I’ve been analysing the PPL’s list of the top 10 most played pop songs of 2012, and discussing it today on BBC Radio Ulster with music journalist Chris Jones.
Here’s the list, and I’ve made a playlist of all the songs;
- 1 Jessie J – Domino
- 2 Gotye ft Kimbra – Somebody That I Used to Know
- 3 Emeli Sandé – Next to Me
- 4 Maroon 5 – Moves Like Jagger
- 5 David Guetta ft Sia – Titanium
- 6 Olly Murs – Dance with Me Tonight
- 7 Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
- 8 Rihanna and Calvin Harris – We Found Love
- 9 Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
- 10 Maroon 5 – Payphone
From memory, I recalled that all of these songs had some similar sonic characteristics, so I did some basic analyses to see which music/lyric elements they shared. I found the following;
- All of them are love songs of one type or another
- 3 of the love-related lyrics include references to dancing
- 5 of the songs have a tempo of 128 BPM (or pretty close)
- The lowest tempo is Next To Me (96BPM)
- The highest tempo is Dance With Me Tonight (a crazy 166BPM – but it’s a 1950s pastiche)
- All the songs are in 4/4 time (OK, pretty obvious, that one)
- 6 of the songs use 4-on-the-floor kick drum in the chorus
- All of the songs use four-chord loops over 2, 4 or 8 bars
- 5 of the songs use one four-chord loop throughout
- All of the songs are in chorus form (none are AABA) and most have very similar forms
- 2 of the songs contain specific references to other hits (Titanium opens with a sample from Every Breath You Take and Dance With Me Tonight uses the 8-bar chord loop from Stand By Me)
- Mean average intro length is 11 seconds
- Mean average BPM is 124.4
- Mode and median intro length is 4 bars
Here are my stats if anyone wants them. Methodology note – I measured the BPM using a click-along manual counter (BPM Counter widget for Mac) so some of the BPMs might only be accurate within a tolerance of 1 or so. Corrections welcomed.
What can we conclude from this? Well, it certainly appears that the centre of popular mainstream has some pretty clear norms. Previous readers might remember that I ascribe some of this to economic Darwinism applied by listeners to songwriters via the marketplace. One might argue that the PPL list itself is unrepresentative, as it mainly represents songs that are playlisted in large numbers (i.e. it’s a DJ/radio station poll rather than a true measure of listener interest) but I don’t agree with this point of view. Yes, playlists influence listener preferences, but any radio station that didn’t play songs that people liked would lose listeners overnight. And the playlist does also include TV performances and venues – including pubs, shops etc. I think it is impossible to argue that these songs are anything other than extremely popular. Which, for me, makes them worthy of analysis.
I am of course fascinated by the prevalence of four-chord loops here (more in this annual top 10 than in any previous chart top 10 I’ve analysed), and I wonder if, in some types of mainstream song, 4-chord loops have become like choruses, breakdowns or intros – they’re just a part of the form that becomes a musical constant against which the track’s variables (lyric, performance, melody, production) are contrasted. Certainly when listening to them I don’t get bored by the loop itself. I’ve briefly alluded to chord loops as an evolved constraint before.
Most surprising to me was the prevalence of 128BPM. Not just 120+, but almost exactly 128BPM, in half of the songs. The mean BPM (124.4) is a fair bit higher than the mean average over the previous 60 years of US/UK chart hits (around 119BPM). Only Emeli Sandé is keeping us relaxed (96) and only Olly Murs is crazily jivin’ (166BPM).
All of this is to be poured into the songwriting creativity studies that will form the PhD thesis to be published in late 2014.
Here’s a forthcoming paper I’ll be presenting at the ARP conference this year in Québec. I’ll publish the full paper here later in the year. Here’s a paper I presented at the 2010 ARP conference (perhaps less glamorously, but no less interestingly, in Leeds).
2013 ARP Conference
The 8th Art of Record Production Conference
July 12th – 14th 2013
Université Laval, Québec
“You Won’t See Me” – in search of an epistemology of collaborative songwriting
Joe Bennett, Bath Spa University
Collaborative songwriting is an effective music industry creative working model, and a significant number of hits have been written by teams. However, little is known about the operational specifics of the creative processes undertaken by successful songwriters, and academic research into songwriting creativity is constrained by a number of methodological challenges. This paper aims to analyse and compare the observation methodologies available to researchers, and to evaluate the reliability of the available evidence bases. Analysis of a finished creative work such as an audio recording may tell us little about the way it was created, so the search for usable evidence should perhaps start with the songwriters themselves. John Sloboda identifies four methods by which we may gain understanding of a composer’s creative process – examination of manuscript; ‘general and retrospective’ interviews with composers; ‘live’ observation of composers; and observation of improvisatory performance. The first and last of these are discounted, respectively, because of the lack of iterative music notation generated by most songwriters, and also due to the non-real-time nature of songwriting, particularly in a technology rich environment such as a studio. This leaves interviews or real-time observation, but these two methods’ integrities, and even their status as primary sources, may be questionable. Interview subjects, for a variety of personal or economic reasons, may not be incentivised to provide reliable information to researchers about the reality of their creative processes. Real-time observation of a collaborative songwriting session partly solves this problem, but generates massive amounts of qualitative data, which must be reduced, necessarily destructively, to a manageable size before it can be a meaningful and usable research evidence base.
When these data have been evaluated and analysed, the researcher is left with an overarching philosophical question, common to much creativity research, and addressed by Csikszentmihalyi and Boden – does a case study only become meaningful after the work is proven to be societally ‘successful’? The paper will discuss approaches to this problem and possible strategies for triangulating evidence bases, toward an informed understanding of the collaborative songwriting process.
 T. F Pettijohn II and S. F Ahmed, “Songwriting Loafing or Creative Collaboration?: A Comparison of Individual and Team Written Billboard Hits in the USA,” Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis 7, no. 1 (2010): 2.
 John Sloboda, The Musical Mind : the Cognitive Psychology of Music (Oxford [Oxfordshire] ;New York: Clarendon Press ;;Oxford University Press, 1985).
 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Society, Culture, and Person: a Systems View of Creativity,” in The Nature of Creativity : Contemporary Psychological Perspectives, ed. Robert Sternberg (Cambridge ;;New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 325–339.
 Sloboda, The Musical Mind : the Cognitive Psychology of Music.
Writing a complete lyric is a big job. You’ve got to think about your characters, the imagery you’re using, and the timeframe and location of the song’s ‘action’, before you even start on the technical stuff like syllable count and rhyming. But writing a title on its own is easy – it’s only a few words after all. And for some people it’s the perfect way in to the songwriting process.
