Reading “The Meaning of a Format” by Jonathan Sterne  was valuable in providing a greater understanding to determining the characteristics of a “format”. A format consists of how the media is created, shared, played along with its physical manifestation. The book outlines the relationship and importance of telephony in shaping audio formats and why the 128kbps standard was first adopted.

CD Cassette Comparison
His example of the CD being developed with the brief that it should approximate the width of the cassette was a revelation to me. Legend was that the length of a classical piece determined its form. In retrospect, I would argue that 74 minutes playing time of the CD turned out to be longer than was required. Up to that point single long player records delivered two sides of music totally around 45 to 50 minutes of sound. The advent of the CD saw artists and record companies attempting to ultilise the extra 20 minutes to deliver “value” to the listener. This often included remixes and alternative versions of what might be considered the primary work… the first 10 to 12 tracks. The CD in the end did not redefine expectations of what was culturally acceptable as playing time for an album as most new releases today conform to the practice established by vinyl. I mention this to echo Sterne’s argument of how the characteristics of legacy technology influence formats.

This has flowed onto the commercial distribution of the MP3 with online stores organising music in albums and providing a price benefit for downloading the album, rather than individual tracks. It’s interesting that despite the lack of the presence of a physical item, the album has survived as a concept from the analog age, the single, with it’s A and B side has not. Listeners download groups of tracks, individual tracks, but not paired tracks. This reflects a perception amongst most that except for a small pool of notable artists, the B side of a 45 single was dispensable.

The widespread adoption of the MP3 has been driven by the convenience in sharing, storing and playing the format. What we have seen over time is the continual increase in the number of devices that play music. Where the radiogram/stereo might have been the entertainment hub where the family listened to audio, today the household contains multiple devices that are capable of playing music. The MP3 format can travel from car audio, phone, tablet, ipod, dvd player, game console, home computer to the stereo system. Each of these players are associated with different expectations of sound “quality” and what is acceptable within that environment. It is undeniable that people have more opportunity to access the music they want to hear. It would be interesting to establish whether the format has led to an increase in personalised, individual listening occasions, rather than communal listening. That may have been the biggest influence the MP3 format has had on how people listen to music.



Sweet Tweets are Made of This…

Twitter allows artists to communicate directly with fan audiences. The platform can also be used as a tool to build a more complex “star” persona.

In pre-digital days, fan magazines and fan clubs would be the prime medium to satisfy the desire to know more of a star’s back stage life. This would be produced as articles, photo spreads, posters or question and answer sessions. “Intimate” details such as favourite colours, pets, heartaches would be revealed. Fans had to wait to be satiated with their monthly fix when it arrived in the mail or was purchased at a book or grocery store. This slow moving old media iceberg (we really got to see the tip) meant that building a star brand required significant resources. The publications were produced as commercial items, most often, separate from the artist or their record company management.

Web 2.0 and the arrival of social media changed that. Twitter has provided Stefani Germanotta the opportunity to message her 41 million followers directly with the frequency of her choosing. From the mundane to the spectacular, every tweet adds to a construction of the ‘Lady GaGa” while giving the fan a greater sense of intimacy. On-stage and back-stage content mesh together in one stream. “Fan mail” can be remediated immediately providing free images and insights that adds to a sense of “community”. As Marwick & Boyd are quoted “The fan’s ability to engage in discussion with a famous person de-patronizes the parasocial and recontextualises it within a medium that the follower may use to talk to real-life acquaintances”.

I sought out her missives to her “Little Monsters”and attempted my first close reading of tweets.


Sweet Tweets 1Sweet Tweets 2

Lady Gaga’s status as a maternal figure provides the opportunity for an outpouring of messages of acknowledgement on Mothers Day. Her reference to God suggests a divine destiny, a spiritual influence, brings GaGa and her fans together. By highlighting the number of tweets received she is drawing attention to her role as Mother. But she also reveals her back stage persona by mentioning she spent the day with her own mother and sister, just like any good “ordinary” girl would.

The second tweet here shows when signing on to being a “monster” you join a democratic movement. Money and power (except GaGa’s) are swept aside as fans can be reseated in VIP spots at concerts. Her retweet of a fans tattooed back highlights the commitment of her monsters and provides an opportunity for approval declaring the effort “Bad Ass”. The reading mentioned impressions of fans that her tweets were less commercial than other artists, but sensibly she does promote upcoming shows in her stream.

The final tweet I’ve selected shows her as vulnerable, stripped of makeup and costumes, cuddling soft toy. This selfie could have come from any young women suffering from wisdom tooth extraction and posted for empathy. Except not every person is about to go “on tour”.