Burt Bacharach

I’m a bit late acknowledging Burt Bacharach’s passing last week. However, one of my earliest memories, along with watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on TV, was hearing B. J. Thomas’s recording of Bacharach and Hal David’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” on the radio. I did eventually see the movie for which it was written: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Unfortunately, I somehow eventually became a musicologist. Happiness did not step up to greet me.

Durrell Bowman – Unaffiliated Scholar (Ph.D. in Musicology) and FedEx Ground Delivery Agent


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Performance Studies conference

I’m interested in proposing a paper for the 2016 Performance Studies Network conference at Bath Spa University. However, would the subject matter of my forthcoming listener’s guide to the music of thirty-year Bath area resident Peter Gabriel actually count? His “diverse, interdisciplinary developments,” “global perspective,” and so on certainly do seem to fit the themes of the conference, even though all of the confirmed activities are so far restricted to contemporary art music and world music. How could I afford to go, though?

Ageism in Musicology? – The 2015 Hiring Statistics

Is it likely that ageism is at play in the fields of musicology and ethnomusicology? I’ve just had a look at the 2014-15 Musicology/Ethnomusicology Wiki. Including the temporary/visiting positions and the handful of post-doctoral fellowships, the two fields produced 82 full-time positions this year. Of the 73 positions for which we know the person hired and giving 2016 as the benefit-of-the-doubt-year for the six hired ABD (all but dissertation), the average PhD year is 2012.5. That number includes outliers from 1998 (someone I know), 2003 x 2 (not including me, sadly), and 2006, but everyone else who was hired in 2015 completed his or her PhD between 2008 and 2016. The most hired-from year is 2014, and the 57 people in the five years from 2012 to 2016 represent 78% of the hires.

My earlier research shows that there are around 375 new PhDs produced in musicology and ethnomusicology each year. So, the backlog of career-age music scholars who have not ended up in full-time academic employment must number at least several thousand. Lots of older scholars continue to apply for full-time academic positions, but publishing books and articles, presenting conference papers, and/or working as a part-time adjunct instructor apparently makes very little difference. Promising, newly-minted thirty-year-olds almost always win out over experienced fifty-year-old PhDs. It’s impossible to prove for sure that ageism exists in all of this, but the statistics simply speak for themselves.

If at first you don’t succeed … you won’t!

Musicology & Ethnomusicology Job Outcomes

I recently undertook research using the websites of 146 graduate programs in musicology and ethnomusicology: 104 in the U.S., 13 in Canada, 16 in the UK, and 13 elsewhere.  Of the relevant university departments, 37 provide lists of their current graduate students, from several to as many as 58.  My investigation resulted in a list of 822 M.A. and Ph.D. students enrolled in those 37 programs in early 2013, thus averaging just over 22 per program.  About two-thirds of those students are in Ph.D. programs and many (though not all) of the M.A. students will continue into Ph.D. work, but how many academic music graduate students (i.e., a lot more than those 822) are likely to get jobs in academia?

The average time in graduate school (for people who complete it) is probably six or seven years, taking into account not only terminal master’s degrees but also those Ph.D. candidates who take longer.  The Musicology & Ethnomusicology Job Wiki goes back a little over six years (for jobs starting between 2007 and 2013), which is pretty much an identical amount of time.  So, a reasonable estimate of how many graduate students are likely to end up with jobs in the field (tenure-track, visiting/one-year, 2-3 year, or postdoctoral fellowship) can be ascertained by calculating the ratio of each institution’s recent academic-job placement outcome to its current graduate-student population.  Most academic hires have not yet been announced for the upcoming school year, so I factored in 2013 as a third of a year (thus, 6.33 years in total), based on the information available to date.

