by Antina Michels (Netaudio Berlin, formerly Humboldt University)
This paper addresses the recent digital music phenomenon ‘netaudio’ and analyses the relationship between online and offline realms. Online communication is integrated calmly embedded in the various folds of life of the actors in the netaudio field. The latter is characterized by new groundbreaking forms of action and social relationships, with an innovative economy of exchange.
Social ‘interlacings’ are articulated from an ethnographic perspective, by describing, analyzing and interpreting, whereby the perspective of the participants is particularly important. Ethnographic methods are suitable in order to examine social cross-linkings and cohesion because they focus on cultural production and micro structures. A combined ‘scene-network’ research project in the virtual as well as physical realm, concentrating on the Berlin netlabels Pulsar and Pentagonik, is applied.
Focus of this paper is the Internet-related form of ‘community of practice’ (CoP). This concept is appropriate to analyze the intensive and highly interactive configuration of activity and knowledge resources of the actors (Wenger 2001). The actor networks are characterized by the network sociality (Wittel 2001a). Thus the CoPs are embedded into this sociality and have similar characteristics: they are shaped by an open structure, a strong cross-linking of the individuals as well as by ephemerality (Beck / Wittel 2000). The term scene is considered suitable, in order to consider the cultural and leisurely aspects of the netaudio phenomenon.
Group-specific ‘offline contexts’, a project history and a feeling of belonging are created through offline meetings and common experiences. These are effectively reproduced and reconfigured through online communication in internet-related ‘communities of practice’. In this way, on- and offline connections between the participants can be strengthened allowing stable social relations to develop among the involved.
Netaudio, Netlabel, Community of Practice (CoP), Network Sociality, Community Formation, Scene, On- and Offline Communication, Creative Commons (CC).
“The main means of communication are e-mail, then phone and ICQ, and we have regular meetings, (…) we have taken the traditional means of commercial practices to create a non-commercial product. It is actually the only way: we must have meetings; there are responsibilities and liabilities, which must be addressed (…) whereby the main advantage is that you can make a mistake, that?s the big difference, so it makes it so much fun, that’s also important to me” (Don).
This quote from a Berlin netaudio activist shows the social interlacing between on- and offline communication in a community of practice, expressing the experimental character of such an enterprise. For more and more people the use of computer mediated communication is a central part of their professional and everyday lives. The Internet is “the socio cultural total phenomenon” (Boden/ Genath 2005: 13) of recent and middle generations. In recent years different kinds of communities and other social phenomena have developed through the advancement and spreading of the Internet. For musicians, technical progress has made producing music at home more affordable and easier. Some bands and musicians have become famous over the Internet, for example via platforms such as MySpace (Howe 2005: 202).
This paper addresses a recent digital music phenomenon: netaudio. The term netaudio is defined as the process of producing music of various genres on private computers (PC) and the subsequent publishing of them on the Internet via so called ‘netlabels’ as free downloadable MP3 files. Netlabel websites serve as an operating platform, on which self-produced contents, such as texts and music, can be published online and discussed immediately after their publication. Netaudio in its current form would be inconceivable without the recent spread of broadband connections and highly compressed file formats for music. Netlabel protagonists interact in a netaudio field that spans the entire globe. The netaudio field can be defined as an off- and online field, in which participants, such as music producers, and DJs as well as everyday subscribers of netlabels, netaudio websites, blogs and forums (inter-)act.
The field is characterized by new groundbreaking forms of action and social relationships, with an innovative economy of exchange. Netlabels are characterised by direct communication between consumer and producer without a (commercial) mediator as usually found in music business. This field is particularly interesting, because the musicians promote themselves by putting their music onto a netlabel and give some of their music away for free. The actors move and act both in the on- and offline reality, like almost all musicians today. In Berlin in, for instance, the netaudio field overlaps with the established electronic music scene. Some netlabels function as ‘community catalysts’, not only giving musicians a platform for presentation both online and off, but also by helping to connect protagonists and supporting network building.
