Posts Tagged ‘guardian’

h1

So, why is indie music so white?

January 20, 2011

This is a response to Wendy Fonarow’s column for the Guardian Music Blog, “Ask The Indie Professor: Why Are There So Many White Indie Bands?” Briefly, in the article, Dr. Fonarow posits that indie bands reflect the makeup of their audience, which is predominantly white (which, while it’s true for the UK as a whole, is probably not true for many urban areas). She then goes on to argue that non-white people are not drawn to the aesthetics of indie music. You can read the full article here.

I’ve been a devoted indie music fan my entire life. I am the daughter of South Asian immigrants. And while I might not be an anthropologist, I am a professor of engineering and a researcher of the engineering student experience, particularly around gender and ethnicity. And much of what I’ve studied about engineering students, particularly woman and minorities, is also applicable to the issue of non-whites and indie music.

At its core, Fonarow’s argument is that there are few non-white people in indie music because they don’t want to be there. But any argument for underrepresentation of this form is suspect, because it fails to consider the effect of the environment on the individual. At a Belle and Sebastian show in Boston a few months ago, there were so few non-white faces in the large theatre that my companion and I played ‘spot the person of colour!’ At smaller venues, I’m quite often the only non-white person at the gig—and bear in mind that Boston is a fairly multicultural city, with a large student population. So while it’s possible that Belle and Sebastian and other indie bands have nothing to say to people who are not of Northern European descent, which is essentially what Fonarow is arguing, it’s far more likely that non-white music fans receive subtle but unmistakable messages of non-belonging. In my own field, women engineering students face a very different academic experience than their male counterparts in a host of ways, many of them subtle, but with a profound cumulative impact. There’s a large body of literature in psychology and educational research that addresses the effect of the cultural environment, and it’s just as applicable to clubs as classrooms.

Second, Fonarow argues that as “being part of a music community is sharing similar sentiments, it should be no surprise that people raised in the same culture would have a similar ethos…”. She also states that “this may not be appealing to immigrant or marginalised groups who have already experienced poverty and experience genuine outsiderness as a social class.” Whoa, seriously? It’s astonishing that Fonarow lumps together all non-whites, whether in the US, the UK, or elsewhere, in this way. To pick just a few examples, this suggests that a Somali refugee, the middle-class, university-bound children of educated immigrants (which is what I was—hardly an experience of poverty or ‘genuine outsiderness’), a fourth-generation Japanese-American, and the child of Latino migrant workers are all one category. Never mind the fact that the children of non-white immigrants, especially in wildly diverse cities like London or New York City, are being ‘raised in the same culture’ (note to Fonarow: it’s actually quite offensive to be told that your skin colour trumps your upbringing). And this cultural-essentialist approach does just as much of a disservice to white people; it fails to explain, as a friend of mine points out, why one of her children is into indie pop and another loves death metal, despite their identical cultural backgrounds.

As an indie music fan, I read and appreciated Fonarow’s book, Empire of Dirt, largely because of how deeply rooted it is in careful observational research. So why is indie music so white? I don’t know the whole answer, but rather than just cavalierly saying, “So indie bands are generally white in the US or UK, but so what?”, I would really have preferred Fonarow to use her ethnographic skills to talk with the people who care about these questions, not just blithely talking about them.

Image: Atari Teenage Riot @ the Sonar…, used here under its Creative Commons license.

h1

Music and tech roundup

June 30, 2009

A quick hit of assorted news from around the intarwebs while I’m around the world.

Band makes video out of CCTV footage. The Get Out Clause, out of Manchester, performed in front of some of the UK’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras, then requested the footage under the Brit equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, and edited it into the video for their song “Paper” (that’s the vid, above). There’s some question about how much of it is from CCTVs, but it’s still a pretty cool idea. Also, file this one under ‘new business models’ – getting taxpayers to involuntarily fund your promotion efforts (via Hypebot).

