How National Jazz Agencies use the internet

I’ve been doing some research into the ways in which different national jazz agencies around Europe use the internet as part of what they do.

At the 2011 Jazzahead conference, I interviewed delegates representing music centres and national jazz agencies from the UK, Netherlands, Slovenia, Iceland, France, Hungary, Finland, Estonia, Catalonia, Denmark, Belgium, Norway and Sweden. From those interviews, I was able to discern a number of shared concerns, overlapping strategies and common goals and approaches that these organisations have used to think about their online offerings.

While each national agency is essentially interested in the promotion and propagation of the jazz music of their own country, this basic commonality of intent is not uniformly reflected in the strategies each brings to the Internet in order to achieve that aim. In fact, in many ways, the approaches differ substantially. In part, this is attributable to the various differences in the cultural, economic and political objectives that underpin the activities of these organisations, but it also reflects differences in audience demographic profiles, access to financial, technical and human resources to develop the online offerings and the levels of online experience (and interest) staff members of the organisation possess.

In fact, one national music agency approached for this article refused to take part in the discussion on the basis that (to paraphrase) the internet is the enemy of music.

The research that I’m writing up divides the national jazz agencies up into three main orientations. That is to say, the primary purpose that the agency itself says that it serves:

1) Advocates: organisations whose role it is to promote the interests of national jazz performers and creative industries (for instance, by lobbying for support at radio or by creating funded projects) both at home and abroad.

2) Export agencies: organisations whose role it is to “export music culture”, in terms of music performances and recordings as well as in terms of tourism – typically in the service of commercial and national economic goals.

3) Cultural agencies: organisations whose role it is to develop local creative practice and cultural activity, and foster local and regional music culture and identity, largely through the establishment and promotion of events.

From my interviews, I also was able to identify three main strands of discourse around the ways in which these organisations approach the internet:

1) Portal – The online strategy of the agency is to provide a leaping-off point for the discovery of content and information on the sites of local cultural organisations and performers. By providing a centralised directory, the agency can easily direct visitors to further engage with the jazz culture and commerce within their territory.

2) Database – The jazz agency conceives of their web offering as a source of searchable information that can be added to and updated. In this orientation, the internet has a library or archive function, and the website operates as database or repository of facts, contact details, profiles, discographic information, and so on.

3) Narrative medium – In this third orientation, the primary function of the website is to act as a source of news and other “storytelling” media, usually (though not exclusively) for promotional purposes. These tend to take the form of blogs or online magazines.

And while you might expect that these three approaches to using the internet as a means of communication would map onto the three main orientations above, it would seem that the people making the websites for the jazz agencies have not even considered the function of the agency when doing that work.

In other words, national jazz agencies are making websites based on an idea of “how the internet works, and what a web page does” rather than in the service of a particular communication agenda on their part. Many expressed a frustration at their own web provision, and nearly half of the organisations are in the process of building a new website – but almost none of them articulated a connection between what the organisation is for and what the website’s function was.

There’s a lot more to it than this, of course – and I’ve been examining these findings in the light of Bordewijk & Kaam’s (2002) model of analysis for tele-information services. They explain four main kinds:

1) Allocution: the supply of information outwards from a central point. Broadcasting is classified as an allocutionary form. Allocutionary media can be considered “push” technologies as they send material chosen by the provider outward to passive recipients;

2) Consultation: the supply of information on request from a central server. These media forms can be considered “pull” technologies as they release centrally-held material as chosen by the recipient. Consulting a directory, phoning a lawyer or accessing a library may be considered typical consultation media forms.

3) Registration: the supply of information by a user of the information service and not by the service itself, but under the programmatic control of that information service centre. Examples include sites that allow users to build their own profiles within strict parameters, YouTube, news agencies, and online multiplayer gaming platforms.

4) Conversation: the sharing of information between the media agency’s consumers under the programmatic control of the consumers themselves. Conversational media may be thought of as contexts for communication, rather than sources of communication. Examples include telephones and Twitter conversation.

Interestingly, while those first three kinds correlate with the ways in which jazz agencies use the internet, not one expressed an interest in (or knowledge of) the opportunity to provide the fourth kind of tele-information service.

Social networks such as Facebook were, of course, mentioned – but as a site of promotion and marketing (allocution) rather than as a place for discussion and engagement.

The consultation document I am writing suggests a possible gap here for such organisations, and the research article outlines this mismatch between purpose, activity and opportunity.

Andrew Dubber

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