Think for a moment about any song you like, and focus on its title. Is it interesting on its own? If it’s quirky and unusual, does it ‘draw you in’ to the world of meaning provided by the lyric? If it’s a cliché does it still sound authentic when sung? Does it help to summarise the overall meaning of the lyric? Titles can be a very powerful way of getting listeners to engage with a song, but they can also help us to write songs by providing that essential early spark of an idea, on which we can build a complete lyric. Read more…
This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 218, September 2011. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward. Click the image on the right to download a pdf of the article.
Guitarists who write songs can be reluctant lyricists. We all find it pretty easy to string some chords together; many of us have no problem humming a melody atop. But sooner or later every songwriter has to ask the question – what is my song about? (unhelpful answer – it’s about three-and-a–half minutes).
There are perhaps two reasons that we sometimes find lyric-writing a chore. Firstly, it’s not necessarily our first love, compared to the guitar itself – if we’d wanted to be poets we’d be hanging out in French cafés smoking cheroots and reading Sartre, right? Secondly, when we start out as songwriters we often try writing songs ‘in the right order’, strumming the intro chords and then hoping lyric inspiration will strike us in the 5th or 9th bar of music. Read more…
Here are the slides from my research forum presentation at Bath Spa University, 6th October 2011.
For this post I have to thank the very marvellous Abner Perez. He has kindly volunteered to translate my recent academic paper (from the Art of Record Production conference) on collaborative songwriting into Spanish.
Composición en colaboración – la ontología de la creatividad negociada en la práctica de producción de música poppular
Download English version (pdf)
Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice
Here’s the abstract in Spanish.
This is an academic paper on the subject of collaborative songwriting in the studio. It was presented at the 6th Art of Record Production conference in Dec 2010 and appears in the Journal of the Art of Record Production Conference Proceedings – ISSN 1754-9892. Please feel free to download/cite it as you think fit. The correct citation is;
Bennett, J., 2011. Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice. In Journal of the Art of Record Production 2010. Leeds, UK: Art of Record Production.
In keeping with my view that academics should make their research as freely available as possible, you can download the whole paper here.
In my academic research I’ve been investigating the ‘constraints of song’ – that is, what defines a song, and what creative decisions are likely to make it more (or less) successful. The simplest of these is track duration, not least because it’s easily measurable.
I couldn’t find any statistical study of track length over time, so did a quick analysis myself, finding the top 10 best-selling singles of each decade 1960s-2000s (from everyhit.com) and comparing them to the track runtime from the relevant iTunes download. The full spreadsheet of my data can be found here (rough paste below).
- The mean average length of track rose from 2:43 in the 1960s to 4:03 in the 1970s but then (from the 1970s) fluctuated by no more than 0:18 per decade, maintaining an average length of around 4:00 over 40 years.
- The median song length, from the 1970s, is even more conservative, with only 0:12 change (3:47 to 3:59) between the 1970s and 2000s.
- Best-selling hit songs were shorter in duration during the 1960s (although this may have been dramatically affected by some very short early Beatles’ singles, five of these appearing in the decade’s top 10, all with a duration of less than 2:30).
- The mean average duration of best-selling hit songs has not varied significantly by decade since the 1970s.
|1960s||The Beatles||She Loves You||02:22|
|The Beatles||I Want To Hold Your Hand||02:26|
|The Beatles||Can’t Buy Me Love||02:13|
|The Beatles||I Feel Fine||02:20|
|Seekers||The Carnival Is Over||03:09|
|The Beatles||Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out||02:16|
|Englebert Humperdinck||Release Me||03:18|
|Elvis Presley||It’s Now Or Never||03:14|
|Tom Jones||Green Green Grass Of Home||03:04|
|1970s||Wings||Mull Of Kintyre||04:44|
|Boney M||Rivers Of Babylon / Brown Girl In The Ring||04:00|
|John Travolta & Olivia Newton John||You’re The One That I Want||02:49|
|Boney M||Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord||04:31|
|John Travolta & Olivia Newton John||Summer Nights||03:36|
|Blondie||Heart Of Glass||04:35|
|David Soul||Don’t Give Up On||03:38|
|Slade||Merry Xmas Everybody||03:26|
|1980s||Band Aid||Do They Know It’s Christmas||03:41|
|Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Relax||03:53|
|Stevie Wonder||I Just Called To Say I Love You||04:21|
|Fankie Goes To Hollywood||Two Tribes||03:28|
|Human League||Don’t You Want Me||03:56|
|Culture Club||Karma Chameleon||04:02|
|George Michael||Careless Whisper||05:02|
|Jennifer Rush||The Power Of Love||04:27|
|Dexy’s Midnight Runners||Come On Eileen||03:24|
|1990s||Elton John||Candle in the Wind 1997||04:10|
|Robson & Jerome||Unchained Melody||03:19|
|Wet Wet Wet||Love Is All Around||03:57|
|Bryan Adams||(Everything I Do) I Do It For You||06:33|
|Various Artists||Perfect Day||03:45|
|Britney Spears||Baby One More Time||03:30|
|Puff Daddy & Faith Evans||I’ll Be Missing You||04:24|
|Whitney Houston||I Will Always Love You||04:23|
|2000s||Will Young||Evergreen / Anything Is Possible||04:11|
|Gareth Gates||Unchained Melody||03:54|
|Tony Christie featuring Peter Kay||(Is This The Way To) Amirillo||03:12|
|Shaggy featuring Ricardo ‘Rikrok’ Ducent||It Wasnâ€™t Me||03:47|
|Band Aid 20||Do They Know It’s Christmas?||05:06|
|Kyle Minogue||Can’t Get You Out Of My Head||03:52|
|Hear’Say||Pure And Simple||03:48|
|Shayne Ward||That’s My Goal||03:38|
|Bob The Builder||Can We Fix It?||03:09|
I’ve just presented my own paper – seemed to go OK. I’ll post more about this later in the PhD section, but for now here’s the abstract;
Joe Bennett – Bath Spa University
Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice
The relationship between songwriting practice and song product is an under-explored one in popular musicology, still less so in a studio-based environment. Our research sources are accordingly limited, drawing mainly on first-hand retrospective interviews with artist-songwriters, who may have an incentive for self-mythologising, or at least romanticising their songwriting methods to preserve fan perceptions of authenticity. There are no available real-time observations of the collaborative processes involved in creating popular song, despite the huge economic and artistic successes of songwriting partnerships throughout the history of our field. Sloboda (1985) identifies the reluctance displayed by composers of any sort to participate in detailed analysis of their processes; these difficulties are exacerbated further by some songwriters’ apparently-deliberate mystification of their craft. Attempts to analyse processes of musical composition generally have generally focused on single-composer models (Nash 1955); even studies relating to collaboration remain concerned with instrumental art music (Hayden & Windsor 2007)or educational-based observation subjects (Burnard & Younker 2002).
