Delve podcast: Remix or Reinvent? How Deviance Can Drive Careers in the Creative Community of EDM, with Amandine Ody-Brasier (Read Transcript)

Delve podcast, November 18, 2022: Remix or Reinvent? How Deviance Can Drive Careers in the Creative Community of EDM, with Amandine Ody-Brasier
Robyn Fadden – host: When does deviance from the norm propel a career or stop it in its tracks? Call it law-breaking or call it creative license, in creative industries and occupations, intellectual property is a concern that can make or break reputations, careers, and companies. Ask the people working and creating in these communities whether something is deviant, illegal, or illegitimate and the answers aren’t simply yes or no, they’re varying shades of grey. In visual arts, literature, and even stand-up comedy, for example, allusions to other artists’ works are common while plagiarism is not. Yet in music and film, sampling and homage are popular, and in many cases, accepted and celebrated. The enforcement of certain norms and legalities around intellectual property in these communities isn’t always up to the law – it’s up to the community.
Robyn Fadden – host: You’re listening to the Delve podcast, brought to you by Delve, the thought leadership platform of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. I’m your host for this episode, Robyn Fadden. Thanks for listening. Desautels Professor Amandine Ody-Brassier and her co-author Xu Li discovered in their recent research that within the electronic dance music (EDM) community, norms around unlawful activities such as illegal remixes are loose and often garner support – despite EDM being global and despite each country having its own intellectual property or IP laws. Like many community-based norms, whether an artist is rewarded or chastised by the community depends on the circumstances, the artist’s status and standing, and their commitment to the community and their shared art form. Getting gigs and label deals based on a bootleg remix happens often, but not to every artist. Is it possible to make sense of why certain norms are enforced while certain deviances are celebrated? Professor Ody-Brassier and Professor Li asked that question and many more, analyzing a hand-collected dataset on the employment outcomes of nearly 40,000 DJs and producers across the world over ten years. They also talked directly to the producers, DJs, agents and club bookers themselves. Among their findings, they saw that when a deviant behavior is construed as a sincere commitment to occupational values, these lawbreakers may be rewarded with greater opportunities to advance their career.
Robyn Fadden – host: Welcome to the Delve podcast Professor Ody-Brazer. The title of your research paper is “Deviance as a Means to Build a Legitimate Career: Evidence from the EDM Industry.” Could you talk about why you and your co-author Xu Li (Soo Lee) use the word deviance and what it means in this research?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: I use the word deviance and we use the word deviance with Xu, because the advantage is that everyone understands what it means to say, ego. We know what that means. Deviance is the advantage of signaling based on the literature from sociology. And there’s a huge body of work on that, that it is all about labeling. And what I mean by this is that what you consider deviant in one community may not be viewed as deviant in another community, it is in the eye of the beholder. And that matters a lot. Because not only across communities, you’re going to have different definitions of what is acceptable, right? Think about some of the most basic practices – social norms about smoking – lots of variants. But even within the community, depending on what is driving a particular behavior, it will be labeled as deviant or not, which is what we find with, let’s say, the aspiring DJ, engaging in illegal remixing for artistic freedom, versus maybe a more established DJ who is doing it perhaps as a shock value. It’s a labeling story, we’re talking about the exact same behaviors, but they’re going to be labeled differently. And deviance is the term that allows us to signal this.
Robyn Fadden – host: Deviance is a fascinating topic, but you’re approaching it through management studies rather than sociology or psychology or law. In terms of the trajectory of your research, what inspired this particular inquiry into electronic music and the people who make it and the communities that support it?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: I’ve been interested in norms and norm enforcement for quite a while. Here, the idea was to look at how norms, which I would define as a shared understanding of the way you should be behaving, what is appropriate behavior, and it’s shared by community members. And so how do norms affect economic outcomes? Most of my research so far has been on the champagne industry. And I was very much looking at the relationship between the grape growers in Champagne and the champagne houses, because there’s a strict division of labor in this setting. And I was interested in price. So basically, a champagne house as an organization, if you deviate from expectations about what you should look like in terms of very specific features, are you managed by unoriginal descendent of the founder of the house, for example? Or if you deviate in terms of your practices from what’s expected, for instance, you go to California and you start producing sparkling non champagne wine? How is it going to affect the price you pay for your grapes? So this is something that I’ve been very excited about. But obviously, if you think more at the individual level of analysis, price in vertical exchange relation is less relevant. And one of the things that really matter, as well as career outcomes, a very important one.
