The Music Discussion Network (paper summary)

On March 31, 2012 at Rider University in New Jersey, I presented a paper about the Music Discussion Network (and related issues) at the American Musicological Society’s annual Teaching Music History Day.  On April 21 at Hamilton College in upstate New York, I also presented an updated version of the paper at an AMS chapter meeting.

In the first part of the paper, I discuss the idea of public musicology (open, shared, etc.), my recent return to school to study software development, and my subsequent plan to combine public musicology with web software and web content development.  I include an overview of how the Music Discussion Network is structured to include a wide variety of music, instructional videos, piece recordings, lyrics, reviews, information fields, and areas for members to contribute to discussions of specific topics.  Then, I explain how I go about making the instructional videos (which are on MDN’s YouTube channel) and how things are organized as individual topics pages on MDN itself.  I play excerpts from the instructional videos about Bob Dylan and Chopin and a clip from the music video for Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.”  In addition, I demonstrate how the dynamic, data-driven nature of MDN makes it easy to find related materials by clicking on links, searching, and browsing.

The second part of the paper covers several, non-music-related inspirations for MDN.  These include the Khan Academy, which provides over 3000 free instructional videos (mainly for high school students) on science, math, history, etc., but now also includes an art-history project (mainly for non-major undergraduates) called Smarthistory.  The Khan Academy’s videos have been viewed more than 130 million times (often as a part of “classroom flipping,” where students study such materials on their own), the system has significant financial support from the Gates Foundation and Google, it has grown to include a series of practice exercises, and it is used by a number of school boards.  Similarly, Stage 2 of MDN will include premium/paid content for university/college contexts, such as example test questions, automated online tests, ideas for essay subjects, and course-specific blogs.  Another inspiration for MDN is George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, which includes a digital history Ph.D. program, dozens of IT professionals, software tools, and involvement in more than 100 public digital history web projects, with over 13 million users per year.

Then, in the paper’s third and final part, I get into some broader issues and contexts.  For example, in his writings about digital history, CHNM’s director Dan Cohen has broached the issue of the “tribe” (validation, etc.), and I pose some related questions regarding MDN, such as whether I should concern myself with such things as conventional peer review and academic publishing.  I also address musicology’s little-discussed tenure-track (or similar) hiring rate of less than one-third and how the American Musicology Society’s new career-development guide is of almost no use in preparing for a “non-academic” career.  Cohen also discusses the importance of curation and methodology, and I argue that musicology, too, needs to start thinking about those things (for example, to develop a “digital musicology”) and about becoming more public.

Public Musicology – How to Get There

Yale University has a public humanities initiative. As one of its American Studies professors puts it: “Students have to invent their own jobs.” Similarly, a Yale historian says: “Historians have to get out and reach the broader public…the ultimate audience. … If academic historians don’t get involved, we have no right to complain about what we see at public historical sites.” A professor at another institution says: “I’m alarmed that there aren’t more people with strong history backgrounds actually doing public history.”

In a related vein, George Mason University has the Center for History and New Media, which has a Ph.D. program in digital history, dozens of IT professionals and developers, a number of original software tools, and over one hundred web-based projects with more than 16 million users annually.

“Public history” should certainly be expanded to include “public musicology” (public music history & culture, etc.). However, musicology presently exists almost exclusively within music departments, as one of a number of music sub-disciplines that focus mainly on “specialized knowledge” about classical music performance, music theory, and so on. Musicology thus almost never participates in such humanities’ contexts as Yale’s or even in what is arguably the ultimate public forum: the internet. However, it absolutely can and should!

The American Musicological Society’s brand-new professional development guide (188 pages) spends only two pages (i.e., that aren’t document samples) on the non-academic world, yet it exclusively seems to mean by that such contexts as museums. In addition, the document does not update the sample documents from the Harvard Arts & Sciences publication that it borrowed for this purpose. Those resumes and cover letter do not have anything to do with music or music graduate degrees, and they are also all nearly twenty years old.

The Music Discussion Network (MDN)

The YouTube Channel for the Instructional Videos of the Music Discussion Network (MDN) is MDN’s website is http://Music-Discussion.Net/, which includes the same videos, but also Additional Information and Links, as well as Discussion Areas. So far, I have completed instructional videos on Bob Dylan, Josquin, Laurie Anderson, Handel, Rush, Chopin, and Music in The Simpsons.

Music Discussion Network – ROI (Return On Investment)

You know you’re in the bottom of the 99%, when you have to look up the acronym “ROI,” because you truly and honestly have no idea what it means in the thing to which you’ve just been invited: a debate called “Be it resolved: That social media initiatives must pass an ROI test to be worthwhile.”
I would agree that a return on investment is necessary once one gets past the development stage of a website and its related content. However, if you’re doing something comparatively specific (, and you haven’t invested anything other than your time and expertise (because that’s what you have), the “return” would presumably involve other people participating in the website with their own time and interest, such as in discussions.