Making Music for a Museum: An Insider’s View of the Collaborative Creative Process
Dan McKinna (BIMM)
ABSTRACT: To be able to gain an understanding of the creative process in popular music, it is helpful to examine the relationships and motivations at work from the perspective of an insider. Creativity in popular music is often discussed with reference to its social production and in particular to Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus. This, and Becker’s Art Worlds (1982) will be used as starting points, particularly in connection with the different roles and relationships, but the paper al-so seeks to address notions of individual agency and expression; a concept is often at odds with social perspectives on the production of art. In order to explore both the expressive ideals and the roles involved in the music’s crea-tion, a layered, auto-ethnographic approach is adopted so that the work is presen-ted with intertwined interviews, narrative and an analytical voice so as to bring to-gether the divergent themes. I argue that the auto-ethnographic approach has ena-bled the relationships involved in the collaborative production of the music to come to the fore, while allowing for the initial emotional connection and need to ex-press to be addressed. A reading of Bourdieu’s habitus is put forward whereby there can be a predisposition to express emotion in a musical way without losing sight of it being constructed through social interaction between creative collaborators.
Dan begins by introducing his auto-ethnographic methodology; he is a practitioner, and for this project he was contributing as a musician to the museum exhibit. The paper is situated in Toynbee’s/Bourdieu’s identifications of musicians’ ‘habitus’ and Howard Becker’s 1982 definition of The Artist. Others on the team are mentioned – museum staff, studio staff, musicians with different levels of contributions. Dan’s own role was as a string arranger, performer and co-composer.
A studio sessions is narrated event by event, starting from a three-note riff recorded on a phone, and working its way along the production chain (Dan notes the contribution of a team member who fetched the tea and biscuits, laying the tray precariously atop a rack of studio compressors).
Back briefly to our theoretical framework: Toynbee’s idea of the ‘Social Author’ is explored along with Bourdieu’s ‘Fields and Domains’ (1993) and the contributors’ and their activities are sited within these definitions. Studio reportage returns (studio day 2) and some musical specifics are identified [JB comment – it’s wonderful to see this in a presentation – so rarely do we hear this level of detail in academic discussions of creativity].
Personal power struggles are discussed. Stuart (Staples) is the centre of the group, perhaps its leader in creative terms. But other team members have different skillsets – Dan’s being very specific. Dan says he is uncomfortable with the idea of power struggles but considers that they were evident so needs to acknowledge them here. Levels of ‘habitus’ are identified, and the intersection of habitus and field are related to the studio reportage and the contributions.
“It is the feeling that helps to shape the music, no matter how blurred the edges of that feeling are”. This ‘blur’ is situated within Bourdieu and within the specifics of a creative choice and the practicalities of selecting ideas. Through the interview with Stuart, Dan interrogates the ‘Divine Inspiration’ view of creativity, and Stuart finds the question understandably difficult to answer. [This demonstrates the common problem that creators are not always helpfully articulate about process].
We conclude with a wide discussion (taking in Pam Burnard and Judith Becker as well as Bourdieu and Toynbee) of Habitus as Creative Action, and some reflections about the instigation of the project (from the museum) and the drivers of creative behaviours (from the co-writers). The notion of artistic expression cannot be ignored even if agency is clear.