Robyn Fadden – host: It’s interesting to see that there’s an occupational connection between champagne and electronic dance music. They don’t seem like they have much to do with each other on the surface, but what do they have in common when looked at from your perspective?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: If you carefully consider the two industries, really, these two are creative industries. The people who work in these industries and in these occupations (they will probably prefer that word) actually view themselves as artisans, as artists. They don’t view themselves as basic producers. And I’ve always been really excited about creative industries because they feel that it’s a space where you can really dig deeper into questions about what it means to be illegal, and what it means to be illegitimate. precisely for the reasons we described earlier, which is in artistic communities, like in visual arts or in print, it can be sometimes difficult to establish ownership. And so it’s a really fertile grounds to do that.
Robyn Fadden – host: What was the spark that made you dive into EDM with these questions about deviance and norm enforcement?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: At that time, my co author Xu Li, contacted me because he had collected a really amazing dataset on the career trajectories of DJs in across the world, so across many, many countries. And this was super exciting to me, because you might remember, but back in 2019, which is when Xu contacted me. So prior to the pandemic, there was a really cool story, which was covered by the New York Times actually, about a DJ. He was a 19 year old kid in Kazakhstan called Imanbek. And he fell in love with a song called “Roses” by an artist called Saint Jhn. And he decided that he would remix it, and that he would share it online, even though he knew. And he says so that it was completely illegal. But he loved it so much. He tried to contact St. John, who, of course, as you would expect, never really got back to him. And that song was very, very well received in the EDM community. People quite liked it, including DJs Booker’s, and he launched his career and he’s now an international DJ. And if you think about it from a no to organizational theory perspective, which is what I’m interested in my background, this doesn’t make a lot of sense that you would be able to launch a career on an illegal product. So that’s that was sort of the origin of the project.
Robyn Fadden – host: You and Professor Li looked deeply into data from an online music platform, which in itself is a kind of multi-community hub that for many years was a repository for music and meeting point for EDM artists regardless of whether they’re well-known or just starting out – anyone could create a page and share their music with the world, let people know where they’d be playing next, and so on. So you could observe their likelihood of being hired for gigs, and the type of music that they’re producing. If they produced a bootleg and then got gigs, gained some notoriety, and then went on to create official remixes and perhaps make original music, that tells really you something about deviant practices! You also conducted interviews with electronic music producers, DJs, agents, bookers and label owners around the world, in Europe, North America, China, Brazil and elsewhere. Based on all this community-oriented research, what did you find out about the practices and success of these artists in terms of making original music vs. remixes?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: The main findings were really exciting to us. And just to sort of give a little bit of background, we were really interested in understanding some of the factors that might help DJs. So EDM artists get hired for gigs. And also, the reason why it matters is really because that’s their main source of revenues, as opposed to what you can observe in other artistic fields. And we had collected data that allowed us to look at the type of artistic output that they were producing, and how it might create variance in the extent to which they were able to get gigs. So we looked at first those artists to produce what we call the original tracks. So original tracks would be music, that is from scratch, to the extent that anything can be entirely from scratch, but that would be sort of a very new track. The second category was remixes. Remixes are a very popular route, in EDM, and in many other musical genres. There is nothing particularly controversial about it. And another advantage of doing this as it’s been described to us by some of the interviewees is that it’s a bit of a fast track. So it’s a big advantage in the sense that you’re tapping in an existing pool of fans, you usually get more visibility. And you might even to some extent, make connections that could be helpful.
Amandine Ody-Brasier: But what is interesting is that there’s two ways in which you can remix. The first one is when you reach out to the original artists to get the original stems and get the copyrights approval. And oftentimes, that leads to collaborations which is helpful. And the second route is when you do not seek or obtain approval from the copyright owner, which I should add can be the artist, but can also be the label, in which case, you still go ahead, you remix, and you share the music. And that’s completely illegal. There is no doubt in most of the artists that we’ve interviewed mind that this is illegal. They know it is there’s many reasons why they may want to do it. And in fact, the reasons why they still want to do it are part of the explanation for whether they are supported or not. And what we find is that, of course, producing remixes, not very surprisingly, is more helpful to get gigs than producing original music, even after controlling for the best measure we could come up with when it comes to quality or creativity of the track. And second, more importantly, and surprisingly, we find that releasing illegal remixes bootlegs is even more helpful. And the magnitude of the coefficients in our regression analysis is significant, much more helpful than doing it legally. So doing an official remix. So the question became, what could explain this? Because if you think about it from a theoretical perspective, but also just common sense, you might expect that doing something illegal would at the very least not help you achieve your goals.
