European Culture Policy and Management

Digitalisation causes challenges to symbol creators, the cultural industries and audiences alike. What are the main advantages and disadvantages of digitalisation for these three different actors? Answer with reference to at least two cultural industries, as well as with reference to how digitalisation affects the creation, distribution and consumption of culture.

Student No.0956907

Warwick University

European Culture Policy and Management

20th Dec. 2009

Number of Words:4018


Digitalisation had begun to have effects on the ways businesses were run from the 1960s onwards, but this happen as a result of the effects of mainframe or minicomputers. It was only in the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, that digitalisation began to have a more substantial impact on the cultural industries as a whole.

One may argue whether the new digital era has come. It is certainly obvious that computer and WWW has played an inevitably vital position in every aspect of life, either it is personal or business world. The hit word digitalisation explained by as " the increase use of digital storage and transmission in cultural production and circulation and the increasing use of such digital systems, as opposed to analogue one". (Hesmondhalgh, 2002) What about its impact on the culture industries? In this essay, with references of music and movie industries, both sides of digitalisation's affect will be discussed and explored.

Digitalisation has become a well-know factor which caused a revolution in different sectors, especially changes towards culture industries. In this essay, I am going to bring a whole big picture of the function of digitalisation on the whole culture industry. Then the impact of digitalisation on the film and music industry will be discussed separately. Different impact of the process will be explored, such as creation, distribution and consumption. Because file-sharing and napster, music is the first industry which firstly realise the high affect of digitalisation.

But for the film, the whole process is more complicated and the impact will be discussed opposite to music. Hopefully there will be some conclusion coming out of that.


With the spreading ownership of personal computers in 1980s as an initial condition, digitalisation of production spread. Following the boosted use of the Internet and the World Wide Web, both cultural production and consumption of have been affected and transformed by digitalisation. According to Hesmondhalgh (2007), the music industry takes the first lead of facing up to both challenges and chances offered by digitalisation. Both its positive and negative impacts on production, distribution and consumption of music will be discussed correspondingly in the following paragraphs.

The most immediate impact of digitalisation was on technologies of cultural production(Hesmondhalgh, 2002). In terms of combination of technology and music, electronic music is a good example, which represents the trend of development of popular music to a certain extent. (Holmes, 2008) prescribes three themes of electronic music. The first one is "the marriage of technology and music is inescapable". In this digital era, technology is not always necessarily needed but it certainly amplifies positively best performance of music. With the help of audio editing software, voice and sound recorded in a file can be copied, pasted, adjusted and perfected. Master engineers use technology to fine tune songs even to fix pitches and maximize volume, which may not be physically done within humans` capacity (Huber and Runstein, 2001). The second one is that new technology continually contributes the creation of new music. (Hesmondhalgh, 2002) claims that with the arrival of newer and relatively inexpensive recording devices and instruments, more individuals are able to participate in the creation of music than ever before. Studio time is extremely expensive and difficult to obtain. The result of new technology is that anyone can produce studio-quality music from their own home. With greater experimentation with sound, both independent and big label artists acquire higher creativity or uniqueness to stand out numerous music products. Finally, (Holmes, 2008) brings together these two themes into final one, "the diffusion of electronic music into worldwide musical culture". Looking at the history of music development, western countries always make the first move towards technological and music innovation. The outcome of it has contributed and will continually contribute to worldwide musical culture thanks to digitalisation and globalization.

Hereinbefore, the partial contributions of digital technology to music production are discussed based on Holmes' three themes. Moreover, there are other benefits of digitalisation. In 1981,the first music video was lauched on MTV in America. The combination of sound and vision has certainly offered another experience of music in despite of potential negativity. Music video draws our attention simultaneouly to the music and away from it, posing itself in the place of what it demonstrates (Frith, et al., 1993). As a result of digitalisation, it becomes easier to combine music, image and videos, which adds a new tough to music experience. For instance, in the style of new age music, the sound of nature, humming, which requirements little understanding, are combined together to achieve the universal understanding towards the beauty of nature. Digitalisation makes this new genre of music possible. Its advantage can be extended in another aspect. In the developing countries, they used to follow western countries` lead only. However, owing to the dropping cost of recording technologies and shared music resources in digital formats, they can discard the dross and select the essential, transforming traditional music or adding it to the selected music style and vice versa. Therefore, there come new types of music. There are millions of music artists out there making creative music, inspired by others or new technology. For instance, T-pain, the popular American rapper, introduces rapper microphone and auto tune software, which can turn normal speaking into a proper hip-pop song. By and large, I believe digitalisation, instead of destroying creativity of music, does significantly contribute to works of music creators.

