Field Notes is the section in The Journal of Popular Music Studies devoted to chronicling and reflecting on the numerous ways people write about our subject. In that spirit, the journal convened a Field-Notes-themed plenary session at the 2019 IASPM-US meeting to discuss the current state of popular music studies, IASPM style. The editorial team identified four broad topics for discussion: identity, membership, conferences, and the journal itself. We invited people to speak briefly on each topic to open up a conversation with the audience. Those remarks and that conversation are printed below, edited for concision and clarity.
Norma Coates: I attended my first IASPM conference in Pittsburg when I was a grad student twenty and a half years ago. I remember the exact date and place because I was five months pregnant, and that baby will be twenty-one next Friday. I was in grad school writing my dissertation proposal. I owe my career to the senior scholars who took me under their wings at that conference and others, people like Anahid Kassabian, Reebee Garafaolo, the late David Sanjek, among many, many others who were there to comment on my work, offer suggestions, help me get published, and write letters of recommendations. Now I’m a senior scholar, whatever that means, and I was asked to think about what the role of IASPM-US should be.
In 1997, popular music studies was not very welcome in most traditional music faculties and an oddity in the so-called cultural departments. The impact of cultural studies and theor. . . gave established scholars and graduate students new tools for interrogating culture and history. Consequently, much energy and membership came from the humanities side, particularly graduate students and newer tenure-line faculty members. I’m sitting here looking at Theo Cateforis, who was probably at my first meeting, so he was one of those rare musicologists who was out there, also a grad student. Since that time, music faculties became friendlier to popular music studies and work in the field, just as media studies and other humanities worked to focus on different issues. Sound studies has emerged as a similar yet different inter-discipline.
Ethnomusicologists brought new methodologies and investments into the study of popular music and have enriched our conference and organization very much. As popular music studies in the U.S. grew, so did a push for more disciplinarity, causing an unfortunate reiteration of what is perceived sometimes as an unbridgeable gulf between cultural and musicological approaches to popular music study. The annual Pop Conference provides another national source for thinking and talking about popular music.
What then, is IASPM-US’s identity? Ongoing debates over disciplinarity as well as discussions about how or if to include non-academics, particularly journalists and practicing musicians, obscure the real problem facing IASPM and the field in general: the defunding and in some cases the demonization of the academic humanities is IASPM’s biggest threat. Graduate students face a future of precarity, and specializing in popular music may be a liability. or it may not. IASPM can’t change the current environment, but we can support scholarship in popular music as well as popular music scholars, especially graduate students and early career scholars. We are the only academic organization solely devoted to the scholarly study of popular music of all kinds, not just of the Anglophone sphere. I purposely use the word “scholarly” instead of academic on purpose, because writing by those outside of the academy, particularly journalism, is scholarly too, if the definition of scholarly includes deep research. Read one of Elijah Wald’s books or listen to Chris Molanphy’s Hit Parade podcast to see and hear what I mean. Journalists often provide much of the evidence for our scholarship; it seems bizarre to leave them out of our remit.
Consequently, we should be less concerned with disciplinarity, growing the organization, or attaining an imaginary ideal of academic rigor, and more concerned with building the field by encouraging and helping emerging scholars in popular music studies. I believe we should use our annual conference for exchange, not only of knowledge presented via papers, but also for mentorship of those who continue to persist with their studies of popular music even against the odds. More than ever, we should ensure that IASPM is a community, not just an organization.We should support all of our members as they navigate the job market, publish, and build their careers. We must continue to ensure that IASPM is a space that welcomes diversity of all kinds. IASPM can be more than an annual meeting; we are never going to be a huge organization, but we can turn that into a strength, not a liability.
Kwame Harrison: Our charge today included calling out habits and assumptions that shape our field, questioning their efficacy, and considering change. We have an assumption in IASPM that a division exists between scholars who come to popular music studies with a musicological perspective and scholars who come to popular music studies with a more of a sociological perspective. The former have formal music training and in their work tend to analyze the significance and meanings of musical texts; the latter do not necessarily have musical training, although many of us have past and current experiences with bands, but generally speaking look to music as a social force that is implicated in identity formation, cultural production and community building. There are certainly a handful of members who comfortably occupy both sides of this divide, but many of us position ourselves on one side or the other. From my perspective, many of us tolerate-to-appreciate one another but do not do enough to collaborate and learn from our counterparts.
