Creativity, Agency and Structure inside the Recording Studio #arp2015


Paul Thompson, Leeds Beckett University, UK

Phillip McIntyre, Newcastle University NSW, Australia

Abstract: Popular accounts of creativity inside the recording studio tend to romanticise and mythologise the record production process (Williams, 2008). These accounts present the artist as the sole creative entity during the recording process, thus endorsing the romantic ideal of a musical ‘genius’ whose artistic expressions are free from any constraint and even somewhat mystical (Zolberg 1990, Petrie 1991, Watson 2005, Sawyer 2006). However, it has been acknowledged that the production of art is always, to some degree, both constrained and enabled by the structures creative agents engage with (Giddens 1976; Becker 1982; Wolff, 1981; Bourdieu 1993). Furthermore, rather than placing the artist at the centre of the creative process there is growing evidence that creativity occurs through the convergence of multiple elements; an agent, a knowledge system (the domain) and a social organisation that holds the domain knowledge (the field), through a dynamic system of interaction (Csikszentmihalyi: 1988, 1997, 1999 & 2004).

Drawing upon current literature, interviews, case studies and data gathered from an extended ethnographic study in the recording studio, this paper explores the interrelated aspects of agency and structure as they apply to the record production process and illustrates their influence on the decision­making process with a group of musicians, an engineer and record producer as they collaborate inside the recording studio.

Phillip begins with a discussion of the Romantic idea of creativity and, in rock, its natural conflict with its market context, citing Wicke. He then sites the discussion in the context of creativity studies, helpfully describing Csikszentmihalyi’s Systems Model of Creativity in terms of the scholarship that continues to inform, cite and support it. Discussion of Agency of Structure and Group Creativity follows.

Paul values the theories from Keith Sawyer’s work (2003) on group creativity (while observing that one of his books is not well written) and discusses domain activity in relation to constraint, field and domain. [JB note: I do like Paul’s use of the word ‘microfield’ to describe the studio team – compatible both with music industry practice and also with Csikszenhimalyi’s theoretical framework].

Towards the end of the session we get to a description of Paul’s group creativity case study, a 7-piece rock-blues band (later identified as The Midnight Inside – not available online currently). The song is described as a pre-agreed structural constraint. The band perceives the rehearsal process as ‘doing a cover version of their own song’. However, the band performs the function of a micro-field, filtering out poor elements of the song as they are encountered. Micro-and macro-level judgements are encountered, and Paul discusses ‘bad fit’ musical elements that are eliminated, citing Schon (1983: 52).

In conclusion, Paul contrasts the structural factors present in the studio and observes that they oppose the Romantic ideas of creativity. Constraints are introduced by the style (i.e. rock).

[I had to leave this session before the end to tech-prepare my own paper so may have missed some of the questioning, but note that Paul and Phillip intend to be publishing more of this work around March 2016 via Palgrave].

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