bart J. (2018): “Changing Their Tune: How Consumers’ Adoption of Online Streaming Affects Music Consumption and Discovery,” Marketing Science, 37:1, 5–21. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1287/mksc.2017.1051
Ditto Music. (2018): “How to get on Spotify’s Discover Weekly & Release Radar,” Dittomusic.com, 9 May 2018: https://www.dittomusic.com/blog/how-to-get-your-music-on-discover-weekly-and-release-radar (accessed 25 July 2020).
Dredge, Stuart (2020): “#BrokenRecord: ‘It’s about saying we all recognise that this is problematic’,” Music Ally, 18 May 2018: https://musically.com/2020/05/18/brokenrecord-its-about-saying-we-all-recognise-that-this-is-problematic/ (Accessed 1 August 2020).
Eriksson, Maria and Johansson, Anna (2017): “Tracking Gendered Streams,” Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 9:2, 163–183. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3384/cu.2000.1525.1792163
du Gay, Paul et al. (1997): Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman. London: SAGE.
Fairchild, Charles (2014): “Popular Music,” Smith Maguire, Jennifer and Matthews, Julian, (eds): The Cultural Intermediaries Reader, London: SAGE, 125-133. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473912281.n12
Featherstone, M. (1993): Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446288399
Fleischer, R. (2017): “If the Song has No Price, is it Still a Commodity? Rethinking the Commodification of Digital Music,” Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 9:2, 146–162. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3384/cu.2000.1525.1792146
Fleischer, Rasmus and Snickars, Pelle (2017): “Discovering Spotify – A Thematic Introduction,” Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 9:2, 130–145. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3384/cu.2000.1525.1792130
Forde, Eamonn (2018). “The secrets of successful D2C sales: ‘It is about scale and speed’,” Music Ally, 29 April 2018: https://musically.com/2018/04/29/secrets-successful-d2c-sales/ (accessed 30 July 2020).
Fournier, Susan (1998): “Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research,” Journal of Consumer Research, 24:4, 343–373. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/209515
Gallhofer, Irmtraud and Saris, Willem (2014): Design, evaluation, and analysis of questionnaires for survey research, 2nd ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley
Griffiths, Emma (2019): “Music Industry Analysts on the Trends to Watch in 2020 – Synchblog,” Synchtank, 19 December 2019: https://www.synchtank.com/blog/music-industry-analysts-on-the-trends-to-watch-in-2020/ (accessed 2 August 2020).
Gross, Sally Anne and Musgrave, George (2020): Can Music Make You Sick? Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv199tddg
Gomart, Emilie and Hennion, Antoine (1999). “A Sociology of Attachment: Music Amateurs, Drug Users,” The Sociological review (Keele), 47, 220-247. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.1999.tb03490.x
GOV (2020): “Call for evidence – Economics of music streaming,” UK Parliament: https://committees.parliament.uk/call-for-evidence/273/economics-of-music-streaming/ (accessed 5 December 2020).
Hazan, Cindy and Shaver, Philip (1994): “Attachment as an Organizational Framework for Research on Close Relationships,” Psychological Inquiry, 5:1, 1–22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli0501_1
Hennion, Antoine (2010): “Loving Music: from a Sociology of Mediation to a Pragmatics of Taste,” Comunicar (Huelva, Spain), 17:34, 25-33. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3916/C34-2010-02-02
Hesmondhalgh, David (2006): “Bourdieu, the media and cultural production,” Media, Culture & Society, 28:2, 211–231. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443706061682
Hesmondhalgh, David (2020). “Is music streaming bad for musicians? Problems of evidence DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820953541
and argument,” New Media & Society, 00:0, 1–23.
Hesmondhalgh, David (2021): “Streaming’s Effects on Music Culture: Old Anxieties and New Simplifications,” Cultural Sociology, June 2021 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/17499755211019974
Hesmondhalgh, David, Osborne, R, Sun, Hyojung and Barr, Kenny (2021) Music Creators Earnings in the Digital Era, London: Intellectual Property Office DOI: https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4089749
Horowitz, John K. and McConnell, Kenneth, E. (2003) Willingness to accept, willingness to pay and the income effect, Organization, 51:4, 537-545. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0167-2681(02)00216-0
IFPI (2019): Music Listening 2019. London: IFPI.
