Katharine Joo

Brown University

May 2008

 

 

Annotated Bibliography for

 

Bedrooms Online: Amateur DJs and the Expression of Masculinity in a Web 2.0 Environment

 

Abstract:

 

As DJ equipment and software has become more affordable, increasing numbers of aspiring DJs have sought out instruction in order to try their hand at mixing, scratching, and spinning. In parallel, an abundance of beginner DJ instructional websites and videos have initiated the democratization of a skill that was once self-taught or learned through apprenticeship. However, although females constitute a large majority of students at DJ academies, the majority of "bedroom DJs" (named for the typical location of their informal studios and practice spaces) are demonstrably male, especially in Web 2.0 environments such as YouTube.

 

The process of professionalization in the musical world has been historically been gender-biased towards males by promoting a private-public dichotomy and a novice-amateur-professional progression. Similarly, bedroom DJing will be theorized as consolidating idealized notions of gender and adult identity by espousing the rhetoric of advancing from bedroom DJ to club or mobile DJ status. However, I also posit that the private "bedroom" is not inherently gendered but rather has been reinscribed as a transitional space in which male adolescents explore masculine identity through involvement in online communities, such as those found in YouTube.com and DJTutor.com.

 

Furthermore, the paucity of female DJs working in a professional capacity has been attributed to several factors including implicit discrimination, the gendered nature of technology, and aversion to competition. I consider the relevance of these factors to the context of Web 2.0 while exploring the online bedroom DJ community and learning resources, specifically the instructional videos of YouTube phenomenon, ellaskins. Through virtual ethnographic research on YouTube.com and personal interviews with amateur DJs, I will outline the ways in which bedroom DJs express masculinity while self-identifying as hobbyists, amateurs, pre-professionals, and competitors.

 

 

References:

 

Beaulieu, A. 2004. "Mediating ethnography: objectivity and the making of ethnographies of the internet." Social Epistemology 18(2):139-163.

 

This article is a useful reference for conducting a virtual ethnography. As a more theoretical text, it examines the ethical and epistemological concerns of doing research on the internet, namely the strategies of objectification and the subject position of the ethnographer.

 

Beer, D. and R. Burrows. "Sociology And, of and in Web 2.0: Some Initial Considerations." Sociological Research Online 12(5).

 

This article is divided into three sections: the first defines Web 2.0, the second provides examples of how to think about Web 2.0 sociologically (changing relations between the production and consumption, mainstreaming of private information, “democratization”), and the last examines how sociological research might be conducted within the domain of Web 2.0.

 

Brewster, B. and F. Broughton. 2000. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey. Grove Press.

 

This book contains a comprehensive history of the DJ’s development within American and British music culture and influence upon musical genres. Also included is an investigation of several archetypal representations of the DJ today: artist, outlaw, and superstar. Concerning DJing today, the authors regret the commercialization of the originally underground DJ culture into “a great mainstream capitalist hegemony” (407) but also envision MP3s and the internet forming the basis for a global DJ community.

 

Burgin, V. 2000. "Jenni's Room: Exhibitionism and Solitude." Critical Inquiry 27(1):77-89.

 

This article was written primarily through the lens of surveillance studies and Lacanian psychoanalysis. However, referencing Winnicott, Burgin theorizes how Jenni’s bedroom became a “transitional space” in which she play-acted an adult female role within a secure, controlled environment where her camera became both a mirror and a window into the “real” world.

 

Frith, S. 1996. "Music and Identity." in Questions of Cultural Identity. Sage Publications.

 

In this essay, Frith examines how music is involved in the process of constructing identity, through performance and taste. Through musical experience, as a form aesthetic experience, we imagine our ideal position within the social structure and develop a personal as well as cultural narrative. In a post-modern fashion, he posits that identity is “mobile” and that music production and listening is “an experience of this self-in-process” (109). Musical identity is always already an ideal type of ourselves but is expressed in real and material ways.

 

On YouTube, bedroom DJs will post videos of themselves performing mixes and solicit feedback from other users, who offer encouragement, advice, and occasionally disparagement. Firth’s association of musical expression as a process of becoming is exemplified well in the development of a DJ persona within the environment of Web 2.0. As young, male adolescents in the process of consolidating their adult personalities, bedroom DJing is a way of expressing their ideal, potential selves and developing a personal narrative by applying their aesthetic judgment in selecting and mixing tracks.

 

Herman, B. D. "Scratching Out Authorship: Representations of the Electronic Music DJ at the Turn of the 21st Century." Popular Communication 4(1):21-38.