Applying the Actor-Network-Theory, the Internet itself can be considered as a central and essential ‘actor’, which will be addressed in detail in chapter 3. The model helps to understand the interplay between humans and objects, which both act (Latour 1996). In highly technological and information driven environments, communication without the Internet is no longer conceivable. Therefore the appropriation of computer, Internet and interactive ‘Web 2.0′-techniques is necessary in order to be able to communicate, remain informed and to be able to promote oneself effectively.
In this paper, I argue that online communication is deeply embedded in the various folds and events of the life world of the actors in the netaudio field. To take computer mediated communication (CMC) for granted can result in a dependency on online communication. The dependence on online communication media is only consciously noticed when the Internet connection does not function. In this moment, users become abruptly aware that ubiquitous computing has become an implicit part of their everyday lives. The effects of disconnectedness (being ‘offline’) on our professional and private life are manifold: substantial restriction of the work by missing communications and the pressure to get the Internet connection and/or computer up and running again.
An example of this moment of awareness can be seen in the instance of a netaudio activist whose computer broke down. He is dependent on CMC to be able to carry out his work with the organization of a netaudio festival, because virtually his entire means of communication is electronic. As a consequence, not only did he loose his archived e-mails, but he was also unable to carry out ongoing daily e-mail communications: “I feel paralyzed, amputated and no longer capable of acting.” [Tripp, personal communication 23.07.09] In this moment, he found himself in the special situation to falling back on conventional ‘offline’ communication like personal meeting and telephone.
There are three main factors in the netaudio field, which I have identified: 1. Interlacing of online and offline, 2. Offline experiences and 3. Online communication.
First, netaudio is per definition not possible without computing, CMC and Internet. Therefore, the interlacing of on- and offline is constitutive for netaudio. The Internet is ubiquitous and self-evident in the netaudio field.
Second, offline meetings are a constituent characteristic in the configuration of these social networks. Personal meetings and offline experiences stabilize online acquaintances by temporal and spatially limited, but intensive co-operation, developing a common ‘history’ of teams in projects. In different forms of ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 2001) a project and/or team history is developed, which continues to carry the community formation and again strengthens the social connections and relations by use of CMC. The personal encounter with another human being and interaction have lasting effects on the feeling of belonging. Again new forms of community formation are carried by this feeling of belonging e.g. ‘community of practice’ (Wenger 2001) and network sociality (Wittel 2001).
Third, online communication after common offline and personal experiences strengthen the established social relations. The research has proven that once two persons have met without any computer mediation and have made experiences together they are better remembered by the other person.
In this paper I articulate social ‘interlacings’ in an ethnographic perspective, thus describing, analyzing and interpreting, whereby the perspective of the participants is particularly important. It addresses and analyses the relationship between Online and Offline: Is computing and online communication taken for granted? When it is part of everyday life, how can it be researched and made visible?
I focus on a specific form of ‘community of practice’ (CoP) (Wenger 2001) based on knowledge and related to the Internet. This concept is appropriate to analyze the intensive and highly interactive configuration of activity and knowledge resources of the actors. The actor networks are characterized by the network sociality (Wittel 2001a). Thus the CoPs are ingrained into this sociality, both have similar characteristics: They are shaped by an open structure, a strong cross-linking of the individuals as well as by ephemerality (Beck / Wittel 2000). Additionally, the scene notion is relevant to take the cultural context into view.
The lack of scientific sociological literature on this subject makes the phenomenon ‘netaudio’ a difficult but also interesting research topic. A few researchers have approached the topic:
Ethnographic methods are suitable in order to examine social cross-linkings and embeddedness, because they focus on cultural production and micro structures. They take the perspective and specific experiences of the participants into view. Thereby, the researcher and the reader get a better view of the actor’s everyday life. The different social and personal conflicts that appear are especially significant, for example to be unwanted offline, as the earlier quote by Volker Tripp showed. The research is based on ethnological methods such as participant observation, photography, qualitative interviews and mental mapping with protagonists of the netaudio scene to trace the connections between musicians, their interactions and social relations. The result is a combined ‘scene-network’ research project in the virtual as well as physical realm concentrating on the Berlin netlabels Pulsar and Pentagonik. Both netlabels engage in on- and offline activities and began a joint Netlag event series in 2006.
