Steer the Sound: Organizing, Regulating, and Practicing Musical Creativity in China

Ke Nie, Sociology, UC San Diego
Arts, Economic Sociology, Sociology of Culture
Keywords - Creativity, Creative Industries, Cultural Production, Computational Methods, China

The Chinese popular music industry enjoyed a thirtyfold increase in market revenue in the past 10 years despite some of the heaviest regulations in the sector. This presents an interesting puzzle regarding how artistic creativity can thrive under an authoritarian regime’s tight control over expressive content. In this project, I study how industrial development, economic incentives, political interventions, and creative personnel shape musical creativity in China. Using computational methods to analyze an original dataset of over 190,000 songs collected from a music streaming platform, as well as qualitative analyses of policy documents, participant observation in a music streaming platform, and interviews with musicians, music producers, and label managers, I ask: 1) How is artistic creativity organized, regulated, and practiced in authoritarian regimes? 2) Under what circumstances and to what extent can artistic creativity thrive in places where expressive content is supposed to be tightly controlled? 3) How do economic incentives and political institutions shape artistic forms, and how do artists respond to economic and political pressure? This project contributes to economic and cultural sociology and highlights the political dimensions of artistic creativity. Moreover, my original dataset provides rarely accessible empirical data that is extraordinarily scarce in the existing social scientific study of cultural industries.