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Bytes and Backbeats: Repurposing Music in the Digital Age

by Steve Savage

University of Michigan Press, 2013


eISBN: 978-0-472-02773-6

OA eISBN: 978-0-472-90118-0

Cloth: 978-0-472-11785-7

Paper: 978-0-472-03553-3

About the Book

From Attali's "cold social silence" to Baudrillard's hallucinatory reality, reproduced music has long been the target of critical attack. In Bytes and Backbeats, however, Steve Savage deploys an innovative combination of designed recording projects, ethnographic studies of contemporary music practice, and critical analysis to challenge many of these traditional attitudes about the creation and reception of music. Savage adopts the notion of "repurposing" as central to understanding how every aspect of musical activity, from creation to reception, has been transformed, arguing that the tension within production between a naturalizing "art" and a self-conscious "artifice" reflects and feeds into our evolving notions of creativity, authenticity, and community.

At the core of the book are three original audio projects, drawing from rock & roll, jazz, and traditional African music, through which Savage is able to target areas of contemporary practice that are particularly significant in the cultural evolution of the musical experience. Each audio project includes a studio study providing context for the social and cultural analysis that follows. This work stems from Savage's experience as a professional recording engineer and record producer.

About the Author

Steve Savage teaches musicology in the humanities department at San Francisco State University and is an active record producer and recording engineer. He has been the primary engineer on seven records that received Grammy nominations.


"Steve Savage's book is a compelling argument for the recordist as musician. Firmly grounded in his own professional practice and illustrated with concrete examples, Bytes  Backbeats shows how technology has created new modes of working together and reshaped the basic concepts through which we think musically. Positioning the recordist at the heart of music and music at the heart of digital culture, Savage has whipped up an intellectual as well as a musical feast."
—Nicholas Cook, University of Cambridge

— Nicholas Cook

Winner: American Library Association (ALA) Choice Outstanding Academic Title
— ALA Choice Outstanding Academic Title

"...important for those in the growing fields of music-industry, recording, and commercial-music imprtant contribution to the literature.Essential."  - T.R. Harrison, Jacksonville University, Choice
— -

"...important for those in the growing fields of music-industry, recording, and commercial-music imprtant contribution to the literature. Essential." 
—T.R. Harrison, Jacksonville University, Choice

— T.R. Harrison, Choice

"Savage sheds new light on concerns that have been around since the beginning of recorded music. His extraordinary insights into improvisation in recorded music adds new dimensions to composition, performance, listening and more."
—William D. Moylan, University of Massachusetts Lowell

— William D. Moylan

"Steve Savage’s work... offers a compelling reminder of the need to think critically about the relationship today between people, music, and technology; though unbalanced in places, his is an optimistic account that places human agency and collaboration at its heart."
Music and Letters— Roddy Hawkins, Music and Letters

"Bytes  Backbeats is a rare find: a book on music technology that demonstrates both an intimate knowledge of modern sound recording practices and a profound understanding of the digital revolution in music.  Steve Savage, an experienced recordist and a keen scholar, must be one of the few people who can explain how to remove 'lipsmacks' from an audio track in one sentence and in the next draw upon the landmark writings of Roland Barthes or Walter Benjamin to illuminate the ramifications of such seemingly mundane practices.  That he does so in clear, elegant prose makes this book all the rarer.  Bytes  Backbeats is an excellent book, and should be in the hands of musicians, engineers, producers, and students--anyone who cares deeply about the intersections of music, technology, and culture."
—Mark Katz, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

— Mark Katz

Tracking Pop, Sound recordings, Media Studies, Music, History & Criticism, Social Science
Open Access Information

Label: Knowledge Unlatched

License: CC BY-NC-ND