There is another less visible divide that when brought to the fore seems less tolerated. I teach a graduate seminar on qualitative research methodologies where early on I emphasize the importance of paradigmatic grounding. Broadly speaking, do scholars observe a post-positivist paradigm that strives for objectivity, that follows models of hypothesis testing, whether stated or not stated, and that seeks to conduct research on people? Or do scholars have more of an interpretivist orientation, acknowledging multiple subjectivities or critical perspectives that focus on the workings of power and the difference that our scholar-advocacy can make in people’s lives? When laying these different orientations out, I advise students about the consequences of getting them crossed up and what it can me in terms of having your work valued or taken seriously. To drive this point home, I share a story of a particular collision between these paradigms that happened at an IASPM conference years ago. Without getting into the details, because I’m sure that some of us were there, the scene was ugly and one of the participants left the meeting never to return. Ever.
We claim to uphold inclusivity, to expand intellectual breadth, and to welcome different voices. A question I ask is: are we inclusive in terms of the approaches to research we recognize and value, or should we be? To what extent do issues surrounding social justice and our understandings of “good work” factor into the answers that we give? Can critical fields like Black feminisms and queer studies productively co-exist with traditional sociology in our conferences and our journal spaces? Or is it more prudent that we define and delimit our boundaries and perhaps clarify what we mean by inclusivity?
Another major assumption surrounds diversity in our organization. Here I am particularly confronting diversity in terms of race and ethnicity of our membership, although I think gender, class, and ability are also important. We assume that through the combination of our racially and ethnically saturated subject matter, our espoused commitments to social justice and our well-crafted statement on inclusion that is posted on our website that diversity of our membership should just organically happen. We have a diversity committee, yet in my time on it I do not remember much work being done, and I wonder what would that work even look like? Would it be finding what amounts to token members to serve on prominent committees? Would it be attempting to get more people of color to go to our conferences?
I’ve been telling a story about four spaces I went to last spring where I was the only black person, and most of the other people were white. One of these spaces was an IASPM-US panel on black music. In truth, there were two of us there. This should be a concern. How do we articulate and act on a diversity mission that amounts to more than simply the diversity work that I speculated on above?
I’m on a committee for the Southern Sociological Society, where we organize an event called ‘Navigating the Academy as Scholars of Color.’ For this year’s event someone decided that we’d call it ‘Navigating the Academy as Tenured Women Scholars of Color.’ All of this sounded reasonable enough, yet when we reached out to invite participants after two of the regular conference attendees that we had in mind to join us said they were not attending this year, we struggled to find even two roundtable participants who met the qualifications of being regionally situated sociologists who were tenured women of color.
My point is that when we look at the graduate student and junior scholar ranks of IASPM, we may see a good deal of diversity, although there is always work to be done. As we move up the rankings—and here I want to particularly draw attention to IASPM’s role in mentoring—outside of a few high-profile scholars, and we probably know their names, things do not look diverse at all.
I see IASPM as the most academic and scholarly professional organization putting issues surrounding popular music at the center of its mission and purpose. We are fortunate to have artists, writers, other people working outside the academy share their perspectives, their expertise, their wisdoms. But our distinguishing characteristic, I believe, is our centering the study of popular music as a scholarly and interdisciplinary endeavor. This means we must be attentive to what methods and subjects of research we include and define ourselves as different from, and what modes of research—and by modes I mean assumptions, evaluations and commitments—we both observe and tolerate.
As a scholarly organization IASPM should provide a network for accessing opportunities and achieving success. This means finding and encouraging people who hold academic jobs and cultivating those who achieve tenure and beyond. Finally, we should be attentive to cultivating and supporting a diverse generation of future popular music scholars so that we can continue to grow the field.