Robyn Fadden – host: Even if something is illegal or deviant, its acceptance depends on the specific community and occupations of people in it, including their status and their livelihood, but also the regulations and laws in the industry they work in and how norms are enforced and by whom.
Amandine Ody-Brasier: Really thinking about what it means to define deviance and what it means as community to decide who is more or less guilty of infringing upon acceptable behavior is really a question that’s worth investigating. So that variance in who is guilty and who is not, depending on the interpretation and the understanding of the reasons that were motivating the behavior, at least from a theoretical perspective is a really rich and interesting area real research, because that’s where you sort of see that the perceived commitment, the authenticity, to some extent of the motives for violating the law, are really a driver of decisions about how guilty you are and how good of a community member you are, you are not. And so theoretically, I think this is really exciting.
Robyn Fadden – host: Could you outline what informal norm enforcement looks like in the occupational communities you’ve studied?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: Norms are, as I defined earlier, that there really is a shared understanding of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior within a community. When we talk about norm enforcement, norms can only exist if they’re enforced and enforced, meaning the community is willing to incur some costs, whether they’re financial or whether they are emotional, to punish individuals who violate the norms. So I want to give you an example because I think it will be helpful and it’s going to be derived from two studies or three studies, actually, that I absolutely love. One by Pat Riley, who’s at UBC and one by JIRA de Stefano at Bocconi with a few colleagues, and there’s another one. But one is in stand up comedy, so again, artists, and the other one is in haute cuisine. And what’s really interesting about the setting is that if you think about it, they look at theft. So joke theft, when an artist, a stand-up comedian borrows jokes from someone else, or when a chef borrows a recipe from someone else. These are not illegal. They’re not regulated by the law, but they are very strong norms in the community about what is acceptable and what is not. And theft is really punished and punished strongly meaning like the members of the community are going to start withdrawing important information from others. They’re going to start, maybe ostracizing social media members. So when we talk about norm enforcement, this is really what we are referring to sort of internal rules that are being enforced within the community.
Robyn Fadden – host: And those norms can’t be formally set in such communities – there isn’t exactly a rulebook.
Amandine Ody-Brasier: They are considered informal. They are informal systems of rules. And usually, most scholars would agree that there are a set when a particular behavior creates negative externalities about that are going to affect negatively the rest of the community or some members of the community.
Robyn Fadden – host: What makes electronic dance music different from other occupational communities when it comes to norm enforcement and deviance?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: EDM is different from other occupational communities, even within the artistic world, in a number of ways. So if you think about, let’s say the example that I just gave, the standup comedians or the recipes of the chefs’ cuisine. Many times the practices that are being criticized are being viewed as not okay, even though they’re not illegal. They’re very immaterial, right? So you think about it as, okay, I understand the concept, but it’s very hard to establish so you can have allegations about theft, but it’s very hard to establish that this is really theft. And in a way, this creates an impediment to the law stepping in. The laws need, by definition, a way of setting the criteria for what is acceptable and what is not. And I think that the beauty of the EDM community was that in this case, it was an artistic community, there were a lot of norms within the community. But there was, I would say, also, a very established way of saying this is, you know, an illegal remix or illegal remix because the track exists, right. And so it’s sort of allowed to, to have that situation where you have a norm that is an ambition, ambiguous within the community. And we can talk about that more like how people feel about it in the community. But there’s a law that stepped in, and that in a way decided for the community, what it is that is acceptable and what is not. And so we were sort of the perfect, the perfect setup. And I would also say that, in addition to the quantitative data set at the time, my co author was located in Berlin, because he was an assistant professor at ESMT. And that really allowed us to meet members of the community and do sort of a number of interviews that would snowball and allow us to just better understand what was going on in the community? And also, why this was such an interesting question, because you could really tell that the community members have thought carefully about these questions. And so it made it even more interesting for us to, to do that. And I think perhaps a third factor that I should mention is that unlike many other artistic and or I would say musical careers, DJs in EDM really make money and make a living out of playing gigs. And so it’s not about releasing the tracks. It’s really about playing the gigs. And so because we were interested in career outcomes and the likelihood of being hired and making it, it was the perfect match for us.
Robyn Fadden – host: I’d like to dig deeper into the meanings of illegal and unlawful versus illegitimate. In your paper, you mention behavior that is illegal but not illegitimate within a community. Would you say that EDM is more quote unquote unlawful than the other artistic communities that you’ve mentioned? Would people in the community even think of it that way?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: I think there’s a lot of conceptions about the EDM community and also that notion that it’s kind of like a rebel community. And I think that’s a fair perception. Because if you think about the origin of the community, it really sort of developed originally in marginalized communities, right, so black urban communities, as well as in the gay community a long time ago. So I think that’s a fair assessment. of that being said, there’s a few ways in which I would not necessarily describe the community as lawful. And so first, I would start by saying that there’s a lot of variance across countries. So depending on whether you are focusing on Germany, where IP is strictly enforced, or the United States or the UK, versus let’s say, Russia or Argentina, it’s very different. The risk that an artist is taking varies quite a bit. But I think the second thing that I would really want to emphasize and which I think is super interesting about the findings, actually, is that within the community, releasing bootlegs, so illegal remixes is never encouraged. So under very specific conditions, some artists are receiving support and are being hired for gigs following their releasing illegal remixes. But this never becomes a norm. This never becomes the way you do things. And in that sense, it never becomes legitimate. It becomes not illegitimate, which is slightly different. It becomes tolerated. And artists who engage in the practice are somewhat supported under specific circumstances. And that’s quite different in my mind.
Robyn Fadden – host: Even though we’ve been calling it the EDM community for the purposes of this podcast and research, we really know that its made up of multiple communities around the world and even within countries and cities, as you pointed out. But overall, you’ve found connections on this theme, including reasons why some practices that are illegal are supported. What are the circumstances for supporting this devious activity?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: There are very specific circumstances under which we find that it is acceptable and supported to engage in this practice. And it’s when it signals a strong commitment to community values. So what does that mean, concretely? It means that, first of all, you are usually starting artists, you are not an established artists. Why? Because most of the time when you are starting artists, as the Eman Beck example suggested, you do not have access to the original artists you want to remix. Or you simply do not even know how to do it. Many people were saying like, I don’t even know how to clear a track. I know I’m supposed to do it. But how do you clear track, when you’re more advanced in your career, you have a team of people who can handle that if you have a label, that’s exactly what labels do. And so the expectation is that you can’t really pretend you didn’t know, because or you, you had no idea how to handle the situation, because you have the resources that should allow you to do it. And the second thing that I think matters as well, is that notion that you are taking a credible risk, and you are putting and placing the values of the community. And what I mean by this is artistic freedom, above and beyond the law. And so what do we mean by taking a credible risk? There’s various ways in which you could think about it. But the way we are measuring it for now is by looking at the strength of the IP across countries as well as IP enforcement, right? Because you might have a law, but if it’s not enforced, it’s not particularly helpful. And so what we find is that so those young artists, who are located in countries such as the UK or the US, where they are taking a credible risk, meaning they might not so much necessarily have lawsuits, but maybe their pages are taken down, so they lose their music. They might get cease and desist. These type of things. They sort of get the support of the community. So it’s a very conditional acceptance of deviance. It’s not: I’m breaking the law and that’s okay. It’s: why are you breaking the law? And how do I make sense of it?
Robyn Fadden – host: Do people in the EDM community regard these activities as illegal themselves? Or is it intellectual property law within a gray zone that’s informally built into community norms?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: What’s really interesting about the communities that, as in many artistic occupations, there is an understanding that IP matters, right? It’s not like these people do not care about their creation about what they’ve come up with. It’s very similar to if you think of other occupations, like photographers, or even journalists, they care about their ideas and own their ideas. And for a number of reasons. If you think about IP laws, there are reasons why they are here, it’s because it helps those professionals to establish your reputation and establish their business in a way, especially in an age where you have sort of digital competition. And that creates sort of uncertainty, but sometimes even the future of the profession, right? So they care, they also care a lot, because especially when they’re occupations and not professions, meaning that there are not specific rules of entry that they have to go through, it’s not like a physician, where, you know, legally, we know exactly who is allowed to perform surgery on someone. There’s regulation in terms of who can enter. And so because there’s no such barriers to entry, one way in which they can establish their professionalism, their expertise, the fact that they are unique, and that they’re different from other occupations, is by seeing that they are IP laws protecting what it is that they’ve come up with. It’s a way of valuing their work. That being said, what is important to them is being able to decide what it is that ownership means. So many. Actually, I can think of at least one interview, we put it really, really nicely. And he said, you know, who owns music, it’s not the law that determines it. And the idea is that it should be a case by case examination of the behavior, where the what was described to us as the blanket approach of the law is not suitable, and where members of the community based on their own expertise shouldn’t be able to define and to decide what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior. And that’s what I found really exciting and interesting about the way the community wants to self-regulate.