Amanda Palmer makes $19K on Twitter in 10 hours. A few weeks ago, we mentioned Amanda Palmer’s online Twitter auction, and we totted up her numbers to report that she made more than $4000. She wrote a letter to Bob Lefsetz, detailing the auction, sales of the #LOFNOTC t-shirt, and a concert. It was a hell of a lot more than $4K (via amanda fucking palmer).

Speaking of Twitter users, apparently we’re valuable to the music industry. A new report by marketing firm NPD reports that Twitter users are heavier consumers of music than Twitter users on a number of axes: they’re about twice as likely to have purchased music downloads in three months prior to the study (and they spend more money), are much more likely to listen to Internet radio, and more. Ars Technica suggests that these differences may be due to Twitter users being tech-loving early-adopter neophiles, although neither they nor NPD seems to make any attempt to correct for household income, which seems like an obvious possibly confounding factor.

Hype Machine publishes names of bands who tried to manipulate charts. Hype Machine recently reported on bands (or PR teams) attempting to manipulate its ‘popular‘ page, and the efforts they took to limit this. But I thought that the most interesting element, at least sociologically, was that they named names: an alphabetical list of the artists “who[they] believe have attempted to manipulate the charts on the Hype Machine. [They] thought [they]’d publish this list to let everyone make their own judgments about quality, integrity and marketing strategies.” You can see the list for yourself here.

Who is the best band in the world today? The Guardian asked a bunch of musicians to name the artist they thought was the best in the world. Geddy Lee of Rush replied, “Describing someone as “the best” is something you do at school in grade 5,” which made me smile, and Rush would probably have been my answer in Grade 6 (not in sixth grade). He did eventually reply with ‘Radiohead.’ You can read the full list here.

h1

God Help the Girl’s subscription model

June 5, 2009

Stuart Murdoch (of Belle and Sebastian) has launched his latest project, girl-group inspired God Help the Girl. He’s blogging about it for the Grauniad, and the first post came out a few days ago:

I was in a pop band, but there was no glamour. I had given it my best shot, but I had experienced none of the highs that I had perhaps expected a working pop singer to experience. I’m not talking about snorting coke and laydeez. I’m talking about something else … it’s hard to say. …Belle and Sebastian have never had a hit record. Not really. Not a proper hit record. Therefore, Belle and Sebastian have never recorded music with the feeling that anyone was actually waiting to hear it! We have never recorded for an audience. Therefore, we have always recorded music … in a vacuum!

They’ve developed a beautiful website to showcase the project, including Murdoch’s diary, a place to ask questions, and making-of videos. And the music project itself is being presented as a subscription, with digital music, CDs, 7-inches, videos and more:

This subscription package will gently unwind over the months allowing you to soak up the living, breathing world of God Help The Girl. A musical project with a beautifully and diligently crafted narrative that deserves to be listened to over time, for each place, character and voice to be properly digested before moving on to the next.

You can learn more about the project here, or subscribe for yourself here. While God Help the Girl aren’t the first people to do a subscription model of this sort, this is a notably well-executed version.

MP3: God Help the Girl – Come Monday Night

h1

“Music industry must change the record”

June 4, 2009

uncased cds

Technology artist and writer Victor Keegan has a column in The Guardian, in which he makes some interesting points about 2008 music sales:

In the last quarter of 2008, album sales in the UK were – wait for it – 0.9% up on the previous year, when the economy contracted by 1.5%. And UK royalties for songwriters rose 8% in 2008. Recession? What recession? Overall album sales, which some had predicted would collapse by more than 10% in 2008, fell by only 3.25%, while digital albums rose by 65%. And the singles market? Why, 2008 was the biggest year on record in terms of units sold across all formats…Indeed, if there had been no publicity about illegal downloads then, on the published evidence, the music industry is one that has been doing remarkably well during the recession.

He also touches on a number of other points, such as the industry’s efforts to extend copyright terms and that innovation in music marketing and sales seems to be almost entirely from outside the music industry, namechecking Spotify and Nokia. Read the full article here.

Image:  It’s those home-burned CDs again, ready for disposal by Flickr user Trevor Coultart, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.