As part of the research for this paper, I visited netaudio related websites, such as netlabels, forums and magazines and I followed the links. The participants are very mobile and nearly all navigate just as naturally in the physical realm as in the sphere of the Internet. Therefore, mobile on- and offline research practices became necessary (Welz 1998, Marcus 1995, Hine 2005). The research activities refer both to the (trans) local scenes, as well as to on- and offline networks. This ‘scene-network’ research is an ethnographic project: The connections between the participants, their interactions and social relations are tracked by the researcher. In order not to lose the cultural context from view, I refer to ‘scene’ research according to Bennett and Peterson (2004). The scene notion and their importance to the field will be explained in the next chapter. Furthermore, I rely on ‘net research’ as defined by Stefan Beck and Andreas Wittel (2000). Therefore, the ANT (Actor network Theory) (Latour 1996) is applied as a method of choice. ANT serves as tool, with which also the non-human actors are included into the investigation as ‘acting’ objects. ANT is to be described a constructionist method, which was developed by Michel Callon, John Law and Bruno Latour, in order to describe arrangements of material, social and idealistic relations in the hybrid participant network compound by participants and actants.
In the beginning of the Internet one still perceived the virtual area as a second reality separate from the one outside of the Internet, as suggested by Howard Rheingold, American social scientist and author (Rheingold 1993). The German anthropologist Andreas Wittel (2001) and the Canadian social scientist Rob Shields (1996) criticize Rheingold in that the term ‘virtual’ suggests a further reality in the Internet. In the last years this separation of virtual and material worlds has affected the debate around Cyberspace and interactive media considerably (Rheingold 1993, Gray / Driscoll 1992). However, one should see the virtual as an “addition of the material world” as Wittel (2001: 62) proposes, or as an ‘auxiliary area’ (Faßler 2002) where the netaudio participants act nearly just as naturally. The French anthropologist Marc Augé characterizes the Internet as a ‘non-place’, as space for ‘communication’, ‘circulation’ and ‘consumption’ which is reserved for individual users. Their acting in these online areas does not automatically imply a development of specific and durable social relations and a historical context (Augé: 1994). Only the presence of the bodies and a common history make the project tangible and visible.
Those involved in the Berlin and London netaudio scene have very different approaches to on- and offline community formation. The term community formation is used to describe the process of building groups, whereby social relations, and thus a feeling of belonging and solidarity can develop.
Normally netlabels are operated by a team, like the examined netlabel Pentagonik. In contrast, the Pulsar platform is led by only one operator, who calls it a ‘community’. The term ‘community’ is usually applied to the user groups of certain Internet platforms, those within a certain range of interest social relations among themselves to develop a certain belonging and togetherness as I observed in the field.
The concept of (virtual) community is, in my judgment, no longer appropriate to an interlaced, project-related and mobile field like netaudio. ?Community’ is an often discussed term within European Ethnology and in the German ‘Volkskunde’. The term covers a wide range and is not unproblematic, since it refers to homogeneity and makes differentiations difficult. According to Peter Boden and Alexander Genath, ‘community’ is to be separated from the term disputed in the ‘Volkskunde’, as the one Ferdinand Tönnies uses. (Boden/Genath 2005: 15) Boden and Genath refer to Hermann Bausingers? (1971) criticism of the community term; that suggests stability, coherency, affiliation, strong and long continuing relations, neighborhood and a common history or collective narrative (Wittel 2001a).
How does sociality look like? One in which networks become even more important, both in the spare time and in the profession? Andreas Wittel suggests the concept of the network sociality (Wittel 2001). In his opinion, the network sociality contrasts the term ‘community’, as coined by Ferdinand Tönnies (Wittel 2001: 51). Network sociality consists of volatile, repetitive social relations and of short-lived, but intensive meetings. According to Wittel, the social relations in the network are ‘informational’ and not biographic as in ‘community’ and ‘Gemeinschaft’. He characterizes them as ‘liquid relations’ which are often led by media, information and communication technologies (Wittel 2001b: 24). This technological change resulted in a ‘new economy’, which leads to a change of the work and leisure practices (Wittel 2001a: 53 and Castells 1996). Aim is to exchange data, to reprocess information continuously through new projects and the movement of ideas only based on temporary standards and protocols.
