Saturday, 22 November 2014

"No photos, please"

Some time ago, writing a review of Roger Waters' staging of 'The Wall', I discussed the then emerging trend for 'concert spoilers' wherein fans upload video footage to YouTube and the likes and effectively minimise the impact of the show for others. You can read it here.

It's still very much a big deal, where earlier this week at a Jack White gig in Glasgow, a well-dressed gentleman appeared on stage some 15 minutes before the performance and politely requested that fans did not take photos. The audience were fine with it. Mostly

What is worth mentioning, is that Jack White had a photographer take pictures of the action all night and the images are free to download from his website. And so, fans were able to enjoy the show without messing around with their phones trying to take a good photograph (and failing). I like this.

It's a gamble asking an audience not to take photos: a lot of people will take it as being perhaps too 'up-your-own-arse' as I would call it. Others would simply reflect on an artist making a sincere request that, even with pure intentions, fans do not ruin the impact of future performances for others. A lot of work can go into a live show, especially when there's novel aspects like visuals.

Who enjoys having key plot points in movies explained to them before they go to the cinema to see a new film?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Anatomy of a research article #2

In the second of this occasional series, I will be exploring a recent study I carried out with Professor Raymond MacDonald (The University of Edinburgh). The article, titled 'Predictive factors of music piracy: An exploration of personality using the HEXACO PI-R', was published in the journal Musicae Scientiae earlier this year and can be found here.

In short, the drive behind the article was to see if personality in any contributed towards an individuals propensity to favour music piracy. The results showed that this was indeed the case, with analysis suggesting people who do favour music piracy are more likely to be open, less likely to be conscientious and less likely to be honest. With regards to the latter trait, further analysis revealed that individuals favouring piracy were less fair (or more unfair, if you like).

But how does one achieve all of this? Let's briefly consider the research process of designing a survey methods research study.

Firstly, an appropriate piece of apparatus was chosen to measure personality, the HEXACO PI-R (Lee and Ashton, 2004). This instrument was chosen over rivals due to the inclusion of the 'H' scale which explores  honesty (of interest, given the research topic). Then, to avoid the limitations of self-report methodology which plagues much research on digital piracy ("How many songs have you illegally downloaded over the last 12 months" etc.), a scale was constructed to measure attitudes towards music piracy without actually using the loaded word of 'piracy' at all - attitudes have been shown as predictors of music piracy engagement in other research.

The new instrument to measure attitudes towards music piracy (AMP-12) was pre-tested (successfully) on a small sample of participants to check it's reliability in statistical terms; such analysis effectively confirms that the questionnaire items actually ask what they aim to ask (and helped weed out the ones which did not).

This leaves us with the right tools for the job (in a manner of speaking). Next, we need some willing participants to get some data.

Using a variety of recruitment sources, all largely under the umbrella of 'opportunity sampling', a large enough sample to meet the needs of the research was sought out and completed an online version of the questionnaire (there are practical advantages to online surveys over pen-and-paper including a greater likelihood of more honest responses). Once the desired sample size was gained, the dataset was collated (further to excluding some individuals who did not finish the survey or process the materials carefully - this is routine practice).


Hypothesis-testing was carried out using a Hierarchical regression and analyses produced the results outlined in the article, including finding preference for digital music and being 24 or younger as predictors of pro-piracy attitudes. Data analysis involves asking sophisticated statistical software some big questions; in this instance, SPSS was used. Ultimately, the tests chosen informed us that the chances of our findings occuring by chance were so small that we can readily assume they had not, and reflected our observations on personality. In other words, the analysis strongly suggests, to levels of what is known as statistical significance (a shorthand for being at least 95% confident), that the results were genuine, and that personality does guide the attitudes towards music piracy amongst the sample.

The process above is not far away from that of most studies using survey methodology, with broad questions like 'How can I measure this?' guiding the process. Given we are not blessed with physical scales like time, weight, etc. (like physical sciences), Social Scientists must develop appropriate instruments for measuring whatever it is they are measuring on any given study. No one study 'proves' anything, but if, over time, the same results keep coming up using different methods and different samples, then it can be readily assumed that we're onto something. To re-iterate, no one study proves anything - what it does do, is confirm or reject various hypotheses.

In this study, the decision to choose the HEXACO PI-R (Lee and Ashton, 2004) was supported, given the novel findings on honesty which would not have been generated if a different instrument was chosen. In other words, the hypothesis that personality was a predictor of attitudes towards music piracy was upheld. The assumption behind this was that personality guides much music-related behaviour such as preference for various genres, so why not how people listen to music?

The findings (see the article for the conclusions drawn) not only further the psychological underpinnings of music piracy engagement, but have policy implications. This is, or ought to be, the desired outcomes of any empirical research: 1) To make contributions to the scientific literature on a given topic to date and 2) Generate findings to the benefit of various stakeholders in the real world.

As Shermer (2011) explains, there is a need to teach how science works, rather than simply reporting merely on what is known from science. I agree.

While it's all very well for me to go into some detail on this research article, the thinking behind it is hard to articulate given there's a lack of understanding on the experimental method, hypothesis-testing etc. in the general public. I have made some effort to explain the research process as straightforwardly as possible, and will continue to to so in future blog entries on my other research articles to date which employ a broad range of methodology.

