So Far from Community: Concerts, Collaborative Consumption, and the Commodification of Community
American Studies Senior Comprehensive Exercise, Carleton College, 2018
I signed up for Sofar Sounds’ website and received an automated email response on June 30, 2015 that said: “Thanks for subscribing, welcome to the community.” My goal was to attend concerts and hear live music, not to join any community. The email does not elaborate on what the community is, or what community means, or who else is in community with me.
A few months later I applied to go to my first Sofar concert: “You’re Confirmed! Awesome, you’re on the list for the Sofar on December 15th in NYC. We’ll let you know the exact location by email the day before the event.” Sofar Sounds is a for-profit company founded in 2009 that organizes concerts in nontraditional locations such as homes, apartments, offices, bakeries, and hotels. Attendees do not know who is performing and they do not know where the concert is more than a day ahead of time. Two years later, after attending 11 Sofar Sounds concerts, I still wonder why the emphasis on community is appealing.
Since the early 2000s, the widespread use of social media has created new ways of communicating; thousands of profiles on each respective platform are the simulacra of individuals, forming a collective user base. Shortly after its inception, the community ethos underlying social media was applied to more explicitly commercial ventures. Beginning with companies like Craigslist and eBay, to the spread of Meetup, Airbnb, Uber, and Tinder, the social, sharing, app-based economy provides services that create virtual communities of customers. These websites and app-based services promote brand loyalty by creating a community surrounding their product. But the question remains: how does Sofar sell community; and what are the implication of commodifying the concept of community?
In a sector of the economy that Forbes has dubbed “collaborative consumption,” this paper asks how Sofar, a series of one-time events, sells itself as a contiguous community. How does a framework of community operate as a component of collaborative consumption, also known as the sharing economy? Can a private corporation be a place where individuals find community? Sofar Sounds incorporates participatory political rhetoric into its marketing. Organized atop a social media foundation not unlike other entities in what has been called “the sharing economy,” Sofar presents itself as a “global community” of “artists and music lovers” that is collectively “creating a better way to discover live music” in over 400 cities.
Sofar’s business model is founded on an alternative to commodified music experiences – traditional concerts or bar shows through Sofar Sounds commodification of community. Ironically, this commodification actually reinforces individualism.
While community and individualism are not mutually exclusive notions, selling the idea of community obscures exploitative class differences. By using community as a selling point for their concerts, Sofar Sounds attracts individuals who want a compassionate alternative to globalized systems. At the same time, those patrons are supporting an international corporation. Thus, the potential participatory power that Sofar Sounds wields is used for the company’s own commercial gains instead of imagining new models for tackling social inequalities.
The consumers, performers, and hosts are convinced of the false notion that every stakeholder is equal in their produced community. My findings show that the commodification of live music under the guise of grassroots community disguises exploitative profit-based motives. Sofar’s supposed community is a manifestation of neoliberal values: the privatization of every facet of society and capitalizing on our entertainment, our friends and community – structures that could otherwise occur outside of capitalist discourse.
Using the concepts of cultural theorist Miranda Joseph as a springboard, this project calls into question the positive connotations of “community” such as “a sense of belonging, understanding, caring, cooperation, equality.” The concept of community suggests a direct interaction with people instead of the depersonalized globalization associated with capitalism. Community can be a group of people gathering over a shared hobby or interest but it is also a function of democratic society in which people with diverse identities, preferences and needs, come together in a shared space to negotiate differences. Grassroots communities are typically formed outside of institutionalized structures and advocate for some change, in support of, or against formal institutions. These groups are a means for individuals to voice their opinion as a collective and increase their power – either for advocacy or negotiation. However, what is too often ignored in rhetoric invoking community is that any group of people inherently excludes others. Miranda Joseph argues that “both the rhetorical invocation of community and the social relationships that are discursively articulated as community are imbricated in capitalism.” What if we conceive of community not as the opposite of capitalism, but instead a product of capitalism?