Wittel states that the network sociality is characterized by a combination of work and play and is based on transportation technology and individualization. He emphasizes the openness of networks as a form of sociality compared with communities, groups and other social systems, that do not have clear borders (Wittel 2001a: 51f). In addition, the Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells conceives a network as an open and dynamic structure. According to Castells, networks are able to expand infinitely provided that their members share the same communication codes, values and goals (Castells 1996: 470). Castells’ goal is an overview of the global macro sociology of the ‘information age’. According to Castells (1996) the ‘rise’ of the network society is a new phenomenon. Wittel picks up on Castells concepts (2001a: 51 and 52 f.). The following characterization of the participants also applies in the netaudio field:
“[T]he rise of a network sociality is especially visible in urban (post-) industrial spaces and milieus. It is most visible among the new middle class of culturally educated and media- and computer literate people.” (Wittel 2001a: 53)
Wittel distinguishes himself from Castells: “[I]t is worthwhile translating this macro-sociology of a network society into a micro-sociology of the information age.” (Wittel 2001a: 52). ‘Translation’ carries out this methodological way by favoring the ethnographical perspective within the network analysis. Thus Wittel investigates the active practice of ‘networking’ – making and maintaining (contact) networks. This practice has become more important e.g. for getting jobs or establishing collaborations and projects. In my judgment, the concept of network sociality is useful as a marco framework to look at a society, but it does not serve as a model for collaboration in smaller groups. Also the cultural context is not taken into account enough. Therefore, the scene notion is significant. The difference being that network sociality refers to working and professional environments whereas scene refers to leisurely and cultural context.
The borders between ‘spare time’ and ‘work’ in the netaudio field are diminishing. Here, both the ‘on-’ and ‘offline’ places are equally important for the (re-)production of social relations. Local scenes are focused, and are very strongly interlaced by the Internet and air travel over longer geographical distances. Therefore, the approach of the Anglo-American sociologists Andy Bennett and Richard Peterson is considered relevant. In the anthology “Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual” they go beyond the ‘local’ place and define:
“The concept ‘music scene’ [...] is increasingly used [...] to designate the contexts in which clusters of producers, musicians and fans collectively share their common musical tastes and collectively distinguish themselves from others.” (Bennett / Peterson 2004:1)
Peterson and Bennett understand these ‘clusters’ as social structures, which are not bound by location but by music taste. They differentiate between three types of scene. The first, the local scene, corresponds to one that is temporally and locally limited – with local participants forming ‘clusters’ of producers, musicians and fans, who dissociate themselves from others by music taste and cultural signs. The second, the translocal scene, refers to far distributed local scenes, which communicate regularly over a certain music direction or a lifestyle. Their participants interact via the exchange of music pieces, bands, live acts, other performers, and fans over media such as the Internet and fanzines. The third is the virtual scene, a relatively new formation, into which individual, globally distributed participants create a ‘sense of scene’ over Fanzines and increasingly over the Internet. The direct communication over Internet has the advantage that the participants have far more possible control of the scene. In addition, the scene satisfies the participant’s needs and interests better (Bennett / Peterson 2004: 10).