Elijah Wald: Okay, a couple of things: first of all, I think people need to be careful about using the term “journalists” when what they mean is “scholars who do not have Ph.D.s.” I have worked as a journalist. My books that tend to be used in the academy are not journalistic books. They are books that any academic could have written. They are written in reasonably clean prose, but they do a kind of footnoting that we don’t do in journalism. I would also state very strongly that what academics bring to the table in the academic-versus-journalistic discussion is not rigor. And I just want to say that very, very firmly. I have worked in the academy; I have just been through an experience with the New Yorker Fact Checker. I promise you: there is no journal and no dissertation committee that works with the rigor of the New Yorker. Let’s just keep those things in mind at the beginning. of this. In one of my fields, which is blues studies, the most rigorous work—that’s not saying “the best”—is done by Doug Seroff and Lynn Abbott. Lynn does not have a bachelor’s and works at the Hogan Jazz Archive and his job is threatened because they’re changing the leadership. And he has no academic standing. So, making room in IASPM for people who are not Ph.D.s is not necessarily just a matter of making room for journalists.
Making room: The first question would be, is it of any interest to them to be here? I’m not saying that to be critical of IASPM. One of the major functions of events like this is to help people with Ph.D.s find jobs, make connections, and find people who invite them to give talks. That’s an awful lot of what’s happening here, an awful lot of why people are here, and, to the extent that this is what’s being done, broadening to include non-academics is not going to lead anywhere because I’m not really sure what this line of thinking has to offer. Opening a place to journalists where you can publish without getting paid is not going to excite them. And I have to say, frankly, in terms of the diversity part of this, in the way Kwame was talking about, that function of functioning as a job market is one of the big issues and why in fact some tokenism is often a step in the right direction because it does help people find mentors who can help them negotiate what is a very, very messy thing.
But I think always one of the problems with discussing diversity is the degree to which people who have power would like to see more diversity but not lose their personal power. We need to be very, very conscious that people saying, “I would like to have more black colleagues, but of course I’m not stepping down from my job,” is essentially the reality of the academy. And the fact that you have an academy where the tenured people look a certain way is not something that you can fix ‘til they die. Or retire, let’s be kind.
Mike D’Errico: I would agree about accessibility. At the start of the pipeline, as undergraduate students, is often where we’re getting more diversity rather than in grad school. Could we make a space for even undergraduate students? I’m also thinking about this ambivalence which maybe some other people feel, sort of an ethical thing about not wanting to push people on this precarious path. Whether it’s journalism or more traditional academics paths, you don’t necessarily want to be encouraging that because you know how precarious it can be.
K Goldschmitt: I’m an assistant professor from Wellesley College, and I actually owe my current position to a chance encounter that happened at the IASPM-US meeting that happened in Chapel Hill a few years ago. And so, the job market part that Elijah mentioned is real, and at the time, I was precariously employed, I was living off very little money. I remember a chance meeting with somebody who barely made it. I barely made it. Like, I had to borrow money to come to the conference. I could not afford to be there. And if that meeting had not happened, I would not have gotten the job that got me my current job. I’m wondering, in terms of economic diversity, specifically, if there’s a way to have some sort of support? I remember my first IASPM meeting there was much more networking to get cheaper housing, in terms of like sharing rooms. And the lack of that networking and financial support means that a lot of people who want to come to this meeting can’t. Until that is made a more consistent part, we’re not going to see much diversity in this organization.
Kyle Decoste: I’m a Ph.D. student at Columbia. This is my first IASPM, and one thing where it seems to me like there’s room for improvement is in the diversity of presenters. For example, I’m on an all-white male panel on Sunday, and it’s made even worse by the fact that it’s a black artists in politics panel. That’s not to beat up on the programming committee, because I’ve really enjoyed the papers that I’ve seen, but taking into account demographics, who is represented would certainly be a boon to the organization.
Theo Cateforis: This has to do with disciplinary diversity: I think we have a really good representation from a lot of different methodologies and disciplines sitting in the room and at the conference, but each year I look around and I wonder, is music theory, or music theorists, welcome here? Because it is a huge growth area in terms of what SMT, the Society for Music Theory, is doing. They have their own popular music interest group, which is again tremendous and growing in scope, but you don’t see much music theory being done here. . . But is this an organization in which we want to value that? If we want to welcome them to attend, how would we even go about that? This is not a new issue; it’s been a long, lingering issue within IASPM.