Mass Culture: Liberation and Authentic Aura or Status Quo Repetition? A Theoretical Framework with Adorno, Joseph, and Benjamin:
Sofar Sounds is best examined through a Marxist cultural framework to see how the amorphous concept of culture interacts with economic forces. Three theorists within that tradition are most useful in examining Sofar. This argument employs their critiques to make sense of commodified community in the collaborative consumption sharing economy. First, Theodor Adorno, a German sociologist born in 1903, was quite frustrated at the “fatal circle” of popular music, where “the most familiar is the most successful and is therefore played again and again and made still more familiar.” He saw music as part of what he calls “the culture industry.” The commodification of music, and all entertainment is a product to distract and reproduce capitalist status quo for the working class. The analysis uses Adorno’s concept of a mass culture industry to examine the motives of Sofar Sounds concert attendees. Specifically, why do attendees want to be seen as associated with the Sofar brand?
Second, Miranda Joseph is an American poststructuralist, queer theorist, and cultural studies scholar, who authored Against the Romance of Community in 2002. In her work, she combines aspects of Karl Marx, Judith Butler, and Pierre Bourdieu to posit that production and consumption are performed behaviors. While Marx sees wage labor as the primary form of oppression under capitalism, Joseph reminds her reader that “exploitation has not displaced other forms of oppression; capitalism has in fact incorporated all sorts of other social hierarchies into its operations.” The notion of community is complicit with capitalism and “To invoke community is immediately to raise questions of belonging and power.” Her theory is not focused on music, concerts, or art production but it is useful in conceptualizing why community is appealing, and how capitalist ideology evolves.
The final leg of this theoretical tripod is composed of the work of Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish philosopher born in 1892, who, like Adorno, was associated with the Frankfurt School. He posits that art has an authentic aura that is diminished the more the art is reproduced. In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin argues that the ability to reproduce art has destroyed the aura and context of where a specific piece of art was originally created. With mass dissemination and consumption of the 20th century, cultural works changed from direct experience that the viewer had to feel, see, or hear to something that could be reproduced digitally. While the technological reproducibility of art makes art accessible outside of high-brow elitist institutions, the reproduction also reduces the aura, alluding to the homogeneity that Adorno calls the culture industry. Sofar curates every show from the location and the performers to the audience members and their age demographics. The company’s ambiguous curation process hopefully generates an authenticity, an aura, at every concert. This ensures that every concert is a unique combination of the variables, which suggests Benjamin would be supportive of the environment. However, it is unclear whose aesthetics Sofar uses to guide their curation besides the staff’s own; there is nothing to suggest Sofar would not fall into the culture industry trap. Thus, it may just be fostering the mechanical reproduction of live music that lacks an aura.
History of the House Concert
Though it is a new company enabled by recent technological developments in social media, Sofar Sounds draws from a long tradition of house concerts. Chamber music is so named because in 16th century Europe, musicians used a smaller ensemble specifically to “[perform] in a noble person’s private palace, as distinct from full or loud vocal ensembles music performed in a church.” Only those with invitations or personal relationships with nobles, the patrons and sponsors of the musicians could listen to the music. House concerts have a legacy within every genre of music though, not just chamber music for the European-American white elites in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Despite the development of the gramophone in 1889 and the advent of recording, house concerts remained popular in the 20th century. Folk, “the people’s music,” was played throughout the country in every informal setting imaginable from front porches and living rooms to town halls and churches. Rock n’ roll artists played garage or basement shows. Rap and hip hop developed in apartments in the Bronx. Punk artists played in basements. Blues concerts occurred in “happenstance surroundings of the street corner, train station, and juke house.” House concerts were the alternative to the industry, to capital. At house concerts, the focus was not on album sales, music video production, or branding. House concerts were a place for musicians to develop their content in conversation with the audience. The only requirement was somewhere that was grassroots and local — a way of sharing music in a physical community before social media created virtual communities.
