SIGNAL BOOST: Call for Papers on Isolated Music Scenes

Happy Friday, everyone! I have a pair of massive new entries on the way – one which goes through the third week and conclusion of my Australia excursion, another which breaks down a pretty big announcement about a new position I will begin next month – but in the meantime, please check out this call for papers from Dr. Chrissy Ballico, an Australian friend and colleague in music studies. Her youth spent in Perth, the world’s most isolated major city, inspired a project on how music scenes proliferate (or don’t) in remote locations, especially in the age of the internet. Take a look at the CFP below and contact Dr. Ballico with any questions. – Ty

FROM DR. CHRISTINA BALLICO

I’ve had a few slots open up for contributions to an edited collection on geographically isolated and peripheral music scenes. I’m particularly interested in bringing in diverse perspectives beyond the UK/ North America and Australia/ NZ dialogues I currently have, and am particularly keen to provide this opportunity to female academics. Please see below, and if you are interested please send your abstract to cballico@gmail.com by Wednesday August 21, 2019. Full chapters will be due October 31st, 2019.
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Despite advancements in technology facilitating an ease with which geographical distance can be overcome, coupled with a shift away from a reliance on core creative centres for a range of creative and business services, peripheral and geographically isolated contemporary music scenes continue to face a range of challenges which impact upon the ways in which they connect with new audiences and industry beyond their home locale. This ranges from needing to make higher investments of time and money, to having to overcome attitudinal and cultural barriers in order to be viewed as worthy of prominent attention. More broadly, geographic isolation also impacts upon the ways in which culture can flow into these scenes, particularly in the live music setting. At the same time, however, this distance can also result in a range of benefits to these scenes in relation to the ways in which they are structured and how they function locally. This includes cultivating a recognition of the need to support one another, a high degree of expertise and skills concentrated on a small number of workers and a tight network of spaces, as well as the development of a strong work ethic to make the most of opportunities when they arise.
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With a particular focus on the below themes, proposals based on place-specific music scene and industry research are now being invited from scholars around the world:
  • How do these scenes construct themselves in relation to larger, ‘core’ scenes?
  • What role do social networks and Communities of Practice play in the functioning of these scenes?
  • How do temporal and financial barriers impact being able to connect with audiences and industry beyond musicians’ home locale?
  • What role does migration and mobility play in ongoing career development?
  • How has social media broken down barriers to larger centres?
  • What role have governments played in overcoming the isolation faced by musicians and industry?
  • How do industry workers navigate their careers in these centres?
 
Proposals for chapters should consist of a title and abstract (of no more than 250 words), bio (of no more than 100 words), affiliation and email address and be sent to cballico@gmail.com by Wednesday August 21, 2019.
 
Full chapters will be due October 31st 2019 and be 6- 7,000 words in length.
 
Please note that only abstracts that closely fit the theme will be considered.
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Condition: Jawbreaker

41o2-subljl-_sx364_bo1204203200_I recently read Ronen Givony’s book on Jawbreaker’s 1994 album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series), which I highly recommend to anybody interested in the pre-internet circulation of underground music. While it’s so easy to wax poetic and nostalgic about 20th century pop culture, Givony illuminates the dark side of that era. The backlash that Jawbreaker faced for signing to a major label was downright savage. As many of their friends and colleagues have implied, it would likely not have mattered if it had happened five years earlier or later; the conditions in 1995 were just right for righteous indignation among their fans.  The Dismemberment Plan, who I’ve focused a lot of my music writing on, followed a similar early-to-the-party/first-to-leave timeline (though it took Jawbreaker 21 years to reunite, whereas the Plan reunited in earnest within 8).

Givony’s Jawbreaker story made my jaw drop exactly twice.

1979970_700682193307329_4809697842692758554_oFirst, I was genuinely amazed to discover that their bassist Chris Bauermeister went to high school in my hometown. He grew up in a German-speaking household in Connecticut and attended a prep school in Madison that closed down in 1991. I only have vague memories of the school; my mom recently told me she voted in the town’s referendum on whether to purchase the property (with the school building on it). I didn’t have any real overlap with Chris, who graduated and moved away to New York in 1985, the year before my family moved to town. Still, it’s a remarkable coincidence considering how (1) I always considered Jawbreaker to be a quintessential San Francisco band, and (2) I tended to assume nothing cool ever came out of my hometown. It’s taken half a lifetime away, a PhD dissertation, and some sprinkled-in hindsight to realize how wrong I was about that. Also, the youngest person to graduate from Hammonasset is in their mid-forties now.

Second, in the middle of a “get off my lawn” screed about the contemporary state of the music industry, Givony drops an incisive observation that I think bears block-quoting here (emphasis mine):

In the music and media industries today, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a band in possession of a good single must be in want of a fortune. In a time when almost no one still buys albums, and tens of thousands of streams will earn a band pennies, the reasoning goes, artists deserve to get paid any way they can manage, and rightly so. Who are we to blame them if the only people still paying musicians their true worth are corporate advertising and branding companies? It’s a difficult claim with which to argue, which is why almost no one ever still does.

As much as I balked at the assertion that “almost no one still buys albums” (pressing plants wouldn’t be backed up to hell if that were true), this bold statement hit me like a ton of bricks. The idea that musicians can only make a healthy living through licensing (title idea: Better Living through Licensing) has been analyzed comprehensively at this point. Todd in the Shadows broke it down beautifully in this video late last year. However, the specific angle that corporations were the only ones either capable of (or willing to) pay musicians their true worth has been banging around in my head for days. I am steadfast that Google and Spotify have both been instrumental in institutionally and purposefully devaluing music to create a paradox in which artists would be beholden to them. I’m aware that music piracy on the internet long pre-dates either of those companies, and label heads were freaking out over cassette tapes much more in 1987 than they were over MP3.com in 1997 (Thanks, Telecom Act!). Regardless, whether people want to pay for music is not the issue. That so many people feel entitled to not pay for music, or even own it, is noteworthy. Then again, this is nothing new, and people have still not slowed at creating art. Artists, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964, always have the advantage since they are sitting at the point of creation:

In the history of human culture there is no example of a conscious adjustment of the various factors of personal and social life to new extensions except in the puny and peripheral efforts of artists. The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs.

We can’t travel back to the point in time when 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was created, but fortunately the internet has enabled the next best thing: virtual flânerie! Here is some Super-8 footage that Adam Pfahler found of the trio driving around their adopted neighborhood in 1992. Just like Jawbreaker encapsulated the pre-internet era of underground America in their music, this video does well to provide a peek into pre-Google, pre-Facebook San Francisco, when the Mission was cheap and bursting with potential. Also, it gives “Boxcar” the long-overdue music video it deserves.