Paula Harper: Hi. I’m Paula Harper, and I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I am @PCH9857; do @ me. I’m also in the final semester of a graduate program. In the last few weeks, the two have reached somewhat of a confluence. My Twitter timeline has been flooded by so-called “early career scholars” announcing their exit from academia. These are frequently scholars with a significant social media and public academic presence, with copious publication and teaching experience. Their announcements have been met with sadness and sometimes outrage, but with decreasing levels of surprise. After all, this is so prevalent that it has a catchy, rhyming genre name: Quit Lit. This is what I am using my time and space to talk about today. It turns out that my comment is actually more of a question.
What is the role of societies like this one as music studies, and American academia more broadly, continues to produce numbers of scholars that far exceed the number of tenure track positions that they are being nominally trained to fill? How can this branch of the society, the global IASPM, and all our academic societies, respond to a job market that I’ve recently seen referred to as “turgid” and “a soul-crushing lottery”? What should a society like this strive to do with an academic field that increasingly relies on precarity—a situation which of course acts as a filter along axes of privilege like health and ability or economic access—how does an academic society respond to a reality in which tenure track positions are increasingly the exception rather than the rule, where #AltAc pathways are not ‘alt’ but the norm?
I see IASPM as one of the societies of which I’m an active member that most adeptly engages connections between traditional—“traditional”—academic positions and music scholarship outside of those rarified posts, from practitioners in the music business, those doing museum and archival work, those working in journalist spheres, etc. How can IASPM concretely act as a model, as a vanguard, for fundamental changes to what disciplines and disciplinary training look like in music studies? Changes to the performative genres of our scholarship? Changes to the audiences that we imagine for our research? What steps can the society and its members take to reduce an academic brain-drain in which the scholars currently moving through PhD programs in musicology are destined for Quit Lit, but probably not for the tenure track?
In part, this is connected to what has been termed “public musicology,” where as scholars we work to make scholarship accessible and available for consumption by non-specialist audiences. But I’m also deeply aware of how advocating for scholars to engage in public musicology often gets folded into further neoliberal entrenchments of precarity. So how might IASPM and our other societal endeavors be transformed into key sites for discussions around labor and collective organizing that stretch across hierarchies and institutions? After all, conferences like this are some of the key moments that bring together tenured and tenure-track faculty, adjunct faculty, independent scholars, and graduate students.
I don’t know if this is exactly what Robin and Eric meant for me to talk about, but it’s what’s been on my mind. What strategies and formations already exist? What’s in the works? What can I and the rest of us here, if you’d like—I don’t mean to conscript you into this—be a part of, and what can we do moving forward?
Steve Waksman: I want to speak to this issue that has come up about the academic, the non-academic, the scholarly, and the scholarly broadly conceived as not just academic, which I think is really crucial to this organization. It has been an increasingly significant area of focus over the last several years, largely because of the success of the Pop Conference that Eric has helped to nurture.
I don’t know if any of you are familiar with Samuel Delany’s Time Square Red, Time Square Blue. It’s this great book that’s about Time Square, but it’s also about sociability in a very broad sense. And he develops these two terms in the book that I think are really relevant to what an organization like this is about. One term is contact, and he takes it from Jane Jacobs, about the ways in which people living in a city make connections with each other through day-to-day contacts that are informal, allowing for sociability to develop almost organically. To my mind, a well-functioning organization should create a lot of opportunities for contact, meaning at the conference, or through whatever media channels you do, you develop relationships where you have a shorthand, a sense of familiarity.
It’s like a little neighborhood. And in a best-case scenario, over time it nurtures people. It has a value that goes beyond all of the more pointed goal-oriented things that we also come to a conference for. But those goal-oriented things are also still there. And we’ve already heard a few good comments about that, which are really crucial. What Delany talks about with regard to those aspects of forging communal relationships he calls networking. So, there’s contact and there’s networking. Networking is like when you talk to someone because you think they can help you get a job. We all come to conferences to do that. And we’re not going to abandon that. But IASPM as an organization is never going to be able to provide what an organization like American Musicological Society, or Society for Ethnomusicology, or even the Society for American Music can provide with regard to those things because of the difference in scale. That doesn’t mean we abandon networking, obviously, but it means that networking in this context is a different from the big umbrella organizations.
