Sonic Sensations of Industry and Fandom at VidCon 2015

As a sociologist of work, my main research focuses on workplace experiences and labor/management relations in media industries. This includes service workers and engineers in the music industry as well as YouTube content creators and routine, “analytic” media workers. In an effort to gain a better understanding of how the digital media industry talks about itself, I took a drive down to Anaheim for the annual VidCon in July 2015. For those of you who don’t follow digital media, VidCon is a cross between an industry conference and a fan convention for digital video platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) and various corporations that have sprung up around said platforms (e.g., Maker, Machinima, FullScreen, Studio 71, MiTú, Stylehaul, Roosterteeth, etc.)


Equipped with a beat-up Sony MP3 recorder and a notebook, I went there to take it all in. A much-too-tan man told a crowd that he would provide us with some “real anthropology.” Another, older gentleman told industry crowds about “limbic resonance” – claiming that media must make affective, neurological connections in order to keep audiences anchored to their screens. A number of people spoke of something called “disruption” in something called “the space” – a curiously Bourdieuian metaphor for what we might simply call “industry.” A global banker played a video of himself as Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” that ended with the banker urging media companies to “Keep Merging My Friends!” A venture capitalist told industry crowds that American-made content “travels well” and so I thought, “Hey, I’m American! Why be an academic when I could ‘disrupt’ the limbic regions of millions with snackable digital content?!” Really, it was all quite fascinating and just a bit frightening.

As much as that might rattle the cage of your inner Frankfurt school theorist, I found the differences in sonic sensation between the fan floor (Floor 1) and the industry floor (Floor 3) equally interesting. Both were quite loud, but for different reasons that you’ll hear in the sound assemblage above.

Forgive the poor sound quality. Think of it as an artifact of sound technology (a now vintage 2009 MP3 recorder) used to document a very contemporary mass public.

0:00 – 2:02
The recording begins on Floor One – the cheapest to enter ($55 fan pass). Mostly young women in attendance down there in Anaheim. The cheapest floor has the brightest lights and the loudest sounds.

2:03 – 3:01
Ascend to Floor Three for industry talks and complimentary food (if you’re there on time and have purchased a $500 industry pass). In this recording fragment, you cannot hear the light EDM and hip-hop played in between speaker sessions inside the auditorium. What you do hear is the roaring chatter of digital video industry executives, employees, and a few straggler academics like myself. Just before a break for drinks, an executive from YouTube lets us all know that we can spend an unlimited amount of time inside a cardboard box with Google written on its side[1] for “free” so long as we make sure to pick it up.

[1] Google Cardboard

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