Robyn Fadden – host: I’m wondering how money and competition plays into these norms in EDM communities. If somebody makes an illegal remix, and they get attention for it and gigs for it, which other members of the community might have gotten, does that play into what unlawful activity is accepted and what isn’t?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: Again, I want to re-emphasize that some of the things that struck me in the interviews were… So first of all, the DJs are professional musicians. Most of them were classically trained. We’re not talking about individuals who are just dabbling. I mean, some of them are, but it’s not a representation of the of the community. And the second thing is that they’re relatively business savvy. They’re not completely oblivious to their ability to protect their intellectual property, and so on, and so on. Now, that being said, I think there’s two things that are important. The first one is that I think we will have a completely different prediction, if we were looking at individuals who illegally remix someone else’s work, and then post it online for sale. This is not what we’re looking at. And I’m glad you asked the question, because it’s important, right? So they’re not making money off to sell of illegal remixes. They are just sharing the work with the world. They just want people to see their work. I think there’s that sense that I find very interesting, which is we don’t need to find wait for a bigger slice of the pie, we can grow the pie. And art does that very, very well and illustrates how it can be done very, very well.
Robyn Fadden – host: Thinking about EDM mapping to other cultural or other community norms, how does EDM as a broad community of artists map to other occupational communities?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: To some extent, the EDM community enforces norms in a manner that is more coordinated than what you would observe, for example, in the champagne industry. So there are two ways that scholars have actually shown you can respond or you can, you can explain why people would go through the trouble of enforcing norms. The first one is an emotional response, an emotional response, I am angry or upset that this individual or this organization infringed upon our shared rules of appropriate behavior. This is very much what I observed in the champagne industry. It was this type of emotional response. What is clearly the odd what’s obvious in the EDM community, is that the enforcement of the norm is really about protecting the community there is that sense that we need to penalize or not let individuals steal from each other’s work without acknowledgments. But on the other hand, we need to reaffirm our jurisdiction and reaffirm that we are the experts and individuals who know how to define it as deviance. By supporting I wouldn’t say rewarding, but supporting in the face of adversity. Those artists who take a risk and who might incur negative consequences for breaking the law. And it really is sort of almost like a pro social behavior. The biggest tell for me is that even those individuals who seem to not be particularly supportive of bootleg and you go remixes tend to have some compassion, and even some suggestions that they might support those individuals who do it under very specific circumstances, and because they disagree with the law and the way the law is defined.
Robyn Fadden – host: Artistic community norms are one thing, but we’re also seeing a lot of easing of management norms and even deviance from those norms, such as moving toward hybrid work, a slight breaking down of established hierarchies, forming of unions, and so on right now. Thinking about your research, are these norms something that can be attributed to a broader sense of community in certain industries or even more broadly, to changing norms in the nature of work?
Amandine Ody-Brasier: My reading of it would actually be more that it’s not so much that we want looser norms, it’s that we want different norms, and that the workforce today or the characteristics of the workforce, and of the labor market, which is more in favor of job applicants than perhaps hires, allow allows them to express those preferences more strongly. It reminds us of the fact that norms should be evolving and norms should be following it is a shared understanding of what is appropriate and what is not. And the generational effects of what is appropriate and what is not are very clear, there are stark differences in terms of what is acceptable for the newer generations and what is not. And in a way, the norms here are lagging, they are lagging a little bit behind the expectations of the of the target population, I would say. So there’s two ways in which you can handle it, you can demand that those norms are being changed, or you can withdraw from the community. And when we talk about the great resignation, perhaps there is a little bit of that happening. Individuals who opt out of the norms of the businesses today and are expecting are expecting better. And it’s a nice way of reminding ourselves that the alignment between the different types of normative systems is never a given. It’s always something in motion, and you have to constantly adapt and adjust.
Robyn Fadden – host: Norms change and communities change as culture changes too, even if the law is slower to adjust. As Professor Ody-Brassier discussed, certain communities have norms for their own purposes of support and growth, evolving over time and generations to hold the community together and make sure that creative work is not only made but makes its mark on the world. Our guest today on the Delve podcast was Desautels Faculty of Management professor Amandine Ody-Brassier. You can find out more about her research in an article at Thank you for listening to the Delve podcast, produced by Delve, the thought leadership platform of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. You can follow DelveMcGill on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. And subscribe to the DelveMcGill podcast on your favourite podcasting app.