On the other side, certain negative impacts of new digital technology have also been taken into consideration. Considering the convenience of new technology, it is reasonable to argue new technologies made music-making less creative and less collaborative than traditional methods. Besides the benefit of technology, (Holmes, 2008)proclaims the marriage of technology and music occasionally can be imperfect and new technology sometimes thwarts toward the creation of new music. First of all, artists may over depend on technology to create music. In preference to improving their singing skills, the aid of audio editing software becomes the only way of correcting errors. Many pop singers sound perfectly well on CD or DVD, but turns live music performance into a total disaster. Secondly, new technologies such as music videos may well improve audience` experiences but also distract audiences from purely focusing on music itself. Realising this, artists could become less motivated of creating attractive music. Hesmondhalgh (2007) supports this view by saying that we are too distracted to appreciate quality anyway. Thirdly, audiences get easier access to music. Creators want to make a song standing out in an on-air or in-the-pocket playlist."The Loudness war" is one of the popular and well-known techniques, which presents the trend toward making recordings as loud possible(Huber and Runstein). According to psychoacoustics, how we human perceive sound, one of the generally accepted rules is that the louder sound will always grab our attention, and for short periods of time, sound better to us (Mark Donahue, 2009). Therefore, most of recording studios use new technology to maximize loudness of music. According to the report of Sherwin, Adam (2007), musician Bob Dylan has also condemned the practice, saying, "You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, and they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just likestatic." Based on what has been just discussed, the declining quality of music is caused by creators` driver to make profit and new technologies are used as tools.

After production, it is mostly up to the distribution to make creators` music heard. Leaving aside the fact whether profit is made or not, it is digitalisation which helps music to reach broadest, widest and most audiences. Evidently there are always both sides of the coin and numerous problems accompanying with it should not be neglected. As argued by (Hesmondhalgh, 2007a), instead of only moaning about the drop of CD sales, the music industry should make a way to achieve the shift to 'legitimate' forms of digital distribution.

Before presenting both sides of digitalisation, I would like to impart the context of four interrelated technological innovations, which provides a fundamental shift in recent changes of distribution. As Bakker (2005) demonstrates, MP3 and other compression standard`s development (I-tune's AAT and Microsoft`s WMG) allows huge amounts of digital audio information to be turned into controllable files. The second innovation is the introduction and widely-consumed computers with increased storage capacity, soundcards and speakers. The third one is the availability of flat rate and high speed of broadband. The final one is free and easy-to-use softwares, which transfers contents of CD into MP3 files. In addition to that, there is unprecedented growth of ownership of portable music players and mobile phones. As of September 9, 2009, more than 220,000,000 iPods had been sold worldwide according to Cheng, J (2009). Overall music consumption reaches a historically high position. All of these factors open up a brand new era for music distribution and theoretically offers various chances of success for musicians, as (Spellman, 2002) shows:

  • Get listed in free search engines and directories
  • Communicate via-email with fans, teammates, and customers
  • Sharing, selling and licensing your music on-line
  • Webcasting your shows via virtual nightclubs and other on-line venues
  • Broadcasting over Internet Radio
  • Signing a deal with off-line and on-line record lables
  • Using the net as a library of music career guidance

Digitalisation brings down the cost of promotion and marketing. Musicians publish their work on blogs, social networks (facebook, twitters) or youtube, which expose themselves to the public to a great extent. Not only does it strengthens listeners' royalty, but also brings new admirers and opportunities. For instance, thanks to youtube videos, the fame of two winner singers of TV programme "Britain has got talent" spread all over the country and the world. Chris Crocker, Esmee Denters and Arctic Monkeys are other examples showing that their music talents can be discovered. Instead of doing marketing research, distributors or creators can estimate the market`s reaction through reviews and hits.

Until now, I have not included serious profit-making in my discussion. If every musician and company thinks alike Ram Samudrala (2009), digitalisation is utterly beneficial and no harm at all. He said the intrinsic motivation of making music is "here is definitely more of a sense of fulfilment when you do something because you love it and not because you are obligated to." Everything he creates is copiable without restrictions. He argues that "Music is about creative and passionate ideas. Not product". Therefore, he is again the notion of "intellectual property" and supports "copyleft", which means that "anyone who has a copy of a computer programme, documents or music regulated by copyleft, has the same rights to modify and pass it on as the person who created it" (Turney, 2008). In this case, customers can donate money depending on how much they think music is worth.

However, companies or individuals need to make their living. make profit from preventing customers from simply reproducing infinite copies of digital files of music(Hesmondhalgh, 2007a). In the 2000s, file-sharing over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, makes music industry a very difficult time. The most famous one is Napster. The developments, combined with falling revenues, once led many commentators to discuss the decline or death of the music industry. (Alderman, 2001) portrays the music industry "an industry struggling to maintain control and remain relevant". Under this atmosphere, copyright plays even a more vital position in the industry. In despite of CD sales drop, companies can still make huge money selling copyrights. The possibilities for exploiting these rights have grown steadily over time, and continue to grow(Hesmondhalgh, 2007b). It can be argued though if copyright strategy is over-protecting intellectual property and undermines chances of creativity. Anyone can be in danger of infringing copyright. The example of Vanna White versus Sumsung is a controversial one.