This paper will build on the single-songwriter research of McIntyre (2009) and the theoretical definitions of creativity provided by Csikszentmihalyi (1996). It will explore, through analysis of ‘hits’ and examples of emerging practitioner-based research, the inferences that can be made by comparing historical and current songwriting practice with the finished product, and will attempt to identify commonly-used collaborative models, including artist with ‘ghost-writer’, artist with artist, band-based ensembles, ‘factories’ e.g. Brill Building and Stock/Aitken/Waterman’s Hit Factory, and collaborative distance-writing. Established and emerging musical practices will be identified and analysed, including top-line writing, ‘Nashville’ co-writes, loop-based improvisation, lyric-first and music-first approaches, together with a discussion of the effect of the presence (or absence) of studio technologies as mediator of the songwriting process.
Burnard, P. & Younker, B.A., 2002. Mapping Pathways: fostering creativity in composition. Music Education Research, 4(2), 245-261.Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1996. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, New York: HarperCollins.
Hayden, S. & Windsor, L., 2007. COLLABORATION AND THE COMPOSER: CASE STUDIES FROM THE END OF THE 2OTH CENTURY. Tempo, 61(240), 28.
Mcintyre, P., 2009. ‘I’m Looking Through You’: An Historical Case Study of Systemic Creativity in the Partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In Collaborations: Creative Partnerships in Music. The Performance and Social Aesthetics Research Unit (PASA), Monash Conference Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.
Nash, D., 1955. Challenge and Response in the American Composer’s Career. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 14(1), 116-122.
Sloboda, J., 1985. The musical mind : the cognitive psychology of music, Oxford [Oxfordshire] ;New York: Clarendon Press ;;Oxford University Press.
The next presentation is by Maria Hanacek. This one is particularly fascinating for me because she is working on the analysis of ‘songwriters in the studio’ videos, and the notions of mediatised and mediated authenticity relating to songwriters.
Maria Hanacek – Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Songwriting in the Studio or: The Idea of What Went into its Making
This year’s conference is concerned with change and continuity in the art of record production – I will argue that it is the rather old-fashioned idea of “songwriting” that creates coherence within the changing world of music production, and that this idea is indeed more important than ever for the success of large-scale commercial productions.
Thinking of record production as an art form or of the studio as a musical instrument already indicates that our models of thinking about music production stay pretty much the same, all debates about technological change or innovation aside. The idea of “songwriting” as a modern form of composition also correlates with a traditional notion of music as artistic self-expression, which still provides the conceptual framework for most records, and it is important to notice that apparent tensions between technology and artistry, between commerciality and authenticity result from this theoretical framework, not from the actual process of music production. In such instances we are ultimately dealing with the question what musicianship means in the age of studio production.
Authorship and intentionality are still such important concepts because it is the idea of what went into its making that gives meaning to a recording. The way popular music history works, songs need a history and an origin. According to this logic studio stories become part of a band’s or artist’s biography and discography, they contribute to the idea of an artist’s oeuvre that crystallises into a series of records. This idea is also replicated by “best of” albums, box sets and reissues – in short, the marketing of records always relied on the star persona for coherence and to personalize its products.
I will use the DVD ‘U2 and 3 Songs, A Documentary’ to illustrate this point. This “documentary” provides a retrospective on the songwriting process of the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, for which the band and producer Steve Lillywhite received six Grammies in 2005. The affiliated Vertigo tour made the band the top grossing act that year according to Billboard – the eight concerts held in New York’s Madison Square garden alone sold 149,000 tickets. Although the purpose of promotional touring is to “authenticate” and personalize recorded performances in some way, attending one of these large-scale concerts wasn’t much of an “unmediated” or “live” experience of these songs and their authors.
This video, though, which came with several editions of the CD, tells us about human beings writing songs, about the development of creative ideas within a studio environment. It foregrounds the “raw material” of this record, whether by presenting a basic chord progression a song developed from or via an acoustic performance with slightly mistuned guitars. And this – in itself highly mediated – display of theunproduced or preproduced puts our picture of music making back in place.
For the final part of day 2 of the ARP conference there’s a session called Songwriting In The Studio. The panel consists of Richard Formby; Phil Harding; James Kenosha, Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) and Marco Pasquariello.
Paul is up first and he plays us some of his film score music consisting almost entirely of programmed samples. He discusses why he took a ‘cover version’ approach rather than sampling original recordings, and the various copyright, aesthetic and technical parameters that led him through those creative decisions.
Like most of the panel, Phil (who as you’ll see from his biog worked extensively with Stock, Aitken and Waterman) sees little distinction between songwriting and production (in that songs are written in the studio), but he also interestingly describes producers as a ‘service industry’. He tells us of SAW’s shameless theft of titles (which of course is not illegal in any way!), in this case from the US hot 100 charts of the 1980s. If you’re interested to find out more I can recommend Phil’s book about the PWL days, available here in its new edition. Phil gives us a fascinating insight into the way SAW built tracks by analysing existing songs’ structure/form and other musical characteristics and then applying them to new works – a ‘hit factory’ in the literal sense! Phil plays us a song called I Need You by 90s pop band Deuce.
Phil tells us that the first melodic line of the chorus was shamelessly stolen from Cecilia by Paul Simon (he only infringes two notes actually so I’m not sure it’s theft in any legally meaningful sense – although when you know this is the source it’s very clear which part is the ‘tribute’). But like many of the papers at this conference connected with mashups/co-writes/sampling etc, it raises lots of interesting questions about ownership, creativity and originality that are simultaneously philosophical, legal and artistic.
Marco Pasquariello is talking about the Blue Roses track Doubtful Comforts, together with some lovely anecdotes about lo-fi recording, including grinding up 1/4 inch tape in the garden and buying an afternoon of time in a music shop in order to record all the pianos. He makes some equally interesting points about the deliberate constraints of some projects (for example, using eBows as the main instrumental pitch source).