To bring it back to this issue that has come up about how people from different walks of scholarship engage with IASPM, the networking part is where we have the biggest challenges. If we think about contact, contact is why the Pop Conference works, because contact is what makes it so enriching for me to be able to talk with Michaelangelo Matos, a working writer who doesn’t have an academic job but who thinks about a lot of the same kinds of things I like to think about, and does scholarship in a way that I do, just he doesn’t do it with a Ph.D. I love having the ability to engage with those people. It’s crucial. It feeds my own work, having those dialogues. But he doesn’t come to this conference. A lot of working writers don’t come to this conference, and I think Elijah alluded to some of the reasons why. With JPMS, Robin and Eric have been talking about, among other things, the notion that, how do we get more people who work as writers, who depend on their writing for work, to contribute to the journal? Well, we would pay them. Right? But we’re only going to pay them. So that’s complicated. I’m not saying I have a problem with this, necessarily, but it creates a two-tier system. People who work as writers and depend on that revenue, maybe we pay them in order to contribute to the journal; people who don’t, because they get other kinds of prestige from writing, they get another kind of payment, so to speak. It’s the social capital, it’s the academic capital, it’s not money capital. I don’t know how we resolve this, but I think it’s on the networking side of things that we have the biggest challenges to figure out in terms of trying to sort out who our constituency really is and how we can transform it.
Tim Anderson: Like Norma, I have been coming here off and on for twenty-one years, but I took a ten-year break starting in 2005 because I basically had a tenure fail. The reason I dropped out is that this conference had nothing to offer me jobwise. Nothing. Now, I love this conference, and I love the people in this conference, but I had to make the hundred dollar decision. And the hundred dollar decision was that I go to the place that gives me jobs, and that’s the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. I’m trained as a media scholar.
When we talk about precarity. . . we need to think about seriously that aspect that has been mentioned before, that network and contact, that amongst scholars that’s something we provide for each other. And there are ways to do that that are structural. I love the smallness of this place, and I just hope one of the things that we can all do is sort of just meet with each other on a one-on-one basis and listen. . . .
One other thing I want to say about the Pop Conference, which I’ve been to once, is that I find this far more accessible. Because I’m not, for whatever reason, able to write myself into that conference. We might want to think about ourselves, why a space like this is, works. And if it works for academics then maybe we are for academics. I love the fact that we start thinking about going for journalists, but I look around the room here and I see a lot of academics. And we have to be honest about what we are, and when you make a decision, that decisions opens some doors and closes some off.
Robin James: Thanks Tim. Building on Paula’s comments about precarity, the academy and writing/journalism are two industries that are tanking, so I think there’s blurred category of Ph.D.-trained or graduate-trained scholar that quits academia and then works as a freelance writer. . . . It’s less helpful to see them as always distinct. Because of the precaritization of both industries there’s bleed-through and similar issues.
Tim Anderson: That’s fine, but when you go to a tenure committee, and you have to explain that to a chemistry professor who says, “I see in your journals that you are putting people into another precarious position to fail. . . .” I really want you to think about that.
Rebecca Bodenheimer: I am an independent scholar and a freelance writer. And I haven’t been to a conference in three years, partly because I have to fund these myself. And what Robin said I think was really relevant. I still define myself as an independent scholar even though academia doesn’t pay me. I do some academic writing that pays, and so obviously I would be so so interested in this idea of people who are making livings off of their writing getting paid to write. . . I think that would be incredible.
The other thing I wanted to mention is something I tweeted out right after I went to pay my membership fees, and it’s a positive thing. I just took a screenshot of IASPM-US’s membership fees, and I said, “This is an example of an economically inclusive academic society. Sliding scale fees according to income, recognition that independent scholars don’t have institutional support and should pay less, and recognition that grad students are poor.”. . . I really appreciated that; I thought that this was a really good model.
Matt Brennan: It’s my first time at an IASPM-US conference, although I’ve been to lots of IASPM conferences in other branches, and I just wanted to offer, in terms of the comments around precarity and job markets and limitations, some kind of contextual information. I had an opportunity in November to present a similar kind of plenary to this looking at the current state of IASPM and other societies. I looked at the membership for each branch, and what I found surprising with IASPM-US, is that although it, as of last year, had the third largest membership overall, if you take into account the population of different countries, if you do it per capita, it’s eleventh. I know moving out of the country for a job is maybe not the most appealing option, but there are job opportunities internationally. Not loads of them, but there are.