Apart from preventing customers from downloading in the way of shutting file-sharing websites down or copyright legal actions or using DRM system ( security measures that are embedded in computers, electronic devices and digital files to prevent copying and other unauthorized uses), music industry needs to search for 'legitimate' digital distribution (Hesmondhalgh, 2007b). I-tune, which currently covers 90% legal downloaded son, sets a good example of selling music online. It is still too early to predict the direct impact of digital music sales on physical product of CD or music DVDs. However, looking at the positive effects of digitalisation and current technology development, the digital sales of music will escalate rapidly.

From the previous discussions, it is not hard to tell that consumers, especially young consumers are the biggest winner. It can be explained in the following aspects:

  • Easier access to wider resources. Consumers can listen to good music through TV, computer, mobile phone, mp3 player. Music created not only by professionals but also creative amateur musicians from all around the world is shared on internet such as Youtube, myspace. Moreover, we understand music`s development better by listening to most of music, even the first piece of music.
  • Cheaper and more convenience to enjoy diverse music. In the past, we have to buy the whole album. But now we can preview the music and buy the track we like most. Music can be copied on different devices and listened to when we are in gyms or running.
  • Quicker to find something we like. With the help of chart, recommendation of public and auto-suggestion on the website or software, we do not have to get lost in the resources but find favorite music fairly quickly.
  • Active anticipation of music activities. We can review the music and have a say about the content, which may contribute to better music. Big music stars can be made by us just a few clicks away. We can touch the mystery of music talents and genius through social-networks. With the help of internet, we can be informed the latest music festivals and activities and participate at a more affordable price.
  • Chances to become music creators too. With low-cost technology and software, we can produce good quality album even in our bedroom.
  • Supporting independent music makers. Even for unsigned artists, due to the exposure on the internet, consumers get the change to know them, build up their reputation and buy their music.

Generally speaking, the digitalisation makes celebration of the diversity possible. However, some communication studies scholars and others have tried to show the concentration leads to homogenization and standardization, at least decrease diversity. Nevertheless, from the demonstration above, it seems that digitalisation provides increase in the range and diversity. The problem was examined by Hesmondhalgh( 2007b). He argues it is the inequality of access. The first is inequality of hardware facilities. Fast broadband, good quality computers and mp3 players are still unavailable for big group people, especially in developing countries. The second one is uneven knowledge about how to use technologies, for example, in the physical practice, how to upload CD collections to computer and then on to iPods and other MP3, how to record and edit music. In the cyber-world, high media literacy is needed to find suitable type of music and interact as well as finding their way effectively around the 'free' file-sharing world. Lastly, Hesmondhalgh( 2007b) argues that wealthier and educated consumers are more likely to be omnivorous in their taste of music.


Film as a major cultural industry, receives some similar impacts of digitalisation as music industry. However, because it is involved with more complicated production and distribution process, digitalisation plays a smaller impact on film than music. The discussion will be presented in the similar structure, starting with digital technology.

Film creation process is divided into five stages: development, pre-production, production, post-production and finally, sales and distribution (Steiff, 2005). Film industry has in general responded conservatively to digitalisation. Digital techniques such as video assist for instant reviews of what is shot on film during production on the set, editing and creating visual effects in postproduction are in general use. Digital technology has performed actively in post-production, when the film is edited. Sound, music, graphic visual effects are digitally added. This is where advantages of digital editing are fully demonstrated. It allows liberty of adding special effect, which cannot be done by human easily. Consistency is easily kept even though scenes are cut and edited. The use of digital technology surely promotes creativities and imagination.

In the production, the shooting have mainly remained analogue in a 35mm standard. Some films used the video camera as an aesthetic choice or used to shoot documentary movies. Because even though digital cameras are easier to operate, its pictures do not have the same definition as film cameras. However, digital camera has improved and directors are trying shooting films with it. Yimou Zhang, the director of 2008 Chinese Olympic opening ceremony joins the trend as well. His latest film- "a simple noodle story" is all shot with digital camera. Animation movies of Hollywood are also done digitally.

There are advantages of digital films explained as following ( Zhang,H, 2004):

  • The digital film has the clear superiority in maintain constant quality with use.
  • Using digital film should be much easier than film cinema. Film is heavy, hard to work with and fragile.
  • A satellite-based system would provide a secure process for erasing digital movies once the show is finished. It prevents the risk of film prints falling into unauthorized hands.
  • The movie studios have ability to modify their content whenever it is found desirable.
  • The director can shoot as many scenes as he wants without considering the high cost.