 

Herman conducts an analysis of cultural artifacts from the DJ scene, including flyers, CD’s, magazines, and websites, and finds that advertising often employs stereotypical masculine tropes such as God and the patriarch while positioning females as sex objects, even when they are DJing. The artifacts also prove that there is aura attached to the act of mixing records as well as the mixing technology itself. As a result of the aforementioned, the DJ has been turned into a brand name and a tool of the industry’s marketing schemes. At the same time the DJ has been conferred with an authorship role due to this discourse. In fact, this discourse is relatively new; previously, DJs experienced fame limited to the underground scene (i.e. disco) and assumed a role closer to a facilitator rather than a producer.

                

Herman makes clear that authorship is a socially-constructed and (more applicably to this paper) masculine-constructed conceptual investment. It is plausible that adolescents are responding to new discourse surrounding the DJ in the same manner as they did for the rock star or “guitar hero.” His analysis also suggests that it might be constructive to investigate the proliferation of aspiring DJs from an economic viewpoint. Might it be an instance of the music industry strategizing within the context of the “Experience Economy” as espoused by Gilmore and Pine?

 

Holt, D. B. and C. J. Thompson. 2004. "Man-of-Action Heroes: The Pursuit of Heroic Masculinity in Everyday Consumption." Journal of Consumer Research 31(2):425-440.

 

This article stipulates that American men use creative consumption and leisure time to resolve anxieties resulting from the capitalist and post-modern environment. This article is cited by Katz.

 

Katz, M. 2007. "Men, Women, and Turntables: Gender and the DJ Battle." The Musical Quarterly Advance Access.

 

The author notes the significant gender imbalance within the North American hip-hop DJ demographic and cites three reasons the lack of women on the battle scene. First, although most males DJ feel favorably towards greater female participation, more insidious forms of discrimination such as tokenism and fetishization as well as the misogyny evinced in hip-hop lyrics may discourage females from joining the club. Males have been socialized to embrace technology to a greater extent and females have been socialized to avoid overt competition. Katz also proposes that the DJ battle becomes a “safe space” for young men to develop and promote their masculine identities.

                

This article is useful for beginning to explain the similarly male dominated amateur DJ demographic even within the context of a supposedly democratizing Web 2.0—namely technophilia and overt competition. However, in light of burgeoning instructional material, such as those videos created by YouTube user ellaskins, females today have greater access to technical knowledge than when know-how was passed on through private male-dominated mentoring networks. In addition, although there are several competitions via YouTube which do not involve head-to-head battling, the overwhelming majority of entries are submitted by males. This may indicate that the concept of the amateur bedroom DJ itself is gendered in a similar way that the DJ battle allows men to demonstrate “heroic masculinity.” In contrast, Katz notes that 40 percent of students enrolled New York's Scratch DJ Academy are female, suggesting that public classrooms may be seen as more gender neutral space.

 

Killick, A. 2006. "Holicipation: Prolegomenon to an Ethnography of Solitary Music-Making." Ethnomusicology Forum 15(2):273-299.

 

The author considers solitary music-making as a rewarding musical activity that warrants serious and legitimate ethnomusicological study. This is a different approach towards musical experience which will be applicable to analyzing the intentions and pleasures of the “bedroom DJ” although musicians playing alone may also be influenced by imagined social relationships.

 

Koepell, David. 2007. "Mix, Scratch and Spin: You, Too, can Become a D.J." New York Times, Jun 3, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/business/yourmoney/03dj.html.

 

An article documenting the recent rise of DJ academies and their broadening female clientele.

 

Lövheim, M. 2005. "Young People and the Use of the Internet as Transitional Space." Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet.

 

This is a more contemporary and specific discussion of how adolescents use the internet during a transitional period in which personal identities are restructured and reintegrated into society, in respect to a Swedish case study examining discussion groups on religion. The internet allows youth to assume more flexible and ambiguous identities, thus constituting a space for growth and transition. The author notes a need for further research within other types of online settings. (This argument of the article is similar the one arrived at in Turkle’s exploration of Multi-User Domains’s in Life on the Screen.) I believe that even though the visual nature of YouTube does not allow for complete anonymity, it is no less useful for exploring identity.

 

McRobbie, A. 2002. "Clubs to Companies: Notes on the Decline of Political Culture in Speeded Up Creative Worlds." Cultural Studies 16(4):516-531.

