Accounting for Agency and Structure in the Creative System #arp2015

Phillip McIntyre, University of Newcastle, Australia

Accounting for Agency and Structure in the Creative System: Bringing an Album of Pop/Rock Songs to Completion.

Abstract: This conference paper is based on research undertaken for a forthcoming book chapter. The analysis is premised on the idea that research into the phenomenon of creativity has grown methodologically and theoretically sophisticated as more evidence mounts refuting romanticist and inspirationist understandings (e.g. Alexander 2003, Negus & Pickering 2004, Pope 2005, Kaufman & Sternberg 2010, Sawyer 2011). From this research literature a number of confluence models have been proposed, in particular Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (1988, 1997, 1999) systems based approach to creativity, complemented by Pierre Bourdieu’s (1977, 1990, 1993, 1996) systematizing of cultural production. Both approaches indicate that agency, the ability to act and make choice, is dependent on structures, those things that are seen to determine action. Creative agents, who may be singular individuals or collective entities such as groups or institutions, form part of the system of creativity along with the structures of a musical and technical knowledge system, or domain, and a social organisation, or field, which affords the emergence of creative product from a recording studio environment. This system both constrains and enables creative action in the studio at one and the same time. In this case agency and structure are interdependent. To demonstrate these ideas a single case of studio practice has been documented. The case study (Yin 2009, Robson 2011) analyses the recording of an album with a pop/rock band and follows not only production but also documents the pre and post­production processes that occur prior to and after the production period. In doing so this study investigates the agency of songwriters and musicians as well as producer, engineer, mastering engineer and management, and their contribution to creative production in relation to the structures they engage with, in an attempt to cast light on the systems based nature of creative practice in the studio.

JB note – I didn’t catch Phillip’s presentation but wanted to include the abstract, not least because his writings about the application of the Systems Model of Creativity in popular music has been influential upon my own academic work.

The Creative Studio Practice of Contemporary Dance Music Sampling Composers #arp13

Nothing can come from nothing. Aristotle knew that this sculpture began as a block of stone…

MOREY, JUSTIN (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK)
MCINTYRE, PHILLIP (Univ. of Newcastle, Australia)

The Creative Studio Practice of Contemporary Dance Music Sampling Composers

This paper seeks to investigate some of the considerations that inform and help to determine the creative studio practice of contemporary sampling composers. Collaborative writing and production, specifically the co-opted collaboration implicit in using samples, will be assessed to consider those aspects of the production process which the participants consider to be authorial. These considerations include acts of listening, selecting and editing. In examining these matters this paper places, emphasis on how sampling composers actively constrain their options in order to promote a creative relationship with their musical material. Techniques such as, firstly, traditional sample manipulation, secondly, the use of a sample as an initial building block for a composition from which the sample is then removed and, finally, live performance in the studio which is subsequently cut up and treated as a sample, will be discussed. Case studies, in the form of semi-structured interviews with sampling composers, will be drawn upon to assess approaches to and views about these forms of studio composition.

Art of Record Production conference – paper session 4

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.

Mark Sarisky presenting at ARP 2010


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);





Mark Sarisky

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.

Boy & Bear

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.

Right. Lunch!