TOWARDS MUSIC INDUSTRY STUDIES?

I’m convinced that Music Industry Studies is an emerging and important field of scholarship. Admittedly, these are strange epithets to describe something that already exists and in which I’m heavily invested. But bear with me.

1) An emerging discipline

It’s ‘emerging’, despite the fact that there are many courses on offer in colleges and universities that serve as introductions to the music industry, some of which are even titled something like ‘Music Industry Studies‘, ‘Music Management‘, or ‘Commercial Music‘. But there are competing ideas of how these courses should be taught and the emphases they imply: broad or specific?; contemporary or historical?; local or global?; artist-focused or business-led?; theoretical or vocational?; critical or sympathetic?… I often hear criticisms from the inside to the effect that understanding how the music industry works is something that can’t really be taught (it is experiential, to use the educational jargon). Nonetheless, graduates of these courses often, in my experience,  find their way into some capacity of music work (often via internships) – only to find that the understanding they bring with them is necessarily contingent on the personal preferences and experiences of their module leaders.

Similarly, I see it as emerging right now because, even though there have been plenty of books written about different aspects of the music business over the years – academic ones, journalistic ones, novels, biographies, trashy hagiographies – it seems that we’re increasingly moving beyond the most visible and specific aspects of this world (e.g. famous executives, artists, and music) and towards thinking in terms of broader social and political trajectories. Consequently, there are convergent conversations to be had between all these different genres, as well as with others in similar fields (film, musicology, anthropology, marketing…), and a consensus of approach has yet to settle.

2) An important discipline

It’s ‘important’ for the same reasons – because it is a contested site, with multiple voices claiming ownership of it. In a world where universities spend increasing resources on knowledge exchange initiatives and academics are told they need to have ‘impact’; where a university education is no longer an elite pursuit, such that graduates and post-graduates fill entry-level work positions that do not strictly require a degree; in the same world where Google and Facebook run inductive research programmes that aren’t purely about responding to market trends; where the ideal of employment is less about a job for life than consultancy opportunities and the portfolio career (while its reality is short-term, temporary, and precarious)… In this world, establishing some sort of groundwork for productive conversations to take place between those who think and those who do – and, more importantly, understanding that those two groups are the same, so that such conversations will and should take place inside individuals as much as between them – seems to be quite a key step forward.

Ultimately, of course, it’s important because we’re talking specifically about music. And just as music can help to sell a brand, so too might it enable conversations to range across an enormous array of topics – technology, policy, industrial organisation, work, creativity, emotion, social relationships, representation, criticism, the role of academia, and so on – while still remaining coherent, accessible, and urgent. It helps us think about how what happens ‘out there’ relates quite closely to what happens ‘in here’.

So, while there are and always have been countless people from all walks of life interested in talking about the music industry, I’d suggest that only now is it really starting to be thought of as a discipline – albeit one based on interdisciplinary principles. Thinking about how this is coming to be (in terms of education, technology, political will, commercial impetus, and so on), and about the kind of conversations that might start to emerge, are the two main reasons that this blog exists.

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