Richard Formby starts with a ‘process piece’ called Tuning up for Piano which he created by running a recording several times while a piano tuner was working, then putting all the takes together as a multi-track – resulting in a very charming piece of chance-music. He admits to stealing small fragments of drums from bands in his studio (sometimes he tells them, sometimes not!) for use in his own music. There follows a discussion about out-takes (inevitably the Troggs tape is mentioned).
In the Q&A session, Paul makes the interesting point about the rebirth of the single; “since downloading [...] very few people seem to like whole albums any more”. We also get briefly into the debate of ‘what is a song’ and whose creative contributions constitute ‘songwriting’.
Wonderful lecture by DJ Spooky. His writings on music, culture and art are fascinating. They speak for themselves so I won’t summarise anything here!
Continued blogging from the Art of Record Production conference 2010…
Brian Rossiter – University of Edinburgh
“Ain’t That a Bitch?”: Prince, Camille, and the Challenge to “Authentic” Black Masculinity
Vocal performance has long been regarded as one of the most potent and direct signifiers of identity – the recorded voice, in particular, often assumes the role of “interiorising notions of identification” (Stan Hawkins, The British Pop Dandy, 2009). Normally this tendency to attribute vocality to a definite personalor social identity stems from the notion that musical sounds must somehow offer a reflection or representation of those peoples who produce them, thus tempting us to envisage a linear correlation between one’s sexual or racial status and the ways in which one presents oneself through the act of musical performance. As Simon Frith (“Music and Identity”, 1996) has shown, the problem with this conception is that it fails to recognise that identity, particularly as encountered through the act of music making, is both an experiential process and an act of “becoming”, and therefore never a fixed state of “being”. Performance, as such, opens up an expansive arena where identity moves fluidly, drawing upon a vast array of bodily, emotional, and mental dispositions made tangible through the cultural quirks of sound and style. For recording artists, the range of possibilities through which one might explore the transitory aspects of one’s identity has been expanded evermore by the development of technologies that enable one to experiment freely with the pitch, texture, and resonance of the voice. The performer is therefore capable of constructing an imagined audio image of him- or herself that transcends the limitations of what is possible in the “real” context of live performance.
Using Frith’s position as a theoretical anchor, this paper contrasts two songs – “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “Bob George” – by the African-American artist Prince, on which he exploits contemporary advances in recording technology in order to radically manipulate the character of his voice, both manually increasing and decreasing its pitch, and by doing so problematising the concept of his identity by continuously calling into question his own relationship to his gender, sexuality, and racial heritage. In particular, he maximises the potential of these effects in order to challenge and subvert traditional notions of patriarchal black masculinity, either by offering a radically alternative performance sensibility to that expected by patriarchy, as in the first instance, or latterly by appropriating and then exaggerating the stereotyped behavioural tropes of this ideology in a satirical manner that fully underlines the pitfalls of a one-dimensional view of “authentic” black masculinity.
Rossiter makes some insightful observations about Prince’s pitch-shifted ‘Camille’ persona, quoting many popular musicology scholars’ work on gender, including Richard Middleton. He plays excerpts of Prince songs including ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend‘ and ‘Bob George‘ and discusses questions of masculinity and wider issues of racial identity and sexuality.
Michael Hajimichael – University of Nicosia
Virtual Oasis – thoughts and experiences about online based music production and collaborative writing techniques
Over the last 10 years virtual studio collaborations, net based artists and music labels have emerged as a by-product of the “Web 2.0” revolution. While the early stages of the Internet can be characterised through Voltaire’s sentiment of ‘every one tending to their own garden’ Web 2.0 and particularly social media web sites have in contrast redefined relationships between users/audiences and creators/producers. These changes are prevalent in areas such as music/audio/sound, image/video/photo and text/narrative/writing. Traditional methods of production and communication in music, radio, TV and journalism have in a multitude of ways adjusted to these changes – leading to the creation of multi-media based online portals. Approaching these changes in relation to independent music production and song writing is a challenging task mainly due to the sheer volume of net based releases located on web sites such as MySpace, Reverb Nation and Soundclick. My paper will focus on a number of insights on qualitative transformations concerning commerce versus creativity and the role play -dynamics of writing and producing collaborative songs and projects online. Reference will be made to practical collaborations based on observation and experience as an artist, participant and music producer. These will consider the glass both half full and half empty by raising a number of key questions. What happens when people collaborate in writing songs online, how do people approach each other? What can go right – what can go wrong? Is virtuality a substitute for more traditional methods of physical collaboration? Or is it just an emerging guerrilla production technique being embraced by independent musicians on very limited budgets with boundless creative enthusiasm and net access? I will focus primarily on a case study of a recent release I completed entirely online with Dub Caravan called ‘Virtual Oasis’ (DubMed Music Label); as well as a song project produced by Steffen Franz called ‘Harmony4Humanity’ – written in two locations – San Francisco USA and Nicosia Cyprus over a time period of 48 hours from start to finish. I will also refer to a number of experiences, examples and contexts where things have not worked out with the intention of exploring some of the possible drawbacks and limitations of recording online. These negative elements of the process are just as significant as the positive dynamics as together they give a more holistic approach, one that is grounded in a wide range of dynamics embracing social relationships, technological capacities, understandings on musical genres, and the ethics of copyright/writing production credits. Online production processes can be like an elusive virtual oasis, they can also be a burden, a bad ‘collab’ or a liberating creative experience.
Mike’s paper looks at the value of rhetorical exchange online, in relation to his own creative projects working with web-based collaborators. He points out the difference between ‘world is your oyster’ possibility with the fact that, projects don’t always work out creatively. He has undertaken web-based collaborations himself, and reflects in detail on the creation and production of the ‘Virtual Oasis’ album. He discusses the dynamics of collaboration, and draws some conclusions from the collaborative mechanisms and also from the fact of collaboration itself.
Brandon Vaccaro – Kent State University
Decoding Faith No More’s “Just a Man:” The Role of Production in the Interpretation of Recorded Music
In this paper, an analysis of Faith No More’s “Just a Man” is presented, focusing on the way that the recording production, particularly the production of the vocals, supports the interpreted meaning of the song. The song presents two different styles of production which correlate with shifts on the lyrical meaning throughout the song. In that context, the studio production of historic vocal artists is investigated, and the role of recording production in our interpretation of meaning in general is examined by adapting an approach pioneered by Robert S. Hatten. A series of brief hermeneutic readings of historic recordings of popular vocalists are presented, and two production styles and their correlation to expressive styles (cultural units) are established. The two styles of production, the “Shouter” style corresponding to expressive topics of religious and sexual ecstasy, peak experiences, and “testifying” and the “Crooner/Balladeer” style corresponding to the topics of ordinary life, mundanity, and a sense of an “everyman” or “everywoman,” are traced from the 1920s to the 1990s. The dialectic established in these examples is then used in the analysis of “Just a Man,” which uses both of these styles in contrasting sections.