Alexandra Apolloni: I have what might be described as an Alt-Ac position—I’m essentially an administrator at a research center at UCLA. Part of my job is running a small program for independent scholars. One of the issues that I’ve seen come up for these folks that I work with has to do with access to research resources, and I think IASPM could be doing some advocacy work and support of members who are in this situation. I’m lucky enough to be at a university where I have access to libraries, digital databases and all of that kind of thing, but folks who are part of our independent scholar program often don’t have that. We used to be able to offer it to them, but then some rules around licensing with the publishing companies stopped the UCLA libraries from being able to grant that access. Right now, the American Historical Association has a task force working on ways we can support people outside of academia or traditional academic jobs with resources, or lobbying publishing companies. That’s a really important way that we can be supporting scholars in this current precarious climate who want to still be doing their work and participating as scholars in an organization like this one.
Laina Dawes: I’m a Ph.D. student at Columbia University. Prior to attending graduate school, I worked as a heavy metal journalist for about fourteen years. One of the reasons why I got into academia was to legitimize not only the discipline of music that I’m focused on but also my position as a black woman in terms of not only doing extreme heavy metal but also just being a journalist. One of the things, for young black kids who are interested in journalism or even academia, is getting racially siloed into specific genres. If they do want to be independent scholars, it would be great to have the mentorship opportunities where they can actually learn how to work as journalists or writers or music critics or go into academia for popular music or for ethnomusicology, in a way where they do not feel pressure to write about certain genres of music based on their ethnicity or their gender. Bringing in diversity into the conversation, if I’m planning to go to the UK to look for a job because there is more heavy metal studies opportunities in Europe I’d like to know, like, the positionality of myself as a black woman. How is that going to factor into the job market? That is something that we all have to think about. I interact with a lot of young black women that are interested but also very scared because they don’t think they’re ever going to be taken seriously.
Eric Weisbard: Starting us off is a text written by this year’s conference organizer, Kendra Preston Leonard. She’s not here. What she wrote was longer than what we could accommodate in our lightning presentation, so we have an excerpted version.
Text of Kendra Preston Leonard: IASPM-US seems not to have a strong identity as either an academic organization or a fan-centric one. Submissions ranged from the formal and academic to the folksy and casual. This mix made it difficult to evaluate submissions based on traditional academic criteria, and most committee members felt that we should not develop a rubric for evaluations that might be to the disadvantage of non-scholars. This, however, made it difficult to evaluate non-scholarly abstracts.
We encountered some other issues that IASPM-US should address going forward:
Should preference be given to long-time supporters of IASPM-US? Should it be given to officers and other volunteers? I personally believe that all abstracts must be judged anonymously and that no individual should be given a spot as a presenter on the program if their abstract was not accepted using the same method as all of the other abstracts. Others disagree.
How should the committee decide about abstracts for which the program committee is very divided? We ended up dropping the highest and lowest scores and re-averaging, but there are other ways to approach this.
We had requests from accepted presenters to present via Skype or other technology. Ultimately, the venue could not support this. I recommend that IASPM-US form a committee to study the potential for making this possible for future conferences. It would allow significantly more participants.
I strongly recommend that until IASPM-US is larger in terms of returning members and more stable, it should meet in conjunction with another society’s meeting. The current conference focuses mostly on scholarly work in an established mode; in doing so, IASPM-US competes with SAM, the American Musicological Society, the annual Pop Conference in Seattle at MoPOP, and several others. I recommend that the IASPM-US board create conferences with more specific themes and clearer scopes in order to prevent its meetings from getting lost in this large and ever-growing crowd of conferences, conventions, and meetings. I also recommend that if IASPM-US wants to attract non-academics as presenters, it develop a rubric for assessing non-academic submissions and proposals for presentations and other kinds of participation. Relatedly, if IASPM-US wants to continue to meet as its own entity, I believe it must have a dedicated conference coordinator and a functional local arrangements committee at a minimum. Ideally, IASPM-US would have an executive director as well, a paid part-time professional who can manage and oversee events and provide year-to-year continuity for conferences. Perhaps it would be more manageable for IASPM-US to meet every other year or every third year instead of every year; or to pair up with a specific host institution that will help with conference planning, costs, and logistical needs.