The specifics of a ‘community of practice’ (CoP) which is based on knowledge transfer, is a concept developed as a learning theory by the social anthropologist Jean Lave and the learning theoretician Etienne Wenger (Wenger 2001). In their opinion, learning represents a fundamental social phenomenon. The theory is based on the fact that the commitment to social practice is the crucial process by which we learn and become what we are. Community of practice is an approach at examining systematically the overlap with community, social practice, meaning and identity. It is a broadly applied concept framework which allows the investigation of learning as a process of social participation. A community of practice is characterized by the geographic proximity of the participants who engage together for in a project. It promotes interhuman connections and creates standards of direct reciprocity between the members. For the online range – where the participants of the netaudio field are just as active – Wenger specifies the definition of community of practice as follows:
“Every group that shares interest on a website is called a community today, but communities of practice are a specific kind of community. They are focused on a domain of knowledge and over time accumulate expertise in this domain. They develop their shared practice by interacting around problems, solutions, and insights, and building a common store of knowledge.” (Wenger 2001)
In order to demonstrate the specific and innovative form of a CoP, two examples are presented: The two researched netlabels Pentagonik and Pulsar each make up a community of practice. Their common goal is to create and foster a communal spirit among the participants. They achieve identification with the netlabel through the organization of events and other netlabel activities. Their members acquire different competences – which they need for their venture – in individual and collective learning processes by on- and offline communicating in CoPs and other configurations. This leads to participants’ ‘self formation’. The acquired competences and contacts serve as future prospects to use the knowledge to go into business for themselves later and thus earn a living (Michels 2009: 154). The statement from Don at the beginning of this contribution exemplifies the embeddedness of the communication practices in both the on- and offline worlds. The results of their collective process of negotiation reflect the full complexity of their common commitment and engagement. The project creates mutual responsibilities and commitments that impact on the team’s cultural and social practices.
At the Pulsar netlabel, the sole operator produces a communal spirit through the identification with and the commitment to his project. In this way, he has created a rather ‘large’ hierarchically-organised community of practice with hundreds of members. The limits of the Pulsar community are determined by its members, many of whom identify strongly with Pulsar. There are some strategies of community formation particularly important. The participation of the users and musicians of the platform is activated by the organization of parties and events.
“The point was to bring the people together and I noticed that it is an efficient means, not only to unite the people among themselves from the virtual area but also physically. Also there is always an exchange between Pulsar and people who are not musicians but use the platform to download things. They are also particularly important, as it brings nothing if only musicians are there” (Timor).
Thus the parties also have the function of winning new members, above all ‘listeners’ and music consumers. They are needed to evaluate the music uploaded onto the platform by the more ‘established’ musicians. Timor, the operator and web master of Pulsar, enables personal meetings through the regular organization of events, which are important for community-building, the acquaintance of new musicians, and the strengthening of connections and relations. (Michels 2009: 143).
A condition for organizing parties is the local focus. Pulsar is “obviously a phenomenon, which is limited locally. The people come from a larger radius and listen to the music, but the centre of the Pulsar community is here. It is actually a Berlin project”, whereby most members live in the Berlin districts of Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte.
The Pulsar participants often become acquainted with each other through computer mediation before they meet for the first time at a party. The “core group and the musicians who I gladly push, because I find that they are good, I got to know all of them through Pulsar” (Timor). The members of the ‘core group’ are often newcomers, but also more renowned musicians whose interest lies in presenting their music to the public.
The example of Pulsar shows the importance of the embeddedness of on- and offline communication in the actor’s everyday life. The actor ‘Internet’ helps to get and stay connected to build networks and exchange data, but the human actors are still making the rules. The outcome of the collective process in a CoP is a professionalization of the individuals through collective learning on the basis of exchange and reciprocity.
Innovative interactive technologies and communication forms emerged through the further development of the Internet. These new technologies, often summarized under term ‘web 2.0′, structure relations and cause a change in community formation. One can share – through online chatting e.g. – experiences and partake in the life of the communication partner. ‘Technogene proximity’ (Beck 2000) is produced. The participants are interconnected as soon as they go online, whereby geographical distance does not play a role. Absence from a (musical) event can be compensated for with an electronic presence, that is, ‘being online’. In this way, one can ‘catch up’ on what one missed, e.g. a live presentation or gig.
Netaudio offers reciprocation different from the kind usually found in the music business – financial capital is not on offer, but the participants gain social capital (Bourdieu /Steinruecke 1992) in the form of a communal spirit. This opens up new possibilities and the chance of collaboration and cooperation on common projects. Networking – the making of contacts, managing and taking care of relationships – is often not a conscious goal but happens naturally, and later turns out to be productive – also by increasing social capital. The netaudio field has shown that relationships are increasingly being considered as social capital and networks are instrumental in this.