Jopling, Keith (2019): “Playlist innovation. MIDiA Research,” 4 March 2019: https://www.midiaresearch.com/blog/whats-next-for-playlist-innovation/ (accessed 22 May 2020).
Kjus, Yngvar (2016): “Musical exploration via streaming services: The Norwegian experience,” Popular Communication, 14:3, 127–136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15405702.2016.1193183
Kuipers, Giselinde (2012): “The cosmopolitan tribe of television buyers: Professional ethos, personal taste and cosmopolitan capital in transnational cultural mediation,” European Journal of Cultural Studies, 15:5, 581–603. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549412445760
Latour, Bruno and Stark, Monique Girard (1999) Factures/Fractures: From the Concept of Network to the Concept of Attachment, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 36, 20-31. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/RESv36n1ms20167474
Lindsay, Charlie (2016): “An Exploration into How the Rise of Curation Within Streaming Services Has Impacted How Music Fans in the UK Discover New Music,” Journal of Promotional Communications, 4:1, 114-141.
Loroz, Peggy Sue and Braig, Bridgette M. (2015) Consumer Attachments to Human Brands: The “Oprah Effect”, Psychology & Marketing, 32:7, 751-763 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.20815
Moor, Liz (2008): “Branding consultants as cultural intermediaries,” The Sociological Review, 56:3, 408–428. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2008.00797.x
Morris, Jeremy Wade (2015): “Curation by code: Infomediaries and the data mining of taste,” European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18:4–5, 446–463. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549415577387
Mulligan, Mark (2014): “What Future For The Album In The On-Demand Age?,” Music Industry Blog, 15 July 2014: https://musicindustryblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/what-future-for-the-album-in-the-on-demand-age/ (accessed 22 May 2020).
Mulligan, Mark (2019): “Spotify, the Decline of Playlists and the Rise of Podcasts,” MIDiA Research, 11 April 2019: https://www.midiaresearch.com/blog/spotify-the-decline-of-playlists-and-the-rise-of-podcasts/ (accessed 22 May 2020].
Musgrave, George (2017): “Collaborating to Compete: The Role of Cultural Intermediaries in Hypercompetition,” International Journal of Music Business Research, 6:2, 41–68.
Music Ally. (2019): “The Dry Streams Paradox,” Music Ally, 14 April 2019: https://musically.com/2019/04/24/the-dry-streams-paradox/ (accessed 26 May 2020).
Music Ally. (2021): “Atlantic hails TikTok’s rile in first UK drill number one,” Music Ally, 10 May 2021: https://musically.com/2021/05/10/atlantic-hails-tiktoks-role-in-first-uk-drill-number-one/ (accessed 26 September 2021).
Musicians’ Union. (2012): The Working Musician. London: Musicians’ Union.
Negus, Keith (2019): “From creator to data: the post-record music industry and the digital conglomerates,” Media, Culture & Society, 41:3, 367–384. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443718799395
Negus, Keith (2002): “The Work of Cultural Intermediaries and the Enduring Distance Between Production and Consumption,” Cultural Studies, 16:4, 501–515. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09502380210139089
Negus, Keith and Pickering, Michael (2004). “Creativity, Communication and Cultural Value.” London: SAGE. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446220740
Park, C. Whan et al. (2010): “Brand Attachment and Brand Attitude Strength: Conceptual and Empirical Differentiation of Two Critical Brand Equity Drivers,” Journal of Marketing, 74:6, 1–17. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkg.74.6.1
Popper, Ben (2015): “Tastemaker: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale,” The Verge, 30 September 2015: https://www.theverge.com/2015/9/30/9416579/spotify-discover-weekly-online-music-curation-interview (accessed 21 May 2020).
Powers, Devon (2015). “Intermediaries and Intermediation,” Bennett, Andy, Waksman, Steve (eds): The SAGE Handbook of Popular Music, London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 120–134. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473910362.n7
Prey, Robert (2020) Locating Power in Platformization: Music Streaming Playlists and Curatorial Power, Social Media + Society, 1-11. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120933291
Prior, Nick (2013): “Bourdieu and the Sociology of Music Consumption: A Critical Assessment of Recent Developments,” Sociology Compass, 7:3, 181–193. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12020
Redman, Peter (2008). Attachment: Sociology and social worlds, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Schifferstein, Hendrik N. J. and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim, Elly P. H. (2008): “Consumer-Product Attachment,” International Journal of Design, 2:3, 1–13.
