IASPM session 2a – Australia and New Zealand

Dialect and DespairSession 2a – Australia and New Zealand. Chair: Eric Hung

The Architects of Culture: Developing the Concept of a ‘Shared Listening History’. James Cox (Macquarie University, Australia)

[abstract]

As Schloss (2006) has suggested, Hip Hop practitioners are mindful of the culture’s history and traditions. This is true of Hip Hop artists in Australia and New Zealand, who are keen to promote their knowledge and respect of the culture’s history and traditions.

This paper will examine the ideas behind such a conservative selection of cultural works that form the basis for Hip Hop music. As Dimitriadis (2009) has suggested, a Hip Hop identity is often “worked through” by a complex positioning and re-positioning of texts between peoples. The selection of such texts forms a ‘Shared Listening History’ among Hip Hop artists in Australia and New Zealand. This allows for the construction of a Hip Hop identity worked out through interaction with these texts. A point reiterated by Australian Hip Hop artist Dialect, “[my music is] straight up Hip Hop music, concerned with preserving and respecting the culture’s traditions and origins [as] laid out by the architects” (Tang 2011, p.22).

Drawing on ethnographic research with Hip Hop artists in Australia and New Zealand, the paper exemplifies how a ‘Shared Listening History’ provides an important structure within the genre. Australian and New Zealand Hip Hop artists engagement with the “architects” of the culture has important implications on the ways in which these artists then construct their music and remain “authentic”.

IASPM session 2 – Re(listening) Popular Music History: Tin Pan Story, Keir Keightley (University of Western Ontario, Canada)

TIn Pan Alley

Tin Pan Story, Keir Keightley (University of Western Ontario, Canada)

[abstract]

Between 1910 and 1919, a spate of stories set in Tin Pan Alley (the New York sheet-music publishing district) appeared in mass-circulation magazines, newspapers, and cinemas. These contributed to the growing popular knowledge about how popular music was manufactured and promoted; thus they can offer us useful views of the workings of the early music industry, from a perspective that differs somewhat from non-fictional accounts of this period. My paper will explore what these stories tell us in particular about the evaluation of popular music and its frequently fraudulent industrial practices. These largely “romantic” narratives are driven by a conception of Tin Pan Alley as a place where authentic love and authentic musical creation/production can become, against the odds, intertwined and interdependent. Here also we glimpse the rising prominence of “backstage” or insider accounts of cultural industries in the 1910s, prior to Hollywood’s mass of self-revelations and self-mystifications of the 1920s. Together, these insights can contribute to a broader historicisation of contemporary notions of authenticity in general, and of their mainstream, mediated roots in particular. This paper represents the next phase of my current work on a genealogy of “mainstream” authenticity, first presented at my Liverpool 2009 plenary, “Tin Pan Allegory”.

IASPM 2013 keynote: Prof Simon Frith

To anyone who is involved in the academic discussion of popular music, Professor Simon Frith is perhaps one of our megastars. I was delighted to hear that he was the keynote speaker for this conference, as he is one of the driving forces behind IASPM itself and our journal – Popular Music. That this is his final conference (he intends to retire within the year) made his speech all the more poignant.

Teatro

[with apologies to Simon for any inelegance or misrepresentation in the summative text below – I found the keynote extremely engaging, and have tried to balance my own interest in his points with the practical necessity of live blogging!].

Simon opened his keynote with a comment about his preference for the avoidance of nostalgia – and noted that Bruce Springsteen will be performing in Gijòn this week! He talked briefly about his influential book Performing Rites, written in the 1990s, and then discussed where popular music scholarship might be going today. His interest has always been partly located in the arguments of what constitutes ‘value’ in popular music, and notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ popular music. As an academic he takes what is still a very brave approach – of using academic tools to analyse highly contextual social considerations of aesthetic value in music.

IASPM 2013 – Gijòn, Spain – with Abbey Road and some Japanese Prog

Joe at IASPMI’m here at the 2013 IASPM (International Society for the Study of Popular Music) biennial conference. I’m one of about 20 British popular musicologists and there are several hundred of us from all around the world. We’re at the magnificent Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura in Gijòn, Spain. I’ve attempted to blog the sessions – including the abstracts and a brief summary – here. I do so with apologies to the presenters for any unintentional misrepresentation.

joebennett.net/category/iaspm

You can’t teach songwriting! (from Total Guitar magazine)

This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 231, September 2012. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Andy Watt. Click the image to download a pdf.

TG231 screenshotTo many songwriters and music fans, the title above seems pretty self-evident. Most successful songwriters weren’t taught how to write songs, and besides, songwriting is a form of self-expression, so what’s to teach?

Perhaps surprisingly, speaking as someone who ‘teaches’ songwriting, I’d go a long way towards agreeing with this statement. There is no formula for writing a song, and although there are methods and techniques that are in common use, these are so varied that it’s impossible to identify one that works in every situation. But if we assume that most songwriters don’t write their best work on the first attempt, it follows that if songwriting can’t be taught, it can certainly be learnt.

How, exactly, do we learn? If popular song is a form of self-expression, it could be viewed as a kind of language, with its own grammar, structure and rules. We can learn a (second) language by buying a phrase book or working with a teacher, but it’s easier just to go and live in the relevant country – and of course we learned our first language just by growing up hearing it every day.