The following are the eleven most successful departments of the 37, based on the ratio of academic-job placements from 2007-13 relative to each institution’s number of enrolled graduate students in early 2013:

  1. 217% – New York U.
  2. 120% – The U. of Texas at Austin
  3. 100% – Columbia U.
  4. 65% – UCLA (Musicology) – for all Ph.D. graduates from 1991 to 2013, the rate is 38% (or 42% lower)
  5. 62% – Harvard U.
  6. 55% – Cornell U.
  7. 50% – UC Santa Barbara
  8. 44% – U. of Illinois
  9. 40% – UC Davis
  10. 38% – Stanford U.
  11. 38% – U. of Michigan

The placement rates for academic jobs starting in the past 6-7 years of the next seventeen programs (relative to their early-2013 graduate student populations) range from 31% down to 2%.  Those are:

  1. 31% – U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  2. 29% – Eastman School of Music, U. of Rochester
  3. 25% – U. of Chicago
  4. 24% – U. of Virginia
  5. 22% – U. of Nottingham
  6. 21% – Princeton U.
  7. 20% – Brandeis U.
  8. 20% – U. of Pittsburgh
  9. 17% – U. of Colorado
  10. 15% – U. of North Texas
  11. 14% – Boston U.
  12. 13% – Brown U.
  13. 12% – UCLA (Ethnomusicology)
  14. 10% – Indiana U.
  15. 10% – U. of Oxford
  16. 2% – King’s College, London
  17. 2% – U. of Cambridge

In addition, the final nine programs do not appear to have been at all successful in placing people in academic positions.  Overall, relative to the 822 current graduate students in those 37 musicology and ethnomusicology programs (in early 2013), the average subsequent placement out of those programs into academic positions from 2007 to early 2013 (6.33 years) is:

  • 22.6% – in tenure-track positions
  • 6.7% in temporary (occasionally renewable) positions or postdoctoral fellowships

for a total of 29.3%.  Using UCLA Musicology’s statistic of 42% lower in academic outcomes in early 2013 for 23 years’ worth of Ph.D.s (compared to the outcomes for the six or seven years from 2007-13 and thus excluding earlier temporary positions) suggests a more “career length” success rate into academic careers for these 37 departments of only 17%.

Of the people newly hired between 2007 and 2013, only a tiny fraction were outliers:  hired at senior levels (thus having been graduate students well before 2007) or appearing two or three times (because of multiple temporary positions and/or postdoctoral fellowships).  In addition, some people were hired before completing their Ph.D.s (“ABD” – “All But Dissertation”), and a few searches did not succeed (i.e., they failed, were cancelled, or were extended).  However, those last two factors are virtually irrelevant for purposes of this study, because an ABD generally has to complete his or her dissertation with a year or two of landing a job, and no-one ends up being hired for a job that no longer exists.

Most musicology and/or ethnomusicology university programs (including a number of major, large ones) do not include the type of graduate-student information used in this study.  It is likely, though (given 146 programs), that there are currently around four times as many graduate students in those fields than the 822 (in 37 programs) accounted for here:  so, more than 3,200.  About 500 people must enter and exit graduate programs in musicology and ethnomusicology every year.  However, there was only an average of 75 new academic jobs per year in those fields between 2007 to 2012—and that includes non-tenure-track positions, temporary teaching positions, and postdoctoral fellowships.

Musicology and ethnomusicology need to cut back substantially on their number of graduate students, possibly reduce their number of graduate programs (and certainly refrain from adding new ones), and, especially, make a concerted effort to address what other types of work could be done by their many colleagues who do not end up in academic positions.  As an example of how poorly this is done, the American Musicological Society’s official career-advice document (revised in 2011) is 195 pages long but includes only a few, scant pages about non-academic careers (borrowed from other disciplines, decades out of date, and almost completely useless).

Academic music societies do not include information in their directories pertaining to the student-status and/or variable- (including non-) career situations of their members—supposedly for “privacy” reasons, but actually because they need to believe that everything already works correctly and that almost everyone ends up in a tenure-track position.  They also don’t have websites that allow their membership communities to contribute directly.  These fields need to do much, much better.

A Digital End-Run around Musicology

I’ve been struggling for quite some time as to how to proceed with a combination of music scholarship and information technology. I have a Ph.D. and work experience in musicology (including research and courses taught on popular music and film & TV music), but I also have a Certificate and work experience in software development (including a web database project for the American Musicological Society).

My first attempt at a Digital Public Music History & Culture, the Music Discussion Network (MDN), would have resulted in a member-based community open to the public to post links to pieces of music, fill in relevant information fields, and participate in discussions about that music. It would have been paid for through annual fees of $40 per member (a cart mechanism was incorporated into the site), and I also experimented with on-site ad placements (i.e., about music, but it never worked very well). The first incarnation of MDN, however, never made it past its beta-testing stage in the summer of 2011.

