“Public Musicologists” Ignore Public Musicology

Institutionally-unaffiliated PhDs in my field are routinely swept under the carpet. Amanda Sewell’s report in the August 2015 newsletter of the American Musicological Society about an early 2015 conference on the Past, Present, and Future of Public Musicology confirms this by not bothering to mention my paper.

My contribution was called: “The Untapped Doctoral Majority of Potential Public Musicologists.” The paper begins by covering such things as:

  • the over-supply of musicology PhDs for the number of academic positions
  • what some musicology PhDs actually end up doing outside of academia

It continues by covering my:

I also then explain that I created music history instructional videos and that I adapted my dissertation on the Canadian rock band Rush for a public book called Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). I end the paper with an example from Chapter 1 of my forthcoming book in the same series: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion.

I have done almost all of that work outside of conventional institutional contexts, so does that mean it doesn’t qualify as “public musicology”?! The Musicology Now (blog) version of the report is only slightly better, with one, highly-misleading sentence about my work: “Durrell Bowman (independent scholar) spoke of the challenges he has faced in the decade-long search for an academic position in musicology.” Both my assigned title of “independent scholar”–which I loathe, in favour of “public music historian”–and the falsely-reported subject matter of my paper–which is actually a whole bunch of things I have done in Public Musicology–may explain why the editor of the AMS newsletter decided to exclude it. Not surprisingly, the newsletter version of the report also excludes the following sentence: “Felicia Miyakawa (academic consultant) explained why she left a tenured position and chose to pursue public musicology.”

I can’t speak for Miyakawa, but “we” are not amused.

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Another Excellent Review of “Experiencing Rush”

Here’s another excellent review of Experiencing Rush. I don’t agree with the reviewer that Rush “wanted to play essentially power pop.” However, he usually writes about death metal, so I suppose I can understand why the band’s music might seem that way to him! Otherwise, he really does completely get what I was trying to do.

Excerpts:

  • “Unlike most rock writers, he focuses on the output from the band rather than the discussion or buzz surrounding it … .”
  • “… intelligently look[s] into the music as a series of patterns and avoid[s] a deep immersion in music theory. As a result, Bowman compares abstract patterns found in the music to what they symbolize in life … .”
  • “… Bowman stands heads above the other writers on this topic.”
  • “… shows us what rock journalism could be — some of us would say should be — by digging into this band in the only way that honors their efforts, which is to take them seriously as people by investigating their art for what it attempts to express as a communication between artist and fans.”
  • “… avoid[s] academic-ese and also rock journalist ideo-jive, and instead look[s] at this band with an intelligent common-sense approach by picking apart each song to see what makes it work, both as a communications device and as an experience to enjoy. With the force of Rush fans behind him, hopefully Bowman can convince more of the music world to join him in this approach, which like the scientific method for materials should be the de facto standard for music.”

Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion

Please read the book summary and writing sample for my next book, which I expect to be published by the spring of 2016.

Nerd-Sourcing

I’m going to consolidate some of the open-source materials on http://www.openculture.com/category/music into my own site at http://OurMus.Net.  The range of music at Open Culture is narrow (a lot of punk and blues, for example), but at least this way I can “nerd-source” some of the things that are already out there on YouTube and elsewhere.  I’m going to do the same thing with music-related blogs.

This kind of collaborative and open-source work is at the heart of Web 2.0, as explained by Tapscott and Williams in their 2006 book Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. They point out that: “If a small, underperforming company in one of the world’s oldest industries [mining] can achieve greatness by opening its doors to external input and innovation, what would happen if more organizations followed the same strategy?  Couldn’t just about any social or economic challenge be solved with a critical mass of self-organized contributors seeking an answer to the problem?” (2008 edition, pp. 268-69).  They could easily be talking about the pseudo-scientific peer reviews, closed loops, sub-disciplinary silos, and hidden-away trailer groves of academia, and music academia is easily one of its worst culprits.

As the authors of Wikinomics also suggest, new, upstart, start-up, “non-legacy” organizations “can experiment for very little cost and at very little risk on the Web, and in ways that incumbents can’t.” (p. 301).  However, they are point out that: “Self-organized projects … marshal the efforts of thousands of dispersed individuals, sometimes in miraculous ways.  Loose, voluntary communities of producers can self-organize to do just about anything: design goods or services, create knowledge, assemble physical things, or simply produce dynamic, shared experiences.  But don’t overlook the fact that these communities operate according to well-defined norms and have internal structures and processes to guide the group’s activities” (pp. 295-96). 

In their followup book, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (2010), Tapscott and Williams indicate that: “Collaborative communities not only transcend the boundaries of time and space, they can reach across the usual disciplinary and organizational silos that inhibit cooperation, learning, and progress” (p. 19). Also, in their chapter on “Rethinking the University,” they paraphrase Brown and Adler’s 2008 EDUCAUSE Review article by saying that: “[O]ur understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions” (p. 142).

In Music History & Culture, it’s time to move on to something that should actually prove to be of great benefit to millions of people:  a free, online, open, shared, and collaborative community that generates “public musicology” simply by being all of those things.

The Music Scholars Network, the Public, etc.

I created and developed the Music Scholars Network (MuSNet) to enable a professional, interdisciplinary, member-contributed community.  Of the respondents to my October 2012 Music Scholars Web Survey, 69% felt that the conferences, journals, and websites of music academic societies are not always efficient enough.  In fact, 62% of them said they would be willing to pay between $10 and $50 per year for a membership in a network that allowed them to post, tag, find, share, and discuss such things as conference information, calls for papers, teaching materials, job postings, and research.