 

McRobbie writes on several trends occurring within the British culture industry as the cultural sphere is increasingly capitalized and workers are becoming more independent and multi-skilled. She argues that the dance/rave culture of the 1980’s was influential in shaping the new culture industry because it involved economic activity that was self-generated and required organizers to network and self-promote. I would like to consider the popularity of bedroom DJing within the context of a commercialized subcultural context and its implications for the culture industry.

 

-------. 1993. "Shut up and dance: Youth culture and changing modes of femininity." Cultural Studies 7(3):406-426.

 

McRobbie observes that youth typically construct identity through subcultural experience. Furthermore, those affected by Britain’s depressed economy during the 1980’s as well as those with no access to higher education rejected the traditional entry into the labor force and instead sought out various cultural spheres (fashion, music) for job opportunities. Using the rave as a case in point, she notes that the “changing modes of femininity” are not necessarily mirrored in youth subculture, which is inherently more unpredictable. For example, girls (at least at the time of her writing) tend to be the consumers of the event rather than the producers, such as the promoter, DJ, or technician.

 

In general, authenticity is a primary concern to adolescents when they choose to immerse themselves in a particular subculture. Authenticity is evinced through consumption (CD’s, clothing), which hones a specific personal image, as well as demonstrations of knowledge through social interaction. However, I wonder whether bedroom DJing also serves an authenticating function for youth, in which case production has merged with consumption. At the same time, essentializing notions of gender have linked authenticity with “maleness” and have also contributed to the association of authenticity with rock and inauthenticity with pop. It may be that males prefer to learn DJing through informal online resources such as YouTube because, rather than inauthentically learning the craft through a DJ academy, they would retain the image of being independent and self-taught, a characteristic of renowned DJs past and present. Online, females may also prefer to learn by “lurking” or direct person communication with online DJ instructors.

 

Negus, K. 2002. "The Work of Cultural Intermediaries and the Enduring Distance between Production and Consumption." Cultural Studies 16(4):501-515.

 

The “cultural intermediary” is a term that was introduced by Bourdieu that traditionally classifies people who are engaged in “symbolic production,” i.e. assigning value to products through marketing and advertising, which is essential for the modern economy. Negus observes that there are other less obvious occupations that also attempt to bridge consumption and production, notably executives, analysts, and accountants. However, he also claims that role of closing the gap between consumption and production is largely symbolic.

 

Negus’ previous research found that in the 60’s and 70’s, during the burgeoning of universities and other institutions of cultural production, the British music industry sought out and hired young, “counter-culture” individuals who were in previously involved in rock music culture, by having been a booking agent or band musician for example. These new executives, mostly educated, middle-class, white men, tailored the industry to their own preferences at the expense of pop or soul performers, creating a specific working practice and aesthetic sensibility. This article raises the question of whether bedroom DJs or mobile DJs will become similarly involved in music business and what implications that would have for the agenda of the music industry.

 

Recalling Herman’s argument that the discourse around the DJ was shaped to make records marketable, is it possible that the DJ does come close to become a true “cultural intermediary” capable of fusing consumption and production, especially for bedroom DJs who personally pay for the equipment and records that they use to create their own original works?

 

Stebbins, R. A. 1977. "The Amateur: Two Sociological Definitions." The Pacific Sociological Review 20(4):582-606.

 

This is an article specifically pertaining to two definitions of the “amateur”: first, as a member of the interdependent professional-amateur-public system and second, as an individual with a specific set of attitudes (confidence, perseverance, continuance commitment, preparedness, and self-conception) towards his/her activity. Whether or not the “bedroom DJ” meets these criteria is questionable; feedback from members of the SkratchLounge website have suggested that the term is not synonymous with amateurism but instead simply reflects that the individual has not entered the public sphere by performing at a venue.

 

Terret, Piper. 2003. Bedroom DJ. Omnibus Press.

 

This book is an autobiographical account of the author’s progression from novice to professional DJ interspersed among interviews with celebrity DJ’s who give technical and career advice to aspiring amateurs.

 

Turkle, S. 1995. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon & Schuster.

 

The last chapter of this seminal book takes a sociological and psychological approach towards how Internet users construct identities online. Interaction with others through computer-mediation becomes a form of self-expression. However, this is a self composed of multiple identities which are cycled through depending on the online context. The internet also facilitates growth and exploration of identity, especially for those experiencing the stereotypical “identity crises” of adolescence or perhaps even of the postmodern condition.

 

Webography

 

http://djtutor.com/ellaskins/index.php

http://www.skratchlounge.com

http://youtube.com