Schofield, Jack (2019). “Which is the best streaming service for supporting artists?,” The Guardian, 31 October 2019: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2019/oct/31/best-streaming-service-mp3-pays-artists (accessed 25 October 2020).
Schultz, Susan E., Kleine, Robert E., and Kernan, Jerome B. (1989): “‘These Are a Few of My Favorite Things’; Toward an Explication of Attachment as a Consumer Behavior Construct,” ACR North American Advances, 16:no issue number, no pagination.
Seabright, Paul and Weeds, Helen (2007) “Competition and market power in broadcasting: where are the rents?” Paul Seabright & Jurgen von Hagen (eds): The Economic Regulation of Broadcasting Markets: Evolving Technology and Challenges for Policy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 47-80. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511611124.003
Smith Maguire, Jennifer and Matthews, Julian (2010): “Cultural Intermediaries and the Media,” Sociology Compass, 4:7, 405–416. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00285.x
Smith Maguire, Jennifer and Matthews, Julian (2012): “Are we all cultural intermediaries now? An introduction to cultural intermediaries in context,” European Journal of Cultural Studies, 15:5, 551–562. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549412445762
Smith Maguire, Jennifer (2014). “Bourdieu on Cultural Intermediaries,” Smith Maguire, Jennifer and Matthews, Julian (eds): The Cultural Intermediaries Reader, London: SAGE, 15-24. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473912281.n2
Snickars, P. (2017): “More of the Same - On Spotify Radio,” Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 9:2, 184–211. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3384/cu.2000.1525.1792184
Temple, Ian (2018): “Don’t Be Boring: A Musician’s Guide to Branding,” AWAL.com, 6 June 2018: https://www.awal.com/blog/musician-branding (accessed 15 April 2020).
Thompson, John B. (2013): Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Polity Press.
Thomson, Matthew (2006) Human Brands: Investigating Antecedents to Consumers’ Strong Attachments to Celebrities, Journal of Marketing, 70:3, 104-119. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkg.70.3.104
Thomson, Matthew, MacInnis, Deborah J. and Park, C. Whan (2005): “The Ties That Bind: Measuring the Strength of Consumers’ Emotional Attachments to Brands,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15:1, 77–91. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327663jcp1501_10
Tiffany, Kaitlyn (2017): “Following Spotify playlist curators around New York’s live music scene,” The Verge, 13 November 2017: https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/13/16617900/spotify-playlist-curation-nyc-live-shows-fresh-finds-indie-latin-new-music (accessed 21 May 2020).
Torres, Victor Miguel Avila (2019) How Music Matters: Exploring the Music Experience, its attachments and its technologies, doctoral dissertation, University of York.
Tschmuck, Peter (2017) The Economics of Music, Newcastle: Agenda Publishing. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv5cg90z
Verboord, Marc (2014): “The impact of peer-produced criticism on cultural evaluation: A multilevel analysis of discourse employment in online and offline film reviews,” New Media & Society, 16:6, 921–940. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444813495164
Webster, Jack et al. (2016): “Towards a theoretical approach for analysing music recommender systems as sociotechnical cultural intermediaries,” Proceedings of the 8th ACM Conference on Web Science - WebSci ’16. 2016. Hannover, Germany: ACM Press, 137–145. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/2908131.2908148
Copyright (c) 2022 George Musgrave, Adrian Leisewitz
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Copyright for all manuscripts rests with the author(s). The editors reserve the right to edit manuscripts. Contributors are responsible for acquiring all permissions from the copyright owners for the use of quotations, illustrations, tables, etc. Each author must, before final publication fill, in a publishing agreement provided by LiU E-Press.
Since 2021 Culture Unbound uses a Creative Commons: Attribution license for new articles, which allows users to distribute the work and to reform or build upon it without the author's permission. Full reference to the author must be given. For older articles please see each article landing page.