Eric Weisbard: I wrote this in part in response to that. There are many views of what a good conference should offer. For example, Kendra Leonard believed it basic fairness for all submissions to be anonymous. Yet knowing the identity of people proposing a range of work and methods makes it easier to judge their authority. Anonymity is not the protocol of American Studies, given that field’s interdisciplinary nature, nor of the Pop Conference that I organized to bring academic and non-academic perspectives into a conversation, nor of the biennial meetings of IASPM as a global organization. To put on a conference is to make choices between valid alternatives that impose different constraints.
IASPM-US needs to improve its challenged conference process. It’s telling that for two years running now, the conference coordinator did not attend, and that this year the organization’s president had to function as local arrangements chair from afar. Institutional memory is lacking: did anybody point out in the planning stages that the theme of Cities was already the theme of a gathering as recently as 2012? To be successful, IASPM-US conferences require strong interest from a local organizer, a program organizer with longstanding ties to the organization, and an archive of instructions to make working on the conference a sustainable endeavor.
My personal preference would be to see the IASPM-US conference permanently merge with the Pop Conference. To me, there is a natural fit between the draw of the Pop Conference as a spring gathering on the conference calendar and IASPM-US’s ability to provide a professional organization, a journal, and financial resources. Let me outline what I think a joint conference should emphasize, given the range of options.
An organizational structure that prioritizes diversity pragmatically. That means: a program committee peopled with consideration of not only gender, race, and sexuality, but disciplinary and non-academic backgrounds, with a proposals call that asks for bios to help identify expertise. The organizer should have previously been a program committee member and should be able to notice different constituencies from earlier gatherings and work to include representatives from a wide range.
A conference structure that makes it exciting to be sitting in rooms for several days. Accept proposals that would make at least somebody on the committee really eager to show up, even if others hate them—that’s better than a collective eh. Before the conference, make publicly available both bios and abstracts so that attendees can make good choices about where to be. Every day should, ideally, feel vital. Don’t allow for too much of a gap between actual panels happening in multiple rooms or people will lose steam. Make sure that organizers receive detailed instructions that stay consistent and are changed when that’s needed.
The goal of finding as many ways to say Yes as possible. Accept at least half of the work that comes your way. Be open to trying things and to suggestions that seem unprofessional. Break with protocol if the result will be a better experience on site.
An understanding that not everybody has to have the same conference experience, but everybody has to feel represented. A grad student starting out in academia. A senior scholar wondering if it makes sense to come back. A performer who loves to read. Those Facebook friends who write for different places and love to meet up. It’s okay if they don’t see the same talks, so long as each cluster of people can recognize meaningful engagement with their interests and needs.
Katherine Mizel: I want to urge IASPM-US to consider the society’s responsibilities not only toward diversity and inclusion but equity and justice. DL Stewart wrote about these frameworks in higher education for the website Inside Higher Ed. They argued that in historically white institutions a focus on diversity and recruitment and admissions has failed to create environments where minoritized students and faculty and staff could actually succeed in the same ways and numbers as white students and faculty and staff. Diversity, Stewart wrote, “asks, ‘Who is in the room?’ Equity responds, ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?’ Inclusion asks, ‘Have everyone’s ideas been heard?’ Justice responds, ‘Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?’ Diversity asks, ‘How many more of any minoritized identity group do we have this year than last?’ Equity responds, ‘What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?’”
Like universities, conferences are spaces typically attached to higher education, and which can facilitate the progress of multiple types of career paths. When we debate issues like the anonymizing of abstract submissions, we are in a very real sense debating equality versus equity. The ”everyone gets exactly the same treatment” way of doing things, versus the, “everyone gets what they need of the context of this society in order to actually have the same level of opportunity,” way of doing things. When we serve on program committees, we should be asking whether our calls for papers, conference themes and conference plans are clearly designed to welcome and support minoritized and non-academic presenters and topics into the society, or whether we are simply leaving the door open, offering a number of broad possibilities and hoping that the invitation is implicit.