My second attempt, the Music Discussion Network mark II (MDN2, now at http://music-scholars.net/mdn), was inspired by the Khan Academy (instructional materials for high-school students in math, science, etc., at http://khanacademy.org) and its humanities sub-site Smarthistory (an art history web-book mostly used by university students, at http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org). The Khan Academy is free, public, and funded by multi-million-dollar educational-foundation support from the Gates Foundation, Google, and so on. It has delivered 225 million lessons to people all over the world (including discussions, etc.), and even Smarthistory (which was originally developed at other institutions) has had 5 million visits. For MDN2, in late 2011 and early 2012 I made eleven music instructional videos of about 10-15 minutes, but each of those took about 20-25 hours create. Without institutional affiliation (i.e., unemployed), it seemed extremely unlikely that I would be able to (1) build a full system without getting other scholars to collaborate on it with me or (2) monetize my efforts, such as by making its materials available for purchase by students enrolled in specific courses at colleges and universities.

My third attempt, the Music Scholars Network (MuSNet, http://music-scholars.net), tried to combine MDN and MDN2, but according to a member-contributed subscription model geared specifically towards music academics, including adjunct instructors and graduate students. The site thus included job postings, calls for papers, teaching materials (such as my instructional videos from MDN2), conference information, research activities, and so on, and discussions possible for all posted items. MuSNet had a substantial portion of its materials available to the public, but only its members would be allowed to add or discuss things. It offered a 1-2 month free trial, then a modest membership fee of $30 per year (incorporated via PayPal). A web survey suggested that some music scholars would be willing to pay a small amount for such a thing, but it was never clear that this could become a viable business that would grow beyond more than a few hundred members. Very few music scholars have the time or energy to participate in such a thing and it is also not how they expect to do things, so it actually makes much more sense to focus instead on building something useful for interested members from within the vastly larger public of music aficionados.

MuSNet2 will focus once again on instructional materials, but it will be free, public, and with discussion capabilities available to any registered member. It will retain the name “Music Scholars Network,” but with the significant change in emphasis that anyone who studies music is a “music scholar.” The site will initially be built by me, including at least a few new instructional videos each month, but it will also be “collaborative” in the sense of including links to many existing music instructional videos already made publicly available by others but also fully researched and tested by me. I will thus endeavour to have the site become similar in scope to the Khan Academy’s Smarthistory web-book within about six months and with a large-scale, public, promotional undertaking through YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. This renewed focus would potentially reach hundred of thousands (or even millions) of people, as opposed to a few hundred music academics. The site would then become part of—and paid for through—an existing system of educational materials, such as the Khan Academy (free and public) or a college or university that offers online arts and humanities courses for money (increasingly the case in the UK) or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs, which are free and typically have thousands of students for each course). Once MuSNet2 is part of a larger system, it could then also begin to include contributions by specialists covering additional areas of music history & culture. That is what Smarthistory was able to do to expand its art-history offerings once it became part of the Khan Academy.

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.

