Platformizing Creativity. Artifical Intelligence and Community Learning in Online Music Practices

The impact of digitalization on musicianship and musical practice

Digitalization has given way to a variety of new forms of musical creativity and identity. Among other things, the increasing affordability of digital musical instruments and the spread of mobile technologies have given rise to digital nomads and mobile musicians who produce music ubiquitously, regardless of location, and have also led to a culture of home recording and bedroom pop, from which new concepts of artistic identity are emerging. For example, so called hyphenated musicians unite previously separate professional roles (musician, producer, vlogger, marketing expert, etc.) in personal union, resulting in a concept of professionalization and learning as multiple role-taking. New amateurs are shaping new forms of a musical DIY culture, which can be traced back to the establishment of easy-to-learn digital technologies since the end of the 20th century and in which the boundaries between professional expertise and amateurism are blurred. And finally, the emergence of so-called platform musicians can be observed, who, in contrast to studio and live musicians, are not characterized by the recording business or event industry, but whose practices are centrally influenced by online platforms.

Postdigitality and Platformization

All of these new musical practices and concepts can be summarized under the term post-digitality, refering to the omnipresence of digitalization as a ubiquitous, non-transparent transformation dynamic that is increasingly shaping and structuring all areas of art and life, including ‘non-digital’ ones. In the post-digital era, aesthetic practices are increasingly characterized by hybridity: This gives rise to a growing perception of the agency of algorithms, which not only regulate human interactions, but also become interaction partners themselves. Algorithms act as co-productive entities in art production. This intertwining and collaboration of human and technological entities in co-creative practice is particularly evident on social media platforms such as TikTok.

Platformization can initially be defined as all phenomena of a reciprocal shaping of digital platforms, social practices and users (Poell et al., 2019;Kaye et al., 2022, p. 5). This involves the socio-material mechanisms of datafication, commodification and selection that characterize the platform society: The collection and circulation of data for the purposes of real-time analysis of user behaviour, the commodification of everyday, sometimes previously private online and offline activities, emotions and ideas, the commercialization of user-generated platform content, and the selection and curation of relevant topics, terms, actors, offers, services, etc. controlled by the interaction of algorithms and users (Van Dijck et al., 2018, pp. 31-48).

Artificial Intelligence and Community Learning: Interaction of Musician and Recommendation Algorithm

The entanlgement of human and technological entities in co-creative practice has been repeatedly emphasized by previous research on the social media platform TikTok. According to this, TikTok’s algorithmic recommendation system encourages spontaneity in music creation (Kaye, 2022, p. 65), with users exploring the effectiveness of algorithms in order to then consider in a controlled manner “how exactly to interact with the affordances and activity corridors of the app to ‘work with’ the algorithm so that it could provide them with more relevant or entertaining content” (Bhandari& Bimo, 2022, p. 5). The recommendation system, which is subject to rules of engagement, intervenes in users’ decisions, which significantly influence which creators and which creative products are successful (Carroll, 2022, pp. 1138-1139). Algorithms take on a gatekeeper function, sometimes co-authorship, because the assumptions made by TikTokers about how they work inform and guide all creative decision-making processes (Carroll, 2022, p. 1152; Klug et al., 2021, p. 89).

The recommendation system is a central actor, or more precisely: the image that the TikTok community has of the recommendation algorithm and to which users, especially TikTok creators, orient themselves (see Siles & Melén, 2021). This image is made up of the incomplete information provided by the operator ByteDance, the experiences that users have in their daily interaction with the algorithm and the “algorithmic folklore” (Kaye et al., 2022, p. 62), i.e. the numerous everyday theories of the community about how the algorithm works.

Researching Posthuman Learning in Communities of Musical Practice

The joint project MusCoDA – Musical Communities in the (Post)Digital Age (2020-2024), funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, investigates musical learning and educational practices under the conditions of post-digitality. The aim is to develop an empirically based model that reconstructs and pedagogically conceptualizes the songwriting processes of digitally networked collectives.

The data basis for the reconstruction of the associated learning practices is formed by individual interviews and group discussions in which the socio-material constellations of songwriting, producing, practising and performing songs are reconstructed according to the principle of video-stimulated recall (cf. Godau & Haenisch, 2019, pp. 54-55; Burden et al., 2015). Videos created by the bands in their own music practice or as part of the data collection (recordings of rehearsal and recording sessions, social media posts, etc.) serve as media stimuli for a reconstruction of musical educational practice carried out with the research participants. Technologies such as DAWs and smartphones are used to show and reconstruct specific songwriting and production processes in detail. In the evaluation process, situation analyses (Clarke, 2012) are used to map the human and non-human actors involved (musicians, producers, fans, instruments, DAWs, algorithms, apps, discourses, institutions, etc.) and their relations in situation maps and to record different positions on relevant controversies in the research field (for example, on the question of the agency of the audience in the songwriting process). In a comparison of contrasting cases and in the sense of focused coding oriented towards grounded theory methodology (Charmaz, 2014), musical songwriting and learning practices are then reconstructed in order to be able to present the relationships between the actors determining the situation in detail. In the coding process, the changing constellations of human and non-human actors are to be made clear in their processuality (for example with regard to the temporal course and different phases of songwriting) and finally abstracted from individual cases.

Excerpt from:

Haenisch, M., Godau, M., Maxelon, D., Barreiro, J. & Neuhausen, T. (2023). Die Plattformisierung des Songwritings. Musik erfinden unter Bedingungen des short video turn am Beispiel von TikTok. In Tagungsband Nr. 44 des Arbeitskreises Musikpädagogische Forschung. Waxmann: Münster. (Translated by M. Haenisch)

Author: Haenisch