However, high-definition digital camera is still too expensive for general company to afford. Digital format may not be played in the future but film can still be played. Films do not have compatible issues .Besides these, numerous shooting can lead to editing disaster and gives creators to leave efforts for later consideration. But generally speaking, digital technology and digitalisation provide film creators a lower cost, easier exposure, distribution and storage.

Through the discussion above, with same scriptures and story, digitalisation should contribute to the creativity of the film. However, much literature will argue that the quality of film declined. Looking at the classically recommended film lists, many are old movies. Is it just because film makers do not want to make good movies and what actually is good movie. Similar as music industries, consumers nowadays do not have patience to stay two hours long in front of computer. This certain consuming patterns of films have contributed to the quality as well, especially young consumers, who loves skipping and surfing different movies. Hesmondhalgh, (2002) proclaimed that the proliferation of texts means that cultural-industry corporations are faced with the task of finding new ways to capture and retain attention, with potentially negative consequences for the human experience of narrative and argument. Ratings-hungry producers increasingly resort to shock tactics in order to keep the attention of audiences. When art means commerce, more sexual explicitness, violence are exposed in the film. And in somewhat, the so-called qualify of films have declined. Hesmondhalgh also argues that proliferation does not represent democratisation. It has negative consequences in terms of further concentration and conglomeration, for example, in that corporations are better at dealing with the media glut than are smaller companies. Instead of working on creativities, companies want to make money. So they focus more marketing instead the product itself, which lead to the other reason of decline qualities. Here is when independent movie makers come to play on stage. Instead of just making profit, different from most commercial companies, they offer a different touch of movie content, more touching or more challenging.

Same as music industries, internet and digitalisation offers a wider distribution of films. There are chances both for independent movie makers (online festival, youtube, cooperation with Netflix) and commercial company (high exposure. streaming films authorized on youtube). With the help of internet, films options are exposed both nationally and internationally.

Due to digitalisation, have the contents of film become more diverse than before? It has been a controversial topic for a while. But with the help of Internet, digital technology, consumers have indeed got more access to films through various ways. Besides traditional ways of going to cinema, there are more options provided, especially after the introduction of DVD. Netflix, which is the first and largest DVD rental service in US, Netflix is the first and the world's largest video rental subscription service. It was founded in 1997 when DVD player started to become popular in US. It is like a huge digital library which wows consumers with 100,000 DVD titles, more than 10 million subscribers and it ships out 1.9 million DVDs to customers each day with free delivery. ( . After the introduction of streaming videos, now with a very low subscription fees, consumers can enjoy few good streaming quality film, including newly released or old classic movies. After the success of Netflix, many companies copied its marketing way and reach customers, such as and blockbuster. Lately, they work directly with Xbox, Playstation to provide sources of films. They work directly with studios to assure cheap subscription fees of customers. The battle of the consoles isn't just being fought over games. Playstation offers 'download and keep' movies, too. Apart from these legitimate ways of watching movie, there are file-sharing, downloading, hardware copies out there. Compared with non-digitalised past world, certainly we have better instant access to movies. For young uses, who spend a few hours of sitting in front of computers instead of TV, an option called Satellite TV for computer, supplying more than 3000 channel all around the world, is offered that not only you can watch TVs, sports, documentaries and even movies for free, with only one-go payment of the software. Competition provoked innovation. High definition, 3d cinema, all comes with the ambition of having customers feeding the industry.

Does more choice mean diverse choice for consumers? Graham Murdock (2007)argues that, " diversity is not multiplicity. It is possible go greatly increase the number of channels and the number of goods in circulation without significantly extending diversity. More does not necessarily mean different." However, the same as music industries, there are digital libraries there. Whoever has the ability to explore will enjoy more diverse choices ever in this digital world.


To conclude, digitalisation plays a significant position in both music and film industry. Digital technology helps in most of time in a positive way of creation. Digitalisation contributes great exposure and easier distribution of both music and film. Both industry need to look for legitimate ways of online-distribution. There is trend that telecommunications, computers and media are increasingly merging. In the digital era, independent music and movie makers are more competitive than before. But it stands hard in front of giant conglomerates players. Intellectual property rights play a more important role than ever in the file-sharing world.

The major differences between music and movie are that people want to be able to play their music over and over and to be able to play it in different places. But people are happy to rent a DVD and watch it once. Nor is the experience of watching a video online as comfortable or convenient as watching a DVD on a television set. Online distribution of movies will be tougher than music. Traditional ways of going to watch film in cinema will not disappear because of the unique experience. More innovation in the cinema will come in film industry. Digitalisation presents a more fundamental shift in music industry than film industry. But it is a inevitable trend.


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