At house concerts, marginalized identities and new music genres could flourish. Conventions around the musician’s race, gender, sexuality, presentation, or the content of the music were more flexible at house concerts when performers interacted with audiences directly, instead of being mediated through record companies. Music in the United States has developed alongside the racialized power dynamics embedded in its founding. As scholar William G. Roy states “Not only did race shape music, but music also helped construct the meaning and operation of race.” Due to length and temporal restraints, this paper does not delve into the construction of race, or the ways in which music has been used to reinforce or subvert racial divisions in the United States. However, throughout this investigation of corporate house concerts, it is imperative to remember how community functions to exclude people based on racial markers.
Moreover, house-concerts have existed for centuries. They are not a groundbreaking new format, despite consumers who might think otherwise. There are many organizations that connect musicians to non-traditional locations to assist or facilitate house-concerts in the 21st century. Concerts In Your Home is one such website, a resource guide for artists and hosts about best practices and postings entitled “13 ways to book more House Concerts.” Concerts In Your Home does not produce their own shows; they just exist as an online resource. Other entities like House Ditty, the Undiscovered Music Network, and The Listening Room Network have varying degrees of involvement with the production of shows; all of them have a calendar of events promoting shows throughout the United States in non-traditional venues. The digital era has made it easier for artists and hosts to play concerts without large venues’ or recording labels support. Some hosts have email listservs from which they notify their neighbors and acquaintances when there will be a show. These organizations, resource-guides, or even individual hosts, are not as widespread as Sofar. Sofar Sounds differs from all of these other house-concerts by nature of their scale, structure, marketing and the fact that they completely produce their own shows: vetting the musicians, the space, and the audience.
One of the founders of Sofar Sounds, Rafe Offer, argued that “Somehow music became background noise, even at a gig that you pay good money for. And so my feeling is that the ubiquity of music in society has led to it being something that is always there, and hence, always background noise.” He suggests that music has become background to both the performance and talking with friends. If music is the background to the live performance, Offer seems to be critiquing a capitalist model of buying into events to see and be seen. Offer also could be suggesting that society does not value music nor the musician’s role in playing live for an audience. His statement sounds eerily similar to Adorno, who asked for “whom music for entertainment still entertains.” It seems like Offer’s intent in creating Sofar Sounds was to work against the culture industry. In his attempt to create an alternative to the culture industry, Offer may have reproduced it. The founding of Sofar stemmed out of Offer’s question: “what would be the power of [being] in one living room….And it just became way bigger than we anticipated,” alluding to their rapid expansion. Sofar Sounds was in 350 cities when this project began and now it is in 402 cities.
Despite the corporate, large-scale growth that Sofar Sounds has had, each city has their own social media accounts, suggesting that each is still deeply rooted in the local geography. However, the adjectives Sofar’s social media platforms commonly use: secret, magic, authentic and intimate are remarkably similar, whether it is a post from the main @sofarsounds account, or city-specific accounts.
Benjamin states that “those who are not visible, not present while he executes [the] performance, are precisely the ones who will control it.” The invisible masses of internet users “like” these posts; the more likes a post has, the more @sofarsounds is likely to post similar content, thus catering to a specific group that identifies with the image Sofar Sounds portrays even if these users have never been to a concert.
Sofar Sounds’ social media exceptionalizes their product, like any venue or business would do with their own respective product. The difference is that Sofar makes community the key selling point. Technically, the commodity is the performance, the concert itself; yet the company emphasizes the human relationships, the community that consumers get with their purchase. The added bonus for spending money on a Sofar ticket compared to another type of concert, or going to a movie theater is the supposed human relationships. Offer, Sofar Founder, attended a Sofar show in New York in October 2017 and reflected to Billboard that at every show, “everyone melts into the music and it becomes a community…It’s almost like meditating, and being in the moment.” Sofar attendees are people that value community; the added bonus — the community and “being in the moment” with strangers — almost eclipses the concert itself.
Magical and authentic could seem like antonyms but in Sofar’s narrative these adjectives operate collectively. Perhaps social media is so often superficial that Sofar wants to suggest its sharing economy is the opposite. A Sofar concert is so extremely authentic that it is magical, magically flawed, magically human. One staffer thinks the Sofar community is so strong because it is “in pretty much any and every city. Our accessibility and reach is crazy huge.” This staff member did not show any skepticism or cynicism about curating shows, and fostering community. She seemed to believe in the mission and marketing wholeheartedly.