Brandon’s presentation began with a playback of the track, notable for its juxtaposition (as the abstract says) between ‘crooner’ and ‘shouter’ vocal performance styles. He then leads into a straight musicological analysis (although, pleasingly, he includes some observations on lyric meaning – all-too-rare in some pop musicology IMO!). He then discusses production effects in various other songs and the extent to which they (e.g. slapback delay, bandpass/lo-fi filtering etc) can be ascribed a meaning – in cultural terms or even supporting lyric meaning (Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star is cited). He briefly touches on the concept of real vs hyper-real audio production (he provides the example of a binaural mic pair vs close-miking).
Interestingly (for my own work), he mentions the effect of early sonic recording bandwidth on vocal ranges in records, suggesting that it is one reason for pop recordings favouring high male and low female versions. In my own paper I have identified a similar phenomenon (that most songs inhabit the vocal range from C2 to C4, and the majority of recordings focus mainly on a single octave – A2 to A3). He concludes with a detailed semiotic discussion of the track, and interestingly the one audience question we have time for is from an ex Faith No More producer!!!
I’m blogging live from the Art of Record Production conference 2010 at Leeds Met. In the next few entries I’m going to make notes on some of the papers and panels, and links to material that may be of interest to academics and musicians working in the fields of songwriting, music education and recording.
Due to the snow and other travel hassles, I’ve arrived in Leeds for day 2, so I’ve missed guest Steve Albini‘s keynote from day 1, so this blog has missed a few of the first papers.
Right now I’m watching Mark Sarisky presenting an interesting paper about career education for music producers. He’s surveyed around 200 US music undergraduates about their genre-based (and other) recording career choices. Here’s a paste of his abstract (and here’s a link to all the abstracts);
The Art Institute of Austin, Texas
The Effects of Career Targeted Education on the Art and Science of Audio Technology and Their Application to the Production of Recorded Music.
The time-honored approach to obtaining a career in the area of producing recorded music has been to study in a school of music as a traditional student and then to obtain knowledge and experience in the application of technology to this study. The knowledge and experience was obtained either through classroom study or and internship in the recording industry, specifically at a recording studio. Over the last 30 years, career targeted educational institutions have developed programs in Audio Production. These programs do not follow the broad based tradition of liberal arts education so popular in the United States. These programs have a high concentration of courses that directly address the skills perceived as needed for entry into the field. This article looks at the effects of this style of education on the recorded music being produced today and the skills sets of the graduates of these programs. In addition, it looks at the perception of what is required to have a successful career in the field of Audio Production and how that reflects the reality of life in the music business. Along with these discussions, future studies are proposed.
Next up is Jeff Roy’s discussion of online pedagogy in Indian classical music traditions. I’m interested in this paper not because of the musical content (although that’s interesting enough!) but because he’s discussing the difference in the student experience between f2f, Skype and other online chat tools for student-tutor interaction. Distance Learning has always interested me, not least because I think UK HE is lagging behind student demand (although online courses are springing up in Universities including our own MMus Songwriting at Bath Spa).
Jeff’s paper is even more relevant and challenging because it is addressing (through discussion of sitar teaching) instrumental music tuition online, which may at first appear to be impossible (or at least hindered) due to the latency in videoconference preventing simultaneous synchronised performance. That said, real-time videoconferencing is a big improvement on asynchronous video or text-only online communication. Speaking as an HE manager, it does of course presuppose one-to-one interaction i.e. online tuition is just as expensive and time-consuming as face-to-face music lessons!
However, notwithstanding the disadvantages of online vs f2f, Jeff makes a vital point about the advantages. The student can record the lesson and play it back at their convenience – so long after the tutor has departed, learning can still take place. Since much instrumental pedagogy is based on repetition, this is a huge advantage for the student.
Interestingly, Jeff points out that some of the most important criteria for the student’s experience of learning are sincerity, devotion and love.
Jeff Roy – University of California, Los Angeles
The Internet Guru: Online Pedagogy in Indian Classical Music Traditions
The use of the internet in oral music distance learning for Indian classical musicians is a recent phenomenon. For the last decade, video conference programs such as Skype and iChat have become alternative tools for well-known teachers—notably Ustad Imrat Khan in the Hindustani (North Indian) tradition and Delhi Sundarajan in the Karnatak (South Indian) tradition. They use the programs to maintain pedagogical relationships with their existing students, and in some cases to teach new students where geographical distance from the master would otherwise preclude lessons. This mode of teaching is radically different from traditional methods of one-on-one learning. With the overall purpose of exposing methods that fuse new and traditional pedagogies, I investigate how technology maintains and configures the primacy of orality in this virtual music education “scape.”
Ethnographic material collected in 2010 includes interviews conducted online and in direct live settings, as well as observations of lessons administered in these two different ways. My data is also augmented by my own lessons on the Indian violin with Khan. In the paper, I first address typical Indian pedagogy in direct, in-person settings around the tenets of repetition, simultaneous playing/singing, the use of visual aids, and the perceptual domains of time and space. Then I compare these elements in the context of lessons administered over the internet revealing drastic and subtle changes. I posit that while the internet maintains quality learning, a significant shift of opinion occurs in what constitutes “learning.” Students and teachers place less value on the social aspects of learning inherent within a traditional teacher-student relationship, and instead treat music transmission as one would the exchange of “capital.” This paper concludes with reflections on the parts of music learning that transcend these changes and further thoughts as to the future of music pedagogy in online contexts.
This is Guy Morrow from MacQuarie University NSW, presenting a paper about Artist Management. Here’s his abstract; my discussion & comments below.
Guy Morrow – MacQuarie University, NSW
Artist Management in the Global Economy: Faciliating the Relationship Between Song Writing and Production
The advent of recording technology began a process that continually brings not only the song, but also the sound of the artist within reach of international audiences. With the advent of high capacity music players (iPods for example) more music is being consumed now than in the past and a worldwide audience is available at substantially reduced marketing costs. The growth in credibility and acceptance of management organisations, such as the International Music Managers’ Forum (IMMF), by legislative, judicial and industry bodies means that the input of artist managers, as the representatives of songwriters on a global level, is increasingly being recognised. Many of the managers who are members of these organisations understand the impact that will stem from ‘speaking with one voice’, and the activities and advocacy of such an international managers’ forum facilitates this. Agreement concerning the establishment of an enforceable code of conduct for members of this organisation is arguably a crucial first step in the efforts to realise the potential of artist managers, who are traditionally a disparate collection of sole traders, speaking with one voice on a global level on behalf of songwriters.
