Ecommerce: RFID, Piracy, and Watermarking; The Internet’s Impact on Music Industry Networks with a Focus on Music Production, Distribution, and Marketing

Mussey, Emily, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Gorman, Michael, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Weaver, Alfred, University of Virginia

My technical research aims to provide a broad overview of three different technologies relating to Ecommerce: RFID, piracy, and watermarking. For each innovation, I analyzed how the technology works, their uses, legislation, and positive and negative impacts. My STS research analyzes the evolution of music industry relationships pre-Internet and post-Internet. It also attempts to predict how the relationships will change in the coming years. I chose topics for my technical and STS research that would be applicable to my full-time job within the music industry. Technology and its impacts on society are often thought of as two separate topics, but with more analysis, their connections become more obvious. The innovations and legislation I studied within my technical thesis drastically changed how the music industry functioned.

The technical portion of my thesis had a slightly different goal than the standard project. The goal was to broaden my knowledge on specific subject areas and create resources other students could use to gain a better understanding of the topics. It also became a project of self-growth as my research skills were challenged and I was pushed to be a well-rounded engineer. I was encouraged to not only understand the technical specifications of different technologies, but also their impacts and make predictions about future uses.

In my STS research, I studied the changes of music industry actors and their relationships in the period immediately before the internet up to the current day. My goal was to tell a story and explain what innovations caused the networks to change. It became apparent early on how quickly relationships could change. Widespread internet availability diminished record labels’ roles by decreasing barriers to entry for musicians. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to record labels gaining prominence again as artists transition to entirely online moneymaking methods and need the technical and financial assistance labels can provide. Once widespread COVID-19 vaccines are released, my research points to labels slowly losing influence again, but hybrid virtual and in person events will continue providing them a slightly elevated position in the network.

Outside of the aforementioned relationships between my STS and technical research, one of my biggest takeaways was the disconnect between the technology sector and many other industries. Both legislators and the music industry struggled to keep pace with innovations. They instead adopted a reactionary stance. While this is often applauded within the government to prevent the stifling of innovation, within the music industry, it was nearly its downfall. Numerous times, record labels ignored the opportunities innovations provided and therefore financially suffered. Record labels seem to be learning from the past, as shown by their early adoption of streaming services and quick pivots during the pandemic. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue. My exclusive interviews indicated that power players at record labels are beginning to embrace technological advancements. They understand that if they do not adapt alongside other actors, they will be removed from the network.

Upon Professor Weaver’s retirement, his Computer Science Ecommerce class is no longer being taught. Using some of my research alongside support from the engineering department, I believe a group of students could create and teach a class revolving around Ecommerce. Although my research did not achieve that goal, it would be an incredibly rewarding experience for a future group of students, and I would love to help them on their journey.

Since I wrote my prospectus, I have come a long way in the music industry and in January, I will start a full-time job as the Technology and Special Projects Director for Blue Ridge Rock Festival. First, I want to thank my Blue Ridge Rock Festival family for the constant support. Next, I need to thank Jon Slye, the Blue Ridge CEO, for providing first-hand experience in the music industry, giving me tips while working on this paper, and answering questions I had. Finally, I want to thank all my Facebook friends for giving me feedback on different ideas I had for this thesis. I have friends in every imaginable spot in the music industry, from a local to a national level, so it was interesting seeing the differences in experiences they have had. Most published research focuses on big names, so getting feedback from local and regional artists is vital to understanding the industry’s evolution. Finally, I want to thank my wonderful STS professors, Michael Gorman and Richard Jacques, and my technical research advisor, Alfred Weaver. These last 3.5 years at UVA have been quite a journey.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Music Industry, RFID, Piracy, Watermarking, Actor Network Theory

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Alfred Weaver
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques, Michael Gorman

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