(Ethno)musicology Forum: “Wages for Brand Work: The Concrete Labor of Spotify Curation and the Limits of the ‘Affective Labor’ Frame”
Shannon Garland (University of California, Merced)
One job in the contemporary music industry is curation of playlists on streaming platforms like Spotify. The workers who curate such playlists would seem to be performing “affective labor,” in which the management of feeling is a component of work. This talk describes the creation of two branded Spotify playlists — Motorola’s “Hello São Paulo,” Itaú Bank’s “#VaiGarota” — by Brazilian contractors. It works through methodological and conceptual problems raised by the concept of “affective labor,” such as the difference between unpaid playlists made for friends and paid playlists directed by brands. It suggests these problems can be addressed by focusing on what labor, which always includes an affective dimension, produces within larger relations of capitalism and social reproduction. It argues that a key political question of affect is its role in mobilizing the reproduction of capital and capitalist social relations, including converting affectively dense, social values into commodified labor.
Shannon Garland is Lecturer in Global Arts, Media and Writing Studies at UC Merced. Her research investigates the production of popular music from an ethnographic, transnational perspective, focusing on indie music in South America. It is concerned with types of labor emerging in the music industries, and ties these to affective musical response, social relations, and economic value. Dr. Garland’s monograph-in-preparation, For the Love: Indie Music, Labor and Value in Brazil and Beyond, narrates the rise and transformation of the Brazilian indie music industry from 1990 to 2020, exploring the tension between social and aesthetic values created through musical labor and exchange and the need for this labor to be valorized as economic value within the capitalist social order. She is also co-editing Independence in 21st-Century Music Making: Cases from Beyond Anglo-America, with Pedro Roxo and Pedro Nunes. She holds a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Columbia University.