This paper will work through findings from a research project that has used a qualitative research methodology to explore the problems that artist managers face when attempting to build global careers for their clients in a world in which international record labels no longer play the key role that they did in the past. The research data generated by this project suggests that artist managers’ workloads have vastly increased, necessitating much more overseas travel to deal with all of the participants in their client’s career; instead of being able to go to the international record label’s head office. The centralisation of industrial roles with the artist manager accompanies the decentralisation that has occurred in the recording business and it means that artist managers often have the sole responsibility of facilitating the relationship between song writing and production.
While the artist managers’ role is increasingly central, their attempts to work globally are hampered by a lack of consistency in relation to best practice and conduct across different territories. This research project therefore involves the IMMF, which is a voluntary body seeking to create new standards in relation to artist management practices and to the enforcement of international copyright law. Their aim is constrained by lack of empirical research and this project attempts to alleviate this through a comparative study of regulation (self regulation and/or governmental) and best practices in the UK, Canada, Australia and the US. The pragmatic benefit of this research for artist managers is that it will create knowledge of best practice and conduct in different territories and this will help them to utilise Skype and other new technologies to operate globally. This project is significant because it provides the first in-depth analysis of artist management practices in the current phase of recording industry decentralization (and the resulting post-monopolisation) and music business centralization with the artist manager.
Guy, like many popular music academics, is a part-practitioner – he co-manages Australian band Boy & Bear. What he is proposing is more international networking and possibly accreditation of artist managers, but acknowledges that if governments become involved this is always going to be difficult. He is wrestling with some significant challenges – international law, issues of trust with artists and (co-)managers, and the concept of internationally-transferable best practice in music management. But he articulates the point that the Internet has found solutions to bigger problems than this (citing eBay as an example of turning mistrust of strangers into a working commercial asset).
The final paper for this session is by Phillip McIntyre from Newcastle (Australia) and Justin Morey from Leeds Met. Phillip is familiar to me as he’s one of the foremost (and very few) researchers into the practice of creativity in popular songwriting (my own research work in collaborative songwriting cites him frequently – see the PhD link above). This paper is interesting to me for another reason in that it deals with copyright splits in creative collaboration – I do a fair bit of work as an Expert Witness Musicologist for the Music Publishers Association helping to resolve copyright disputes between songwriters). The issue of who contributed what to the song and the track becomes very serious when you try to reverse-engineer the process by interviewing songwriters and producers retrospectively about the processes used to generate a hit recording. Here’s their abstract – more discussion and comments below.
Justin Morey & Phillip McIntyre
Leeds Metropolitan University & University of Newcastle, NSW
‘Working out the Split’: Creative Collaboration and Assignation of Copyright across Differing Musical Worlds.
It has been theorised (e.g. Hennion 1990, Wicke 1990, Zak 2001), and there is mounting empirical evidence (e.g. Davis 2008, McIntyre 2008, Moorefield 2005, Howlett 2008), that record production is a highly collaborative process. When records are made producers, engineers, musicians, programmers and A&R personnel all cooperate in a creative process that can be characterised using a number of models (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, Paulus and Nijstad, 2003). Songwriters, however, are an ever present but little mentioned presence in the studio, although their work is crucial to studio output.It can be claimed that the development of technological possibilities within the studio has afforded collaborative song writers an increasing variety of creative methods, and this has led in turn to a range of views concerning the kind of contributions that can be considered to be song writing among music creators. Calculating the ‘split’ or financial remuneration for the work involved, then, depends upon a set of complex commercial, legal, moral, social, cultural, ideological and discursive factors coupled with certain common sense myths. This paper presents empirical evidence of how current practice compares to some of the older models of creativity that still appear to predominate in the promotion and consumption of recordings.
In his discussion of where the copyright splits should fall, Phil is dealing with many complex issues that are of particular interest to songwriters. He frequently comes back to the question I’ve been addressing in my PhD work – that of ‘what is a song’? There is a straightforward enough legal definition, of course, in that songs are the IP dealt with by music publishers – essentially, harmony, melody and lyric, with everyone else as an arranger or performer. But of course music technology and studio creativity makes nonsense of laws that have hardly changed since the birth of music publishing (i.e. the days when music publishers just printed sheet music). I’ll link to the proceedings of this paper when it’s published.
Here’s a reproduced image from a wonderful blog post at the always-interesting site http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/.
I’m putting a copy of the post up here to preserve it just in case the original post is taken down, but please do read the original.
In summary, the stats demonstrate that the decline of CD sales has not been replaced – in artists’ income terms – with the rise of digital. So artists were hugely better off in the age of physical CD sales. The original data (which includes some well-researched stats about songwriter royalties) can be found in this spreadsheet.
————- original post below ————–
Recently, the UK government passed The Digital Economy Act which included many, perhaps draconian, measures to combat online music piracy (including withdrawing broadband access for persistent pirates).
Much was proclaimed about how these new laws would protect musicians and artists revenueand livelihoods.
But how much money do musicians really get paid in this new digital marketplace?
This image is based on an excellent post at The Cynical Musician called The Paradise That Should Have Been about pitiful digital royalties. (Thanks to Neilon for pointing that out). I’ve taken his calculations and added a few more.
As ever, this was incredibly difficult to research. Industry figures are hard to get hold of. Some are even secret. Last.Fm’s royalty and payment system is beyond comprehension. (If you can explain it to me, please get in touch)
Note: these figures do not include publishing royalties (paid to composers of songs). The full spreadsheet of data does though. You can see all the numbers and sources here:http://bit.ly/DigitalRoyalty
[this is a mirrored post from my Web 2.0 HE blog]
A lot of the posts on this blog have been somewhat one-sided, perhaps even evangelical. This is because I believe that there are serious strategic benefits to Universities and other large organisations of adopting ‘free’ web-based interactive services, rather than trying to source all their IT needs in-house.
But today I’d like to take a different angle on a much-rehearsed debate – the idea of democratically-collated knowledge, most famously exemplified by Wikipedia.
