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Performing Music Production

Congratulations to Jonathan Gander who has been studying part-time for a PhD. Jonathan had a viva with Don Slater from LSE and Andrew Leyshon from Nottingham University, and he passed with only minor corrections. Well done Dr Gander.

The thesis title is: Performing Music Production: Creating Music Product

The abstract is:
The purpose of this thesis is to investigate a particular form of cultural production; the creation of musical product, the pop song. Previous accounts have been dominated by casting the process as one of transmission; the music of the artists is captured in a recording and the resulting object is released into the market. I argue that this portrayal of cultural production as a pipeline directs attention towards activities at either end; the recruitment of talented artists and the distribution and promotional efforts of the record companies. What happens in the ‘pipe’, how the product is created, is concealed, explained away by reference to stylised notions of the hidden hands of technological and economic forces or the operation of unknowable creative talent. To open up this ‘blackbox’, an approach not previously applied to popular music production is used; actor-network theory. This thesis traces the formation and performance of moments in the production of musical product; songwriting, recording, mixing, mastering and live performance. Tracing the production of music is carried out through analysis of interviews conducted with the protagonists; the producers, engineers, studio managers and artists, and is supported by observation of studio sessions.

The principal argument that I develop in the thesis is that musical product is not a discrete ‘thing’ to be diffused, but a networked entity indissociable from the roles and identities, qualities and practices of others that constitute and perform the production, reproduction and consumption of popular music. Accordingly in this thesis musical product is revealed as an achievement, not an a priori fact, and I examine how its constructed qualities are stabilised and shape the network of production and consumption. Following the construction of these qualities reveals how the various interests of the protagonists are translated through their enrolment in practices and systems of calculation into relational arrangements that perform the power of the producer. The contribution of this research lies not just in making visible what has previously been obscured, but also in the way that it illustrates the value in analysing organised activity as a performative association of relationally constructed roles, objects, and qualities, of, in this case, the musical product, colloquially known as ‘a pop song’.

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