Most music academic societies, however, have ignored or refused my requests to distribute an email announcement inviting people to join MuSNet.  Getting the word out and encouraging people to add things to the website (even through free trial memberships) are thus turning out to be much more difficult than I had imagined.  Tenure-track academics (even people I consider to be friends and/or close colleagues) and academic societies (even ones to which I belong and/or for which I have worked) are not used to being second-guessed by so-called “independent scholars.”  I suppose it is also possible, though, that they are all just too busy.

Amazingly, members cannot directly add things to the websites of music academic societies.  Everything is channelled through executive directors, webmasters, moderators, and various sub-committees on specific topics, issues, etc.  The American Musicological Society’s (AMS’s) plan for “public musicology” (a vague and far too patronizing plan) is likely to take years to unfold, and it will undoubtedly prove to be highly unsatisfactory.  Another difficulty is that music academia is plagued by the problem of “silos” that consistently separate musicologists from ethnomusicologists and music theorists, academics from composers and performers, classical “snobs” from jazz and popular music “believers,” and so on.  It is not at all a healthy situation!

Over the next several decades, the various MBAs who now run most universities (and have been hired at a rate ten times that of tenured academics) will find ways to shut down or otherwise mess with numerous music departments.  They will reasonably ask:  Is music a part of the humanities, or is it a part of the fine and performing arts?  It will make no difference that music is obviously both of those things.  Many more music scholars than currently do so will end up having to do their work in places other than university music departments, but, in fact, a lot of us already do.

With MuSNet, I am developing an “alternative academic” venue for music scholars of various sorts to accomplish things efficiently, quickly, and affordably.  However, I am also very keen on the idea that the majority of materials posted and discussed by the site’s members should be made available to the public, used directly by students, consulted by journalists and music enthusiasts, and so on.  I hope to administer and maintain the network on a part-time basis, I’ve been enrolled in a self-employment (small business) program since September, and part of the goal of the business is to get myself off of social assistance.

The people who would probably be able to make the best use of MuSNet are current Ph.D. students and adjunct (a.k.a. sessional) instructors, including the many who work only part-time, as I often did from 2001 to 2008.  In 2012, more than 70% of US university courses are being taught by non-permanent faculty.  However, the American Musicological Society, for example, will not release the names and email addresses of its graduate student members, even to me: a long-time AMS member who worked at its office in 2010 to redevelop the successful new version of its Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology web index (which is, in fact, the AMS website’s most popular function).  Even worse, the AMS does not know how many of its members have non-permanent teaching positions.  It does not track its members’ “career stages” (as it calls such information), because it wants to believe that every Ph.D. eventually lands in a tenure-track position.  In what I take to be a related issue, there was some discussion at the AMS in 2010 about having a member-portfolio system, but the society wasn’t willing to commit to the cost of the 200 hours (e.g. $5000) I felt that it would take to develop it.

My research (more to come later) shows that two-thirds of music academic Ph.D.s since the early 1990s have NOT landed in tenure-track positions.  Even those among the fortunate one-third have referred to the past two or three decades as having produced a “lost generation,” but some of us still manage (despite being “lost” and even with the odds stacked against us) to publish books and articles, present conferences papers, teach part-time, and so on.  Music academia (unlike history, English, and other larger fields) has not prepared the majority of its members for the reality of needing to establish other types of career pathsFor example, the American Musicological Society’s official “alternative academic” career advice comprises only a few scant pages, which are lifted almost entirely from publications addressing non-music fields and are, quite frankly, almost completely useless.  MuSNet, on the other hand, provides an innovative, dynamic, networking context precisely so we can (among other things) help ourselves navigate some of these difficulties.

So-Called “Non-Academic” Work, Public Musicology, Ph.D.s, Jobs, etc.

Why should earning a Ph.D. have to mean that one is qualified only for conventional, university-based “academic work” consisting of advanced research plus teaching? There are lots of Ph.D.s in other fields—such as elsewhere in the humanities—who do interesting, so-called “non-academic work” outside of such contexts, but sometimes still within universities.

George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media (1994-, http://chnm.gmu.edu) added a Ph.D. program in 2001 that includes not only a typical combination of academic faculty and graduate students, but also a staff of dozens of information technology specialists who develop and support software tools for history/humanities teaching, learning, and research (used by over a million people) and over one hundred project websites (with over 20 million visitors each year).  Meanwhile, according to a recent newsletter of the American Musicological Society (AMS), it seems that musicologists are supposed to be satisfied that they are doing “public musicology” on the basis of the occasional newspaper critic taking note of one of their conferences.
In 2010, I developed the AMS’s new, modernized, web version of Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology (DDMhttp://ams-net.org/ddm).  However, despite the many improvements (and the fact that it is the AMS website’s most popular page), it still relies almost entirely on self-reporting.  I’ve crunched the numbers and done people-tracking research for Ph.D. graduates in musicology from one selected year (2006) and for their subsequent employment situations.  The number of Ph.D.s in DDM suggests an eventual tenure-track result of 54%.  However, cross-referencing with the much larger music literature resource RILM, though, shows that DDM is missing hundreds of Ph.D. musicology dissertations just from that one year.  So, 54% is much too high, and other evidence suggests a tenure-track outcome in musicology of not more 20%.  For example, information on the musicology job wiki corroborates that much lower number.  In any case, DDM needs to become much more widely used.
 
Musicology needs to enable new ways for Ph.D.s to find work that does not throw people either out of the loop entirely or else into terminal adjunctivitis.  Public initiatives that can also support academic teaching, learning, and research (perhaps to include partially-monetized, premium web content) could be one way to go.  The success of “digital history” suggests that a “digital musicology” would be advised to include such things.