The Wikipedia arguments
I meet academics all the time who are not regular Wikipedia users, and many of them are critical of it because the very concept sounds absurd. To publish an article on which people rely for research, and to make it editable by anyone in the world seems anathema to HE’s methodology of peer review and serious scholarship. But this point of view misses two important characteristics of Wikipedia – firstly, it is not a primary source. Its policy states that entries should cite only verifiable and reliable primary and secondary sources. Secondly, to criticise it based on the potential for malicious damage is to misunderstand the basically altruistic nature of humans; the majority of people seem to enjoy sharing knowledge. Wilful sabotage takes place, of course, on Wikipedia as in physical textbooks (remember those rude pencil drawings in the margin of your teenage classroom copy of Hamlet?), and, this being the web, the online version is instantly published worldwide. But there is a critical mass of opinion that will prevent inaccuracy; try sabotaging an important Wikipedia page and you’ll see what I mean – it will revert to the accurate version within minutes, as a member of the community swoops in to heal the wound.
There have been attempts to compare online and print encyclopedias, notably the Nature survey earlier this year, and Wikipedia comes out fighting in these cases. But, just like a regular encyclopedia, it is not a one-stop-shop for research – it’s a starting point to get an overview of a subject, leading hopefully to investigation of the reliable sources it cites. Like all academics, I tell my students that Wikipedia is not a source in itself and should not be cited in research (indeed, Wikipedia’s own policy makes this clear). But unlike some colleagues, I do encourage students to use it in order to identify the reliable sources on which the article is based. Wikipedia works. It’s not the fount of all human knowledge, but it does link to it.
These arguments have been well rehearsed in the blogosphere, in the mainstream press, and even in scholarly research. But today, in the interests of balance, I want to discuss a site that falls down precisely because of its democratic, participatory online approach – Musipedia.
What is Musipedia?
It’s a website, founded by Dr Rainer Typke, that attempts to document and make searchable melodic themes from copyright and non-copyright musical works, mainly from Western/tonal music, covering the classical repertoire, popular song and jazz. Here’s the ‘About’ page from the site. Its philosophy is inspired by Wikipedia (although it is a separate organisation) in that it asks the worldwide community of musicians, musicologists and music-lovers to contribute melodies through various web-based interfaces, and then provides mechanisms for visitors to search its database for melodies. The site went ‘democratic’ in 2004 by adding any-user contributions and edits.
And, speaking as a music specialist, it’s very difficult to use. Entries are unreliable, the database is patchy (it includes some really obscure folksongs and omits some massive international pop hits), and it is musicologically underpowered in several ways, making no reference to harmonic context or bar placement, and suffering from an under-developed rhythmic engine (made worse by some contributor entries that contain no rhythmic information). This is not to criticise Typke – he is an eminent published academic with extensive knowledge of music information retrieval systems and some outstanding primary research. But I suggest that it is Musipedia’s Wikipedia-like contributor system that is its downfall.
The idea of a ‘melody dictionary’ is not new. Barlow and Morgenstern published their ‘Dictionary of Musical Themes’ in the late 1940s, and their database (of 10,000 Western classical themes) is now available online. This is much more reliable (than Musipedia), perhaps because of its non-collaborative nature; it was researched by individuals who had a clear overview of a particular musical canon, and more importantly these individuals had a particular level of musical literacy. It’s not flawless – like Musipedia, it omits harmonic context and rhythmic placement, but as a source of monophonic musical lines it’s perfectly usable. Personally I use it in songwriting dispute cases when I’m acting as a consultant to copyright lawyers – it’s a great way of calculating the statistical likelihood of particular pitch choices. And the updated/online version improves hugely on the original print publication because there is a playable MIDI file of each entry.
Musipedia, I suggest, is hampered because there is no measure of the musical knowledge of its contributors, and no quality assurance mechanism to ensure that entries are accurate (plus inevitable legal hindrances related to online music publishing and copyright). But surely one could say that Wikipedia suffers from the same lack of contributor-screening? Certainly, but in the latter case, there are enough suitably-informed people who can spot an error in an instant; the majority of those with an interest in a particular subject can (and do) error-trap Wikipedia articles. Musipedia is different; making contributions requires a certain level of subject-specific skill (aural pitch analysis, music reading etc) beyond the generic research skills of cross-referencing needed to contribute to Wikipedia. Musipedia’s input interface cannot differentiate between an experienced musician and a tone-deaf music fan, and the same problem applies to members of the online community who might error-trap entries by the latter.
For Wikipedians, a democratic approach has achieved a stable welfare state; but I suggest Barlow and Morgenstern’s benign autocracy is more successful than Musipedia’s hippy commune, despite Typke’s excellent architectural drawings for the squat. Hmmm – might have tortured that metaphor far enough now.
There’s a political parallel here in the UK; whatever one thinks of David Cameron’s Big Society arguments, some roles require specialist expertise and can’t be democratised. There are arguments in favour of self-appointed/untrained community religious leaders or even educators, but I’m sure none of us would want to be operated on by a community surgeon, or be a passenger with a community airline pilot. But I digress.
So we’re back to the gatekeepers debate. Wikipedia shows us that democratisation of factual knowledge seems to work – there are enough people in the know (who care enough) to outnumber the saboteurs, the ‘haters’ and the mis-informed. And the ignorant (I use the term in its non-pejorative sense) will mostly stay away from editing Wikipedia articles about which they have no knowledge. There is little incentive for anyone to make malicious edits to, say, an article about a DNA polymerase, and thus it is more likely that such an entry will be accurate because it will, by its nature, attract interested experts as editors.
Music is different. Everybody loves it, and everybody has an opinion about it. But to perform, compose, notate or analyse music requires a set of learned skills that are diluted, not multiplied, by mass democratic knowledge. And if we have no democratically effective mechanism of differentiating between accurate and inaccurate entries, the database’s integrity will suffer.
So I conclude, tentatively, that applying democratic principles to factual knowledge seems to be a recipe for accuracy. Applying them to technically challenging skills such as melody transcription doesn’t seem to bring the same benefits. It’s early days for Musipedia, and I really hope it succeeds, but its wikipedia-like strategy may just be its downfall.
Which is maybe why 99% of the songs on myspace aren’t so great. Sometimes you need gatekeepers.
Here’s a copy of a post from my Web 2.0 blog.
In my own academic research work (PhD in progress until 2014) I try to keep all my data and documents in The Cloud. This is partly borne out of enthusiasm for e-learning generally, but mainly out of practical necessity; my bibliography is currently around 200 items, and I expect it to hit 1000+ eventually. Some of these works are paper-based books, but most are electronic journal articles (stored as indexed, searchable pdfs, with the attendant bibliographical metatdata available to the citation tools available in Zotero). I work on 5 different Macs and an iPhone, and although I have a paper-based library at home (with, like,real bookshelves and everything) this library is, of course, non-searchable by text string, slowing down my research productivity.