On January 9, 2018 @SofarNYC posted to Instagram: “Music is best when shared with a pal. Bring a friend to a #sofarnyc show…or make a new one when you’re there!” Sofar suggests that by attending their shows, by buying a ticket, the consumer will not only hear music, but they too will meet interesting people. Again, Sofar is not emphasizing the concert, the music, or the performance which is supposedly the product. It is selling the idea of community, but if the community is made up of artists, audience members, staffers, location hosts, and volunteers – who are the producers and who are the consumers. The lines between production and consumption are blurred when the commodity is a collective identity that is reproduced, performed, and purchased.
Community rhetoric often homogenizes differences, which to an extent Sofar does with by advertising a singular community; however, the application process to buy tickets indicates that Sofar looks for differences. Miranda Joseph argues the framework of community legitimizes the particularities of “social hierarchies (of gender, race, nation, sexuality) implicitly required, but disavowed by capitalism, a discourse of abstraction and equivalence.” If a consumer has a “diverse” identity according to Sofar’s curation, they are more likely to gain permission to purchase tickets to attend the concert although it is still unclear what diverse means to Sofar. As the collaborative consumption economy has developed, consumers can buy identities associated with brands. Buying a lifestyle, or an identity can occur with a clothing brand or any other type of product, but with Sofar, the identity associated with it cannot be worn; it requires time and attendance. William W. Bevis, a cultural historian, writes that consumers “need to be something. That “being” is in a social, historical, and often geographical context: we need to be someone beyond our name….The bottom line is not money; it is identity.” The audience wants to purchase the identity that Sofar promises, the lifestyle Sofar promises.
Joseph describes the paradox that “communities created through production (through labor or participation) appear to be independent, organic entities over and against the subjects who produced them” when it is instead deeply dependent on individual subjects. Consumers highly value Sofar because it helps them produce their own identity. The idea of community seems to be outside of the realm of individualistic instrumentalism but is instead reliant on it.
Adorno posits that when an audience member buys a ticket to a concert, it is “presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour,” a relationship between the musicians and the audience. He argues “the consumer is really worshipping the money” used to buy a ticket. Consumers think they have achieved economic success because they can afford a secret concert. While they have achieved some type of financial success, they have “not ‘made it’ by liking the concert, but rather by buying the ticket.” In the process of commodifying community, Joseph reminds us “you are what you do (and how you are done)…it is the potentially diverse performativity of productive activity and of products that matters.” Attendees want to be seen; more specifically, they want to be seen as people that support local music presented in a way that makes them appear as belonging to an anti-industry counterculture. Sofar makes this performance of identity easier in exchange for the ticket price.
Non-traditional Locations: Hosting in Free Spaces
Sofar Sounds’ community professes to be both local and global—a duality that is difficult to accomplish but is mostly achieved through the digital sphere. The company has full-time staff based in a few cities, but operations in the other 350+ cities are run by volunteers. The company claims to be grassroots, but one wonders how grassroots community building can occur if potential community members do not even know where the show is more than a few hours ahead of time.
In the collaborative consumption era of influencers and brands relying on their social media image, it is hard to ignore that any event can be an advertisement, a sponsorship opportunity, or a potential revenue stream. In 1938, Adorno wrote that “music, with all the attributes of the ethereal and sublime…serves in America today as an advertisement for commodities which one must acquire in order to be able to hear music.” The same critique holds true in 2018. Customers have to buy a concert ticket and have the lifestyle—from the trendy clothing and the financial flexibility to the social knowledge and cultural capital to know that the concerts even exist— in order to find the illustrious ethereal qualities the concerts might hold, the aura of authentic art to which Benjamin alludes.
By promising intimacy, Sofar is also advertising a specific type of exclusive social capital; the hosts of these concerts establish themselves as the gatekeepers of the social capital, the invisible commerce. This differs from Robert Putnam’s definition of social capital that can “facilitate coordination and communication, amplify reputations, and thus allow dilemmas of collective action to be resolved” because the community is being performed, produced, and consumed. It is almost as if hosting a concert demonstrates that the host has enough surplus capital to use their space to produce a commodity that they cannot produce individually: community.