Musicology Needs a Reboot and a New Name

Ever since I first entered graduate school in musicology, people have asked me: “What instrument do you play?” It is safe to say that almost no-one in the general public understands that musicology is largely about interpreting and contextualizing music—historically, culturally, and so on. The field’s closest parallels are not found in the fine and performing arts, but in the humanities, where an art history professor would never be asked: “What sort of paintbrush do you prefer?” Some musicologists also perform (or conduct, compose, etc.), but it is rarely the main thing they do. In any case, the field needs a reboot and a new name.
Musicology established, in central European universities in the mid- to late-19th century, the academic study of music. In the 20th century, university and college music departments (including schools, faculties, conservatories, etc.) then began to house all music sub-disciplines, with performance majors eventually comprising about 80% of music students. In nearly all music departments, musicology became triply-ghettoized as: (1) the provider of music history courses in a “service industry” to other types of students, (2) the purveyor of relatively obscure research in dissertations, books, conferences, and journals (such as journal reviews of books that have already been through peer review), and (3) a field giving ideological precedence almost exclusively to European classical music. Thus, it is hardly surprising that musicology has remained, with very few exceptions, a “faceless” discipline.
Musicologists still mainly teach music history “core” courses, covering various developments within the eras of European classical music: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century. Their students are mostly music performance majors, many of whom resent having to take any music history courses at all. Musicologists also usually teach a one-semester “music appreciation” course (i.e., mainly classical music, “once over lightly” and less technically) for non-music majors. A few teach courses on the history of popular music, the history of jazz, and/or other “outliers,” but such courses are usually also for non-major music appreciation. Music departments frequently expect their music history core and appreciation courses to be based around textbooks. Thus, it is only occasionally possible for a musicologist to give students much of a sense of his or her intensive, original research.
Sometimes, musicologists teach upper- or graduate-level seminars within subject areas more specifically related to their research specializations. However, nearly all music departments continue to expect such seminars to focus on detailed explorations of more specific topics found within the standard, European, classical subject areas and largely from before the 20th century. This is unfortunate, because by the first decade of the 21st century 48% of all new musicology Ph.D.s had produced dissertations on 20th-century topics (a 400% increase from the 12% of the 1950s). Such dissertations often covered a wide range of North American and other non-European topics, including not only concert music and opera, but also such non-classical forms as national/regional music from around the world, various types of popular music, jazz, and film/TV/radio music. Scholars working on such “new” topics are often highly innovative, using methodologies from cultural studies (e.g., issues of ideology and cultural hierarchy), critical theory (e.g., post-modernism and parody/appropriation), gender studies, and so on. Unfortunately, though, non-music departments and non-music scholars remain largely unaware of this excellent work.
In the late-20th and early-21st centuries, musicology encouraged (or at least allowed) dissertations on hundreds of topics that only a few music departments ended up tolerating in their courses. Those who argue that the best people always rise to the top of their profession are not in touch with the realities of subject-matter-bias found within music departments. Although some people would argue for the benefits of proprietary courses with specifically-assembled materials (as I would), almost any musicologist is capable of teaching standard, classical music history based around a textbook, its provided listening materials, and its provided lecture slides. By comparison, almost any musicologist who has never studied or performed popular music (or even listened to much of it) is going to look very silly teaching “The History of Rock” or running a seminar on “Interpretation vs. Analysis in the Study of Popular Music.” Tellingly, music departments routinely consider popular music to be “non-Western” (i.e., non-classical “world music,” and thus to be taught by ethnomusicologists), even though it is extremely diverse and makes up the vast majority of Western music.
Ph.D.s in musicology end up in tenure-track (or similar) academic jobs only somewhat less than one-third of the time, but what the rest are supposed to do remains a considerable mystery. Academic music research changed significantly in the 1990s and 2000s, but the requirements of music departments largely did not. Doing what you believe in doesn’t necessarily mean that search committees and potential future colleagues will also believe in it, even if your work is ground-breaking. So, musicology should aspire to become much more widely: (1) respected (e.g., by a much broader range of students and colleagues than has so far been the case), (2) consulted (such as for media interviews, public-interest debates, magazine articles, and so on), and (3) disseminated (e.g., outside of music departments, at non-music conferences, and including “public intellectuals”). Suitable contexts include cultural studies, “general” humanities, American studies, philosophy, media studies, history, gender studies, sociology, broadcasting, journalism, and the development of web-based content.
Above all, we need to establish a new and better name for our field, one that actually lets people know what we do. “Musicology” is: (1) much too pseudo-scientific-sounding, (2) widely derided by music students (and even by many of their instructors), (3) far too tied-up in its formerly-exclusive associations with classical music, and (4) misunderstood by the general public. So, let’s start calling it what it is: “humanities music history & culture”—or, in university contexts: “humanities music” and, in public contexts: “music history & culture.” Only then will some Ph.D.s in musicology actually have a chance of getting tenure-track academic jobs in places other than music departments and/or contributing to wider, public discourses about music.

computers vs. musicology

I wish there were suitable musicology jobs to which I could apply during my three-week break from studies in computer applications development. However, there aren’t any, so by early 2010 I will probably promote “Plan B” (computers) to “Plan A.”

If anyone has even a slightly good argument for why I should do any further work as a so-called “independent” (i.e. unemployed) scholar in musicology (which will probably never lead to anything ever again) instead of learning, say, XML and Java (which would nicely supplement my studies and make me even more employable), I’d love to hear it.