My supervisor is a very experienced and knowledgeable academic who tends to work in a very different way i.e. using paper-based books and printing out journal articles. We understand each other in this respect; he often champions the depth of thought needed to sit down for a long reading session with no distractions; I am inspired by the intellectual and conceptual ‘branching’ that can be achieved by plundering an academic’s bibliography and exploring ideas online – e.g. finding Google book previews to develop further reading.
To contextualise the forthcoming rant about the frustrating limitations of Amazon’s new Kindle For Mac (and iPhone) application, here are some of the characteristics of physical books vs on-screen documents.
|Better/more tactile reading experience||Uncomfortable for long reading sessions|
|Geographically fixed||Available everywhere|
|No text-search||Fully searchable|
|No copy and paste||Quoted excerpts can be pasted into work|
|No hyperlinking||Can be hyperlinked (chapters/headings etc)|
|Cannot be shared with others||Can easily be shared|
|Immune to copyright infringement||Susceptible to copyright infringement|
If you agree with this (I hope uncontroversial) summary of the characteristics of the two media, you’ll agree that the first and last rows represent the advantages of using books for research; the rest represent the advantages of using electronic means of study (summarised by but not exclusive to the category ‘.pdfs’). My personal choice is always to go with e-media for these reasons, but it’s exactly that – a personal choice. Many highly effective and more high-profile academics than I are still using paper-based research.
So, to the issues with Kindle. As you see I am already a primed and enthusiastic user of e-learning and an on-screen reader, so yesterday for the first time I found an academic text on Amazon that was available as an e-book download for Kindle. Previously, whenever I’d discovered a research text that was in print, I’d either schlepped over to a library (creating an ever-increasing carbon footprint) or bought the book online and waited for the post to arrive a few days later (increasing the postal service’s carbon footprint – but I’ll leave aside the eco-angle for now).
The book (Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi) showed up as being $12.01 as a Kindle download. Not bad for a large-ish specialist interest book, I thought, and way cheaper than my local Waterstones, until I looked at the row below and saw that the paperback version was $8.99. How can it possibly be cheaper to produce a physical book than an e-book – do the Kindle R&D department staff have a particularly luxurious office building? Never mind, I thought – at least I’ll get it straight away without having to wait for shipping from the USA, and I’ll have the advantage of being able to read the book on the phone too, so I’ll pay the extra and get the download now. Literally one mouse-click later, the book was on my Mac desktop and syncing merrily over the web to my phone, with Amazon’s legendary e-store usability making it an effortless online purchasing experience.
The Kindle app allows you to read the book, and change the font size on-screen. It remembers where you left off reading, and lets you put a manual ‘bookmark’ in the text. And that’s the whole feature set. No text search, no copy-and-paste, and no indexing – exactly, in other words, like a real book.
It appears, then, that Amazon have taken the e-book metaphor to its logical extreme. They have managed to reproduce faithfully all of the disadvantages of the physical book medium online. So much so that even when I’ve bought a Kindle book, I find myself going to Google Books limited preview in order to text-search it. Here’s the table updated to compare the Kindle to the printed book.
|Better/more tactile reading experience||Uncomfortable for long reading sessions|
|Geographically fixed||Available everywhere|
|No text-search||No text-search|
|No copy and paste||No copy and paste|
|No hyperlinking||Very limited hyperlinking|
|Cannot be shared with others||Cannot be shared with others|
|Immune to copyright infringement||Immune to copyright infringement|
The last row, of course, is key to all this. If Amazon enabled all my wish-list of features, the copyrighted object (the text itself) would be easy to copy and distribute. But these are specialised works with a small sales volume in any format – if Amazon made the usability of these e-books greater, more academics would buy them, especially if the price point was more realistically tied to the production cost.
My point is that the Kindle e-book represents an inferior product to the physical book – at a higher price – and it provides fewer features for the reader than a pdf. Even as an e-learner I do actually like the physical experience of having a book – it’s just that the other advantages of e-text outweigh this short-term tactile benefit.
Kindle/Amazon should learn from the music industry’s experience in the early 2000s – consumers will not tolerate Digital Rights Management for long.
I’ve recently been researching musicians and neuroscience as part of my PhD in collaborative songwriting, and I’m starting to form the impression that the academics in the USA are a little freer with the copyright on their publications than many of their UK equivalents. Here’s an example from the Neurosciences Institute’s Aniruddh D. Patel. And here’s Laurence Parsons, a UK-based academic working in a similar area of research. Patel’s publications list has pdfs directly downloadable from the webpage with no login; Parsons’ page sends us to the usual gateways (JSTOR etc). This is not to compare the individuals, more the policies of openness relating to their respective institutions.
Anyway, this was just a quick example – I’ve ranted about the issues about copyright relating to academic journals in the Web 2.0 blog. The main point of today’s entry is to fly the flag for Zotero, an online research tool I’ve recently discovered in case any researcher academics stumble across this blog. I’ve been using Endnote (a commercial application costing over £100) and I wanted to find out if it would fulfil my own research needs, namely;
- Storage of journal articles in The Cloud
- Full text search of all documents
- Drag and drop citation functionality using MS Word
- Automatic web page indexing
- Drag and drop citation functionality using Google docs
And I was amazed to discover that there’s a Firefox plugin that does all these things and more – outperforming Endnote (the application I’ve been using) and RefWorks (the one the University uses) and supplies 100MB of online storage. And it’s free!
Here’s their blurb;
Zotero is an easy-to-use yet powerful research tool that helps you gather, organize, and analyze sources (citations, full texts, web pages, images, and other objects), and lets you share the results of your research in a variety of ways. An extension to the popular open-source web browser Firefox, Zotero includes the best parts of older reference manager software (like EndNote) — the ability to store author, title, and publication fields and to export that information as formatted references — and the best parts of modern software and web applications (like iTunes and del.icio.us), such as the ability to interact, tag, and search in advanced ways. Zotero integrates tightly with online resources; it can sense when users are viewing a book, article, or other object on the web, and—on many major research and library sites—find and automatically save the full reference information for the item in the correct fields. Since it lives in the web browser, it can effortlessly transmit information to, and receive information from, other web services and applications; since it runs on one’s personal computer, it can also communicate with software running there (such as Microsoft Word). And it can be used offline as well (e.g., on a plane, in an archive without WiFi).
Here’s a detailed comparison of several of the bibliographic applications available.