Music Circulation and Transmission in Tbilisi, Georgia

This dissertation, based upon two years research in Tbilisi, Georgia, questions how popular music travels from the performer to the audience and how it circulates among audience members. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the state-run music industry collapsed, taking the infrastructure for music distribution with it. In the years since, a music industry has not been rebuilt due to uncertain economic realities and a shaky political situation. Because of this, performers have difficulty spreading their music through the mass media or by selling it, and alternative methods have developed. The concept of distribution, often associated with the activities of the music industry, is replaced with circulation, expressing music’s de-centralized movement and the role individuals play in making music move. This dissertation establishes two spheres through which music circulates: the first is characterized by a higher level of control by the government and by businesses, and musicians have limited access to it; the second involves a lower level of control, and therefore musicians and audience members can more easily utilize it. Certain musical styles, such as estrada and ethno-music (a combination of popular and traditional styles) are favored in the first, while other styles circulate almost exclusively in the second. After describing the musical genres found in Georgian popular music and the various channels through which music circulates, the dissertation analyzes how musicians gain access to the more controlled sphere of circulation through the patronage of media professionals and of political figures. Using a framework developed from actor-network theory, the dissertation then analyzes the kinds of technological configurations in play as music circulates by tracing the movement of digital files on radio and television, the Internet, and on mobile phones. The final section explores the role that music circulation plays in building social capital. Displaying a familiarity and fondness for certain genres and styles can convey a high social status, while others are associated with lower status. Modified theories of the circulation of material culture are used to examine how music can function as a gift, thereby building communities based on shared tastes.