Andrew Dubber

Representatives from the Interactive Cultures team are at IASPM in Liverpool on the week of the 13th to the 17th of July. If you’re going to be there too, please find us and track us down. We’ll be around most of the week, so there’s a good chance you’ll meet Tim, Jez, Dubber (that’s me), Simon and Paul.

And there’s something in particular we want to talk about.

You will, of course, be familiar with the following ways of thinking about Popular Music.

Music As Commerce
Most policy decisions around copyright and ‘the industry’ are predicated on the idea of music as a commercial exchange. Property rights and the financial impact thereof are hotly debated, fiercely guarded – especially in this age of digital media – and that profoundly impacts upon what ends up constituting Popular Music.

Music As Text
Musicologists and critics examine composed, completed and recorded works. The poetry of a Joni Mitchell song. The discography of Bob Dylan. The latest Kylie single. A dubstep remix.

Music As Catharsis
The romantic-era notion of the artistic work being a wholly original outpouring – a byproduct of the aritst’s urge to create and lay bare the soul – is still a popularly held idea: that music is pure artistic expression.

Those are interesting conversations, of course, and we’re more than happy to engage in them. But there’s something we’re particularly excited about, and think that because it’s not considered often enough, all of the other ways in which popular music are considered are under considerable risk.

Music As Culture
Music is shared. It belongs to all people. It’s part of the ongoing conversation that makes us who we are, and is expressed through our behaviours, our dress, our affiliations and our sense of identity. Music is not simply also cultural – it is primarily cultural.

We believe that most musicians create primarily out of cultural motivations, and in response to a particular cultural milieu – and that while the commercial benefits are critically important (and we do understand the imperative for music to create economic reward), this is not the purpose of music.

Importantly, Music As Culture is not sufficiently represented by lobbying voices at a policy level and so important decisions are being made without consideration for the cultural aspect of music.

When commerce is the only consideration, we believe the cultural, social, intellectual and artistic life of the citizenry suffers. Innovation suffers and the creative economy is hamstrung as a result. The purpose of copyright – to incentivise creativity and enrich society’s public domain of works and ideas has been (not to put too fine a point on it) perverted.

For instance, the vast majority of all recorded works ever released (estimates place this in excess of 90%) are not currently commercially available in any form. This represents a phenomenal wealth of cultural capital that is locked away and inaccessible simply because it is not considered commercially expedient for the labels to make it available, and there is no incentive or imperative for them to do so.

I’m in the process of writing a book about that very phenomenon.

In addition, scholars and archivists are unable to preserve, develop, access and expand knowledge around works that are bound in restrictive copyrights. As a result, when approached from a purely economic perspective, understanding of popular culture becomes limited and the commercial interests and profit motives of entertainment corporations are held to be more significant than the growth of human knowledge and understanding.

The texts are locked away from those who could learn and teach from them.

These are critical issues for a healthy, creative and vibrant nation wishing for competitive advantage in the 21st century. And it’s important that we discuss these things.

Anyway – we’re quite fired up about it, and we think it’s an important discussion to be having – especially in this context. We’re keen to get together over drinks or in the breaks in the conference as individuals or all in a group – whether it’s just a chat or a big summit meeting.

Yes, this sounds more like advocacy than scholarship – but as scholars of popular music, I can think of no more urgent topic for us to be grappling with. We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say on the matter.

See you at IASPM!

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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