Through Sofar’s set-up, the consumption of community is still serving individualist interests, whether that is to meet new people or to gain exposure for a new business based out of the same location. Thus, the host is gaining some form of intangible capital as they altruistically perform under the guise of the collective. Sofar has made it attractive to host a concert as if it is a status symbol to have a space cool enough to host a Sofar show. This sounds like Benjamin’s description of space or art created for consumer desire: “the sex appeal of the inorganic.”
Musicians’ Social Media
Recently, at New York shows Sofar staff began passing out “media cards” with the musicians’ names and handles for YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. If audience members like an artist enough, they can follow them. This helps the artist both get their music out into the world without an agent or label and challenge music industry norms. On Tuesday, December 12, 2017, I attended a Sofar show where the singer asked me to follow her on Instagram; after assuring her I would, she enthusiastically responded: “don’t worry, I follow back.” Besides promoting the artists’ careers, these media cards aid in the illusion that there is a singular Sofar Sounds community. I could speak directly to the artists; there were no blockades or security guards. In a way, the performative aspect of music is diminished.
The singer’s comment illuminates how individualist collaborative consumption is. While attending a concert that is supposedly about the collective community, the singer assures me that she will return the favor and follow me. I likely will not have any further interactions with her but this is a quid-pro-quo ethos typical of collaborative consumption. You follow me, I’ll follow back; I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. The singer seemed to be alluding to a wider societal fear that our personal brand is not unique enough; to get a job, to be creative, to be validated in any industry, an individual has to stand out from the collective by having followers, by having original content, by seeming quirky. One way of doing that is by attending #secret #livemusic #authentic events.
The music industry used to be dominated by recording labels that would control the production, distribution, and marketing of albums, but in an era where anything can be streamed digitally, artists depend on other revenue streams, like ticket sales from live performances or merchandise. Musicians no longer need industry support to help create or market their product. They can distribute it themselves by uploading it to streaming sites like Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes or their own websites….
Economist Mark Gottdiener posits “goods are the tools that signal to others who we want them to think we are and who we want them to be.” If this is the case, in the age of collaborative consumption, experiences, social media likes and followers are a form of currency, through which we signal to others how we want them to think we are and who we want to be.
Personal social media feeds are performative, based off of brands or lifestyles one hopes to acquire. Adorno wrote musicians’ “work is nothing but a single dialogue with the powers which destroy individuality- powers whose formless shadows’ fall gigantically on their music.” Thus, Sofar musicians are trying to appeal to the culture industry through their personal branding, while also trying to share their music supposedly outside of the culture industry. This is the paradox embedded in Sofar.
Online, there is one predominant critique of Sofar: its exploitation of musicians and volunteers. Given that Sofar Sounds prides itself on community and bringing people together around music, without noise, texting, or distractions, one would assume that musicians are paid well. They are given two options for compensation: $50 or a professionally edited and high quality live video of their performance “which they are licensed to use as they wish.” Fifty dollars is far from a fair living wage considering that artists commit their evenings, upwards of three hours of time to a concert. Musicians are working even if the product of their labor is not a tangible good, but an experience. Cultural historian Michael Denning asserts that “arts and culture are not the opposite of labor, but forms of labor.”
Constantly bringing up community does not define what Sofar actually is but rather, the notion evokes a grandeur of something bigger than oneself. As already stated, Joseph claims “to invoke community is immediately to raise questions of belonging and power.” If the community is Sofar’s marketing tactic, the business’ power relies on consumers’ continued desire to participate. The question of power boils down to what values consumers will buy, conjuring the phrase “vote with your wallet.” This becomes a question of politics. Every stakeholder: hosts, audience and musicians believe that they can gain something from their participation in the collaborative production and consumption of these concerts, but what values are these stakeholders willing to buy into?