For community formation, the Internet is the central actor working as a catalyst in the netaudio field: Connections are made between local scenes world-wide, direct communication is facilitated and like-minded people find each other. It offers an area of possibilities for risk-free experimentation and exchange of information as well as feedback, thereby serving artistic and professional advancement. These complex, interlaced forms are made possible by community formation and promoted by the format of netlabels and the cross-linking idea. The community formation is process-like, dynamic, project-orientated and limited in time; a continuum in permanent movement that lives from the interaction and intensive communication among the participants. They are mobile and have connections with local networks. Their relationships are to a large extent temporary, informal and amicable. Their participation is more democratic, because rules are not imposed but are mainly made by the net activists. The website is the operational centre of a netlabel. The participants, above all the operators of the netlabels, are ‘onliners’, i.e. the Internet and computers do not only belong to but are integrated into their everyday life.
Along with the two examples of Pulsar and Pentagonik, this paper showed that group-specific ‘offline contexts’, a project history and a feeling of belonging are created through offline ‘face-to-face’ meetings and common experiences in ‘communities of practice’ within the local scene in its specific urban setting on a friendly and cooperative basis. These are effectively reproduced and reconfigured through computer mediated communication in support networks, Internet related ‘communities of practice’ and core groups. In this way, on- and offline connections between the participants can be strengthened durably so that stable social relations can develop among the involved.
My thanks to Geoff Stahl, Chris Box, Jon Dickens, Mark Davies, Andi Studer, Geraldine de Bastion as well as Alessio Alencar for comments and corrections.
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 Personal interview with author 7/4/06.
 Online communication is computer-mediated, whereas offline is not.
 I use Bourdieu?s notion of field which he defines as a setting in which agents and their social positions are located. The position of each particular agent in the field is a result of interaction between the specific rules of the field, agent’s habitus and agent’s capital (social, economic and cultural) (Bourdieu 1984). More specifically, a field is a social arena of struggle over the appropriation of certain species of capital – significant in the netaudio field is the social and cultural capital, as I describe in the ethnography (Michels 2009).
 The discussed term ‘Web 2.0′ circumscribes interactive and collaborative techniques in the world wide web, such as blogs, wikis and peer-to-peer-networks.
 The term will be defined in chapter 4.4.
 See chapter 4.4 for a quote with definition of the term.
 Creative Commons is a form of licensing particularly developed for Internet contents such as texts, films and music, with it the creator can select a model and assign in this way, which rights to cede to users. www.creativecommons.org
 Willis, Paul: Paper presented at the Institute for European Ethnology in Berlin in July 2009.
 DOI= www.pulsar.cc, DOI= www.pentagonik.de, DOI= www.net-lag.de
 According to Rheingold, ‘cyberspace’ is used to designate the ‘imaginary area’ which is created by computer technologies (Rheingold 1994: 16?17).
 See also Shields (2000) and Shields (1996).
 The concept of the community formation (‘Vergemeinschaftung’) goes back to Max Weber. He defines ‘Vergemeinschaftung’ in contrast to socialization (‘Vergesellschaftung’) – largely suppo rted by Ferdinand Tönnies – as a social relationship, which is based on a feeling of belonging. In contrast, ‘socialization’ addresses the rational level of the relationship (Weber 1990/ Tönnies 1991).
 Pentagonik with its five operators is a netlabel and event organizer in Berlin. DOI= www.pentagonik.de
 Pulsar is a netlabel and music platform with an interactive element: The users, thus musicians and listeners evaluate the music tracks before they are released. DOI= www.pulsar.cc
 Personal interview with author 28/4/06. All other references are from the same interview.
 ‘To catch up’ is one of the characteristics of the network sociality according to Wittel (2001a).
On- and Offline Interlacing and Community Formation in the Netaudio Scene von Antina Michels steht unter einer Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Lizenz.
Net Map von Antina Michels steht unter einer Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Lizenz.