Academic Writing About Popular Music

Academics writing on subjects that are of interest to a non-academic audience–like popular music–often struggle with how to make complex ideas accessible to those who care most about the artists and music we write about.  We are incredibly privileged to have been a able to spend years of our lives studying musical sound, or cultural theory, or history (music history, or other relevant histories) or any number of other things that, hopefully, allow us to write about a subject from a place of considerable depth and understanding. In some cases, like my own, we have studied in all of these areas, as well as learning everything there is to know about the artist we’re writing about; in many cases, we’re also fans. Academic work is not the be all and end all, the last or even necessarily the best word on a subject; it is one perspective, but it is a perspective that comes out of years of study and very careful thought.  The idea is to move arguments and ideas about the artist and or the music ahead, to try to understand complex art in a new way.  If this work is published in an academic source, such as a journal or University Press, it has almost certainly gone through a peer review process, which means that other academics have read drafts of the work, anonymously, offered their criticism of it, and made suggestions about how it needs to be improved before it’s published.  If it doesn’t meet certain standards, then it doesn’t get published.  Some of these sources are either not widely accessible or they cost money to access because it costs money to produce those journals (this time consuming process costs money).  None of this money goes to the author. In fact, even when we write books, we receive very little in royalties, even if we’re writing about a very popular artist. This is not how academics make a living.  We are paid a salary by a university (if we’re lucky to have a full time job) and as part of that job, we are expected to publish in peer reviewed venues.  We think and write because that’s what we love to do, not because we want to make money from it. In many cases it takes years of careful thought before our work gets published. We do not hold the copyright to the works we publish so we can’t distribute them ourselves.  We publish in these venues because they have a reputation for publishing scholarly work of the highest quality.  This still needs to matter, even at a moment when we could just as easily write up a blog post or self publish a book. It’s not the same thing.  There’s cetainly room for all of these ways of writing, but we need to know how to distinguish among them.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments