Week 1: Intro

About Me

So, I’m Shelley; I have worked as a freelancer in music and culture for about 12 years, in music management, tour management, band management, events, festivals, online radio and research. My particular interest has always been creating music, bands and events which were unique and collaborative, often cross-cultural and looking at how audiences consume music, sometimes trying to change it. Lots of boring spreadsheet and finance work alongside lots of creativity means a constant balancing act that is the symptom of doing some projects for the love and others for the money. After much balancing of plates, I realised I needed a break from ‘the industry’ and am keen to research, write, analyse and put into practice some other points of view and get back to why music matters to me and how music has profound meaning and purpose in everyday life.

Looking ahead at the course –  Production, Distribution and Consumption

The Music as Popular Culture course examines the role of production, distribution and consumption of music as a continuing thread that weaves in and out of some deeper topics. In week 1 we explored ‘Constructing Histories of Popular Music’, clearly rooted in the consumption of music, whilst simultaneously and unavoidably delving into the areas of production and distribution of it. How music got from A to B, in an arguably ‘totalising’ way, but nevertheless exploring the ‘history’. Week 2 goes on to examine Music Heritage, another area focusing on consumption, but the first two components of music are always lingering in the background, such is the chain of music’s creation. Popular Music as Archives (week 3), Popular Music as Meaning (week 4), Identity (week 7), Digital Music Consumption and Data (week 9), Music and Materiality (week 6) and Music Cultures and Musical Activism (week 8) are all laced with consumption, but again have a value in the production and arguably distribution, at least as a background note. Music and the Moving Image (week 5) I would say is mostly related to Distribution, though it also becomes part of the production to make a film what it is (would Pulp Fiction even be watchable without the killer soundtrack?). Music Radio (week 11) must surely involve all three components in equal measure, and Songwriting and the Recording Industry (week 10) has the emphasis mostly on production, but distribution and production play a huge part in the process. So, in summary, they are all interlaced, like overlapping spheres of interest.

My experiences of Production, Distribution and Consumption

I have been involved in all three aspects mentioned. I have conceptualised collaborative music projects and co-produced the actual music, after introducing bands and outlining ideas with them and musical direction, leading to studio time and recording tracks (analogue!). I have also helped distribute music, working for small labels and bands themselves in getting music played and sold to larger markets. In one instance, this lead to a trip to LA, as a radio station there really liked a local artist, and after buying about 100 copies of the album to sell to listeners as part of a drive time package, invited the artist over to do a live set. And, like the vast majority of humans, I have been involved in the consumption of music, as a listener. I would say doing events I have also worked on the other side of consumption, creating atmospheres and landscapes for good consumption to occur. Whether my example of music production or distribution would qualify as ‘popular music’ participation is dubious though. Neither artists in my examples made a ‘mainstream’ impact in the sense that you will catch it archived by the BBC anytime soon. Perhaps my production work at events such as Glastonbury would be a more apt example here.

‘Popular’ and my relationship to it

There are different definitions of the term ‘Popular’, but if we are going to go for ‘of the people’, as a good starting point, and add ‘mainstream’, widely listened to and available, a ‘hit’ or a ‘household name’ as back ups, we start to get a picture of its common meaning when we talk about music, though the phrase brings with it semantic dilemmas. For me, popular music is still a song or composition that is shared with the majority, so when we are formulating repertoire for our ‘pop choir’, though we try and stick in some lesser known gems, the intergenerational group will soon let us know if this is a ‘popular song’, and still prefer the better known ones, as something familial always seems to comfort them. I have personally always been on a mission to get people to hear new things, especially from local sources, but I have a respect for ‘popular music’ in some sense, especially in that it creates a shared identity which manifests at gigs. My personal feeling is that pop was better in the past and is now at a stage of such homogenisation that it is has gone beyond eating itself and is now a characature of music, largely thanks to the X Factor. But then there always was formulae and a star maker machinery behind the popular song, so it might be that I am just getting old.

It’s clear from watching the Crass documentary, particularly after digesting the set reading, that the ‘totalising’ of punk history as a Sex Pistols / Clash affair far from hits the mark for many involved in the anarcho-punk scene. There are subtle and not so subtle nods to a very different ideology, point of view and history for many people involved in the scene, and the documentary aims to illuminate (as Matt Grimes put it) and re-evaluate the current canon. For authenticity, you’d have to check with other people who were there, and there are no doubt swathes of people involved in the punk scene and its anarcho-punk offshoots whose stories remain undocumented, so in that sense there will always be gaps in the story.  It’s healthy though that people try to de-canonise the presumptive and narrow music historians, a situation which is prevalent in all aspects of social history.

Personally, I am a huge fan of music documentaries, my favourite being Respect Yourself: The Story of Stax Records, which positions a record label in Memphis in a time of social upheaval in America, juxtaposing structural influences alongside cultural ones, ultimately looking at how music remained outside of the perimeters of racial warfare and political unrest, and even improved social relations in some sense. This type of documentary looks at a musical movement, whilst other, like Amyabout the late Amy Winehouse, offer an individual life story. As a viewer, we are in danger of falling into the trap of being presented with a full history, which is, of course, impossible. We are always watching a film makers vision, a piece of art, a point of view, an author-driven project. The Britannia series, as well as the ‘rockumentary’ style, all-encompassing totalising histories, like The Joy Of Disco, are often full of sweeping statements to fit a given narrative. Amy (2015) won awards, yet had Winehouse’s father and fiance reeling from their point of view not being included. It shows a good example of not being able to please everyone, but how key players in a given story are left feeling resentful over misrepresentation. Look at the sanctification of Sharon Osbourne, who appears on X Factor and is seen as a music mogul. Many industry stories about her are vile, but the totalising of her character renders her a modern day role model.

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