In an interview with Consequence of Sound, a music blog, Rafe Offer said:
“By uniting people through music, Sofar shows have a transformative effect within cities. “That never was the mission, but it evolved to that….in our own small way we can bring the world together. We have had, for example, gigs in Cairo, Beirut, and Tel Aviv, mixing people who might have otherwise made assumptions about the others. Then you realize when the music starts, we have way more in common than we thought.”
Offer highlights three cities – Cairo, Beirut, and Tel Aviv – that call to mind decades of conflict in the Middle East. Offer’s claim – that Sofar can help overcome imperialist nation-state constructions and hierarchies of religion and identity – is absurd. Sofar Sounds cannot break down years of conflict and remedy sectarian conflict. This is another way of marketing and selling the idea of community. If a consumer attends a Sofar concert, they think they are supporting a company that can transcend border disputes; their concerts can overcome the nation-state hegemonic politics in which we have been living. In the narrative surrounding localization and globalization, the local is usually the solution and the alternative the global capitalism. Sofar Sounds is not only appealing to consumers who want the “local” music community, but also the consumers who want the transnational “global community.”
Overcoming borders appeared again in Sofar’s social media content on December 20 2017, @sofarsounds captioned a photo on Instagram:
“It’s not every day that you see a popular UK indie rock band from the naughties perform alongside an iconic 90s band from Mexico when “Los Mystery Jets” joined @lagusanaciega during a starry night on a stunning rooftop@sofarsoundsmexico in Mexico City. The result: Many happy faces, tons of laughter, plenty of hugs, and lots of new friendships that will cross any borders!”
Sofar’s claim that its concerts have created “friendships that will cross any borders” is naive, ignorant, and oblivious to the thousands of people that worry about their citizenship status; how can Sofar attendees maintain friendships and community if the federal administration is threatening them daily. The idea that Sofar gives people a place of belonging is farcical when the federal government is letting DACA expire, has removed the temporary protected residency status (TPS) from thousands of people from El Salvador, and continues to try to impose a Muslim travel ban. This critique is not just one that operates now that Trump is in office, but one that could have been in 2016 under the Obama administration, or the previous two administrations as thousands of people were deported then as well. Again these two examples are not a comprehensive analysis of Sofar’s content but show its expansive reach from the local, to the international. Perhaps the social and economic capital that Sofar has could actually be wielded to rally behind certain political agendas.
Given this political environment, it is absurd to say that supporting refugees is apolitical. And yet the staffer interviewed in November, two months after the Give A Home series, said that “We try to stay away from making political statements but we do support inclusivity.” That statement is riddled with contradictions. Sofar has made a political statement by partnering with Amnesty International and all other non-profit partnerships. If the company supports inclusivity, inclusivity of who? It is inclusive to consumers who go through the application process, can afford the ticket price, and have the resources to go to a show without knowing where it is too far in advance. It is not inclusive to those who have historically been excluded: the working class, the undocumented, and the otherwise marginalized. The work of community-building is exclusionary. Fetishizing community “makes us blind to the ways we might intervene in the enactment of domination and exploitation.” Sofar is lacking the courage to make explicit political statements despite their work having political implications.
Collaborative Consumption, Digital Global Community & Using Music for Political Power
This paper focuses on the ways community is used to sell concerts and how that approach ultimately excludes groups and individuals. It does not proffer any singular solution for the collaborative consumption economy, or does it propose a remedy for capitalist exploitation. The project is a springboard for questioning all kinds of consumption, critiquing marketing strategies, and challenging what capitalist transactional relationships exist. If Sofar Sounds wants to operate in a sector of collaborative consumption, it has to realize customers are cognizant of what values it markets. To fulfill their role as vendors in collaborative consumption, Sofar could act in a way that aligns with their statements and coded marketing — like paying musicians more as they are the actual magic behind the “secret, live, intimate events.”