Feedback on the success or failure of my efforts above to describe the research process would be welcome, ahead of future entries in this series.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Brown, S.C. and MacDonald. R.A.R. (2014). Predictive factors of music piracy: An exploration of personality using the HEXACO PI-R. Musicae Scientae, 18(1), 53-64.

Shermer, M. (2011). The Believing Brain. New York: Times Books.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Nice review of one of my papers on research methods used in digital piracy research

Stumbled upon a link to my recent paper critiquing research methods into digital piracy here with the quite excellent summary:

"Brown reviews conventional approaches to studying online media piracy, arguing that most of these are limited to the economic issues raised by piracy, such as negative impact on sales for the media industries. Brown critiques the unreliable data these approaches adopt and suggests scholars need to think in terms of multiple piracies, not a monolithic piracy. Brown calls for alternative, qualitative forms of studying piracy, like interviews or focus groups, in order to get at the complex social forms that constitute and drive the online, unauthorized exchange of media"

Not sure who these guys are at the Carsey-Wolf Centre, but they have clearly read my article closely and I'm delighted to read such a well put-together summary.

The article in question discussed in a previous blog entry (when it was not yet published) is now published in the journal Convergence, which can be found here.

It's an important contribution to the literature if I can say so myself, in that encourages a more critical evaluation of research findings to date by scrutinising research methods used to study this often contentious research topic.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Thursday, 30 October 2014

New e-book on digital music revolution

I haven't gotten round to reading in full yet, but there's a new e-book from music-tech writer Kyle Bylin available now over on digital publisher Leanpub. It's all about how digital startups and youth culture helped to redefine the music industry over the last few years.

It's more of a collection of essays (many originating as blog entries on Hypebot I believe) than a book per se, and it is on the short side; these things might or might not appeal to you. I direct you there as I did get a lot out of his last e-book (which was a collection of entries from different authors).

There's a free sample to download, which should get the ball rolling.

I should note, I plan on using Leanpub in the future. I will keep you all posted in due time.

Tweets and eats @musicpiracyblog

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The big names in digital piracy research: (More) Economists

Further to a recent entry detailing some prominent Economists research digital piracy, this entry collates some more big names for you to look up online.

Felix Oberholzer-Gee
Joey Waldfogel
Martin Peitz
Nicolas Curien
Patrick Waelbroeck
Tobias Regner
Peter Tschmuck

A simple cut and paste job should spawn research articles galore on personal websites, institution web pages, and other sources such as etc. Authors often have personal copies of their articles which they can share, upon request - there's no harm in asking. Tschmuck has a few books you will be able to find easily enough.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 17 October 2014

When living in a world where re-issues of music are more exciting than new music

Call me a sucker.

I've been enthusiastically enjoying the archival projects of The Smashing Pumpkins (and by that I of course mean Billy Corgan) over the last few years, and am very excited at the prospect of the Machina/Machina II reissue next year. I love making playlists and all these rare outtakes and live cuts make for fun compilations of 'alternative tracklistings' and so on. I have put a lot of time into this sort of thing, particularly with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which is my perhaps my favourite album of all time, if not at the very least the most meaningful.

I'm not alone out there. There has been a huge revival of interest in older bands work, informed by streaming services and so on, and many of the big players like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd have been enthusiastically getting in on this. Some of the lesser known bands like Slint are also cashing in.

Such re-issues are not however viewed with any skepticism. At least not anymore. Respectable publications include a regular rundown of their best reissue of the month (and even week), such is how built-in they are into the recorded music market today. It's like an alternative greatest hits compilation (which does appear rather unnecessary today), focusing on particular bodies of work.

Yes they are cheap to produce, given these tracks are all pre-recorded rejects, but there's real value in them. The recent 'Adore' re-issue by The Smashing Pumpkins sincerely helped me re-appraise this body of work in a new light, thanks largely to the timing of me revisiting it at the same age of the songwriter. I am also embarassed I never noticed the deliberate echoes of the closing track '17' in one of my favourite b-sides from the era 'Blissed and Gone'. There's a nice transition for me to build into a new playlist..

For loyal 'band fans', they may feel obliged to purchase these increasingly more costly relics (yes I am talking to you now Mr. Corgan) but that's a moot point in a way.

If I do have a point, it's that I very much enjoy these re-issues by my favourite bands and it's the unheard songs I long to hear, not the re-mastered versions of the albums themselves. So, in effect, it is new music I am excited to hear which is fair enough. Yet, knowing the majority of these songs were once considered inferior does sometimes leave a bad taste in my mouth (especially when they are shit, as they often are).

For now, I worry as I segue into my thirties I will reliably turn into my Dad and insist on solely listening to old music. I have every song I could ever wish to listen to at my fingertips, including music that isn't even released yet. Why do I insist on listening to the same old stuff?

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 10 October 2014

What about book piracy? #2

In what appears to be the first article on book piracy post-digital revolution (there must be a few that slipped past me over the last few years), Nkiko (in press) discusses wide-ranging issues surrounding book piracy in Nigeria.

Proposing that: "it destroys creativity, denies the authors economic benefits, and makes publishing unproductive and unattractive", this is a nice addition to the literature on digital piracy to date in as much as it formally introduces book piracy into academic discussion.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Nkiko, C. (in press). Book Piracy in Nigeria: Issues and Strategies. The Journal of Academic Librarianship.