The first teaching method is to ensure that the student has heard lots of songs, and by ‘heard’ I mean really listened in detail. If you love a particular songwriter’s work, it’s worth putting the hours into working out exactly how their songs are constructed. How many bars are in the intro? How many times per bar do the chords change? What rhymes, images and syllable-counts are used in the lyric? Is the melody mainly scalic (consecutive notes), static (repeated notes) or intervallic (leaping between notes)? We don’t necessarily have to copy all of these characteristics all of the time, but a little bit of this sort of geeky analysis can help us to understand what we love about our musical influences. By analysing repertoire, we can build up an arsenal of songwriting weaponry from which to choose when we’re writing. Our song could begin with four bars of Pearl Jam-style half-bar chord changes, have an opening lyric with some Joni Mitchell-esque visual lyric imagery, using descending scalic melody sequences reminiscent of JS Bach. And because we’re only copying compositional characteristics (as opposed to the actual music or lyric) we’re still being creative. This method can help us to break existing musical habits: paradoxically, using someone else’s techniques can make our own songs sound more original.

TG231 illustrationThe second teaching method is to apply all of the above to our own songs, and learn about our personal songwriting styles. We all have subconscious musical rat-runs in our songwriting. One of my own students recently discovered, through self-analysis, that he’d written an entire album where every melody phrase started on the second beat of the bar. Once he’d realised this he could choose to allow or avoid the tendency; in this way he developed new creative options in his songwriting, making his albums more interesting for the listener.

The final, and perhaps most important teaching method, is disappointingly obvious. In a word – practice. Songwriting is a musical (and literary) skill and it gets better the more you do it. A guaranteed way to make your songwriting ten times better is to write ten songs and trash your least favourite nine.

But this is all unnecessary, cry the naysayers. The Beatles were never taught songwriting – they just wrote from the heart. Well, not taught perhaps, but they certainly learned. Strumming along to Little Richard and Carl Perkins records in Liverpool living rooms – and six-hour covers band sets in Hamburg clubs? Repertoire analysis. Co-writer negotiations between Lennon and McCartney? Self-analysis. And the journey from ‘Love Me Do’ to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’? Practice.

So no, you probably can’t teach songwriting. But every time we listen to the radio, go to a gig or play a cover version, we’re learning to write better songs.

Copyright and plagiarism in songwriting – some case studies

Riff
The Bitter Sweet Symphony riff. How much of ‘The Last Time’ do you recognise?

Below are the slides (with playable YouTube examples) from a recent lecture I gave to BA Commercial Music at Bath Spa.

The songs we discussed in the session are;

  • My Sweet Lord (George Harrison)/He’s So Fine (Ronnie Mack)  – copyright case, 1971 and 1976
  • Live While We’re Young (One Direction, 2013)  and Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash, 1982) – subjective similarity
  • History of the Black Night riff – a ‘copyright orphan’ excerpt, following its history from George Gershwin in 1935 to Deep Purple in 1970 (and, some argue, to P!nk’s So What many years later)
  • Bitter Sweet Symphony (The Verve, 1997) and The Last Time (The Rolling Stones, 1965) AND The Last Time (the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, 1966).

We also talked about other famous examples, including the Puff Daddy Every Breath You Take sample, after which the students asked lots of questions relating to their own creative practice (mainly, “but why can’t I sample other songs?!” and “but really, why?”).

I’m in the process of writing up these examples into a formal research paper, which will discuss the issues relating to the privileging of melody in copyright disputes, and will be presenting a conference paper about melodic similarity at the PopMAC conference 2013 in Liverpool. Abstract here.

If the embed below doesn’t work for you, here’s a link to the Google presentation.

Eurovision 2013 live blogging


Logo[This is a live blog – hit ‘refresh’ in your browser throughout the evening and the most recently performed song will appear at the top. As in 2012, each song will be scored as we hear it. Geeky musicological commentary will be added wherever possible. As always I’m going to try (and will probably fail) to pick a winner.]

So, to the predictions. I am typing this at 22:07 on the night, and will, as in previous years, leave my (inevitably wrong!) top 3 here for posterity, and afterwards will post the actual winners below these. I got two of the top 3 right in 2012, but I’m worried this was a fluke. I really want Greece’s ‘Alcohol is free’ to do well, but I fear that there may not be enough irony in mainland Europe to fuel its deserved propulsion up the ranks. I’m also concerned that my grumpiness about Ireland may be misplaced – people might just buy those lyric clichés. They’ve done it before, and will carry on… till the end of time…

2013 Eurovision – my predicted top 3

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Russia

—————- [edit – 23:30pm]

2013 Eurovision – actual top 5

  1. Denmark
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Ukraine
  4. Norway
  5. Russia

So all of my top 3 were in the top 5 – but I missed two big songs (Azerbaijan and Ukraine) by a fair distance, only scoring them as 61% and 64% respectively.  But the blog successfully predicted the winner in both 2012 and 2013 (albeit after a total disaster in 2011, where I failed to get any of the top 3).

Overall, I thought the song quality was way higher in 2013 than in previous years, with a general consistency of good quality songwriting across the board. See you next year!

—————– [end of edit]

26 Ireland • Ryan Dolan • “Only Love Survives”