Sociologists George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson coined the term “prosumer” or “prosumption” to describe individuals’ combined role in the collaborative consumption sharing economy. With the divide between producer and consumer erased, like Sofar does with its audience, location hosts, volunteers, and musicians, “exploitation is much more ambiguous….Users are the producers, but the profit, or at least the potential for profit, still belongs to corporations.” For Sofar to be the place of belonging it claims, it could have a certain amount of free tickets to every concert, or a sliding scale for some percentage of tickets to make the concerts more accessible, more public, and less exclusive to populations of low socioeconomic status. This could invert the potential profit from the community for which it sells access, although community is still an inherently exclusive notion.
According to Adorno, popular music is a form of suppression instead of liberation but he also believed live music had the potential to break out of “the radio [or more generally: recorded music], which both wears out music and over-exposes it.” The liberating potential of live music, requires “a radical beginning that [could] only thrive under the protection of the unshaken real world” as well as musicians that are “capable of consciously representing the aims of collectivity.” Adorno would likely believe that anything commodified on a large scale is reproducing the culture industry, by appealing to what the masses want to hear and blindly following what is popular. However, collaborative consumption is a “peer-to-peer based activity of obtaining, giving, or sharing access to good and services;” the entire business structure requires every stakeholder to participate. Ritzer and Jurgenson highlight that prosumers could be empowered through collaborative consumption because “empowerment lies in the fact that one can choose exactly how one wants to present oneself and can alter that presentation at will.” Musicians, location hosts, and audience members could collectively decide how the corporation can or cannot use them to generate profits if they challenged culture industry conventions. Further, the profits could be re-distributed if every stakeholder in Sofar’s schema came together to demand higher wages. Corporations based on collaborative consumption would only do this if there is pressure from all stakeholders. The global community Sofar espouses would not just be based on social media posts, but a network of prosumers advocating for similar changes.
This move to get consumers to identify with a brand or a product, beyond the value of the product itself, has political implications in addition to economic ones. Organizing and potentially influencing masses of people is the basis for participatory democracy. Benjamin himself thought that the mass production of art could “democratize” it, allowing more people to be involved; he hoped the culture industry would eventually be revolutionized thus maintaining the aura of art while also allowing more people to be involved. Sofar Sounds could have this effect. Something different happens with live music, the artists and the audience join together to create an energy and a performance, some of which are more memorable than others. Adorno claimed “those who ask for a song of social significance ask for it through a medium which deprives it of social significance.” The medium of live music, not recorded music, does have social significance; music has been an essential component of many social movements. If every stakeholder moved to support higher wages for musicians, volunteers and staff, Sofar would have no choice but to evolve their commodification of house-concerts….Late capitalist corporate models have to change completely, instead of just follow neoliberal solution sets of partnering with non-profit organizations. Collaborative consumption must imagine new ways of working between the dichotomy of public and private sector.
Sofar shows could pragmatically create partnerships – people meeting each other, hosts meeting new people, audience members learning what is going on by talking to other people that live in their city, but in different neighborhoods. Here, I am careful to use the word partnerships, instead of a community, as community continues to exclude and invoke power dynamics. These partnerships could be realizations of Putnam’s idea of social capital and Grossberg’s concept of an affective alliance. Further scholarship is needed to see how identity formation through consumption and production occurs, and how consumers leverage purchasing power to participate and influence cultural institutions in the collaborative consumption economy.
Ultimately, national borders will continue to be negotiated; social media lifestyles will still be produced and consumed. Through these processes of negotiating identity, global consumers could collectively mobilize to be a force for civic engagement through their entertainment choices. In the marketplace, community is a sales tool. Sofar inevitably will continue to grow and expand; it matters who the company includes and what policies are implemented to decide what its basis is for curating the audience, performers, and spaces.
As political scientist Nahid Siamdoust writes, “Music’s greatest power lies in its ability to create publics, the deliberate coming together of strangers, engaged with each other through mere attention.” In looking for ways to change the status quo of the United States political economy, Sofar Sounds could wield their magical, authentic, intimate corporate power to create publics that include marginalized voices and are part of social movements, instead of mobilizing for their own profits.
What we choose to consume, and how we consume it, has implications broader than any one concert. Moreover, the commodification, marketing, and participation in a given concert can contain radical power and insight on identity formation.
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