Are we looking for submissions that already fit discipline-specific, comfortable ideas about academic conference culture, or are we looking to expand and ultimately transform that culture? Non-anonymous reviews may ultimately better serve IASPM-US in the last sense, the transformative sense, and we might also think about occasional conference themes that address specific topics, for example, in social justice—and I’m not saying that minoritized scholars only want to talk about social justice, but it is a more specific way of indicating that the society welcomes topics and people who are researching those topics. Another thing that has come up in almost all the societies that I’ve been part of is where somebody might suggest making a conference one year have a theme of say, Black Lives Matter, or something like that, and everyone else goes, “Yeah, but then, like a lot of people won’t be able to present what they’re working on.” God forbid that people have to shift their work to focus on justice, right?
Access to conference is often denied or discouraged in other ways. As Kendra noted, presentations by Skype or similar technology would mitigate several of these problems including financial hardships and disability accessibility. However, I want us to keep in mind that Skype is not necessarily a long-term solution to exclusion, since it can only provide accommodation, and accommodation is not the same thing as accessibility or inclusion or equity and doesn’t make the conference itself more accessible in the ways that subventions and truly disability-inclusive conference sites do. And it is really hard to find inclusive conference sites, no matter how much work you do, but I feel like that work needs to be done: accessible conference sites.
I’m probably preaching to the choir here, and I am. . . But like many of the musicians that we write about, let’s commit to practices that will contribute to institutionally transformative change.
Andrés Amado: This is an idea that I had when discussing conferences with colleagues in a different field from mine. In Art History, their major conference only happens in three cities. At first, I thought that would be kind of exclusionary for people that cannot access those cities, but [colleagues] were telling me in the long run it helps them plan better. For people who need to travel it’s a little bit more predictable what the expense will be, and it helps with planning for costs and these kinds of things, and logistics and organizing also become more simple when you know what the venues are going to be and this kind of thing. I wonder if that’s an idea worth considering for this conference.
Martha Ulhôa: I’m visiting this branch also, and I just wanted to say something about the Skype thing because I have seen some conferences where you have the Skype thing. It really doesn’t work that well, because you hear the stuff but you don’t communicate. And I think the part that’s so wonderful in IASPM is that sort of connecting because it’s so informal. That’s why IASPM is very good.
Adriana Martinez: I just wanted to say that I have experienced IASPM three times and I find it much more inclusive in terms of at least scholarly topics than other societies’ conferences. Even today, popular music is slightly marginalized in other societies, and those panels are few and far between on popular music and only happen, you know, on Sunday morning. The kind of work that many of us do is not as welcome, I feel.
Steve Waksman: Joint conferences are really complicated to plan and they’re especially complicated to plan because we as a small organization without some of the things Kendra says we should have, and we will probably never have, plan a lot more by the seat of our pants. When we’re dealing with SAM or SEM we’re dealing with organizations that give all kinds of support to logistics that we just don’t have. The Pop Conference has some of that too, but they lack some of the other trappings that make aligning with them forbidding. We’re looking at a lot of alternatives now, but the proposal that Eric makes seems logical in terms of these two things that are not that much alike but that have a complementarity, whereas with some of these other larger organizations that complementarity is a lot harder to achieve.
Robin James: I think if we were to meet with SAM or another music society, that would fully lean the participation in the conference toward music and make it seem much less interdisciplinary, and which is, I think, one thing the Pop Con has going for it. It’s about everyone. It’s the interdisciplinarity and the connection.
Jamie Corbett: I’m a graduate student and it’s my first time at IASPM. And when I got the email about accessibility, I took it kind of seriously, and I thought that other people would, too. And I think that it’s something that maybe should be taken more seriously, in terms of making presentations more accessible in general by having printouts and things like that. I know it creates more work for presenters, and of course people in more precarious positions maybe don’t have access to free printing like I do. Even just having printouts, and people making some of the recommendations that were sent out in that email a little bit less optional would be a step forward if equitability is a goal.
Gayle Wald: I’m happy to offer some thoughts about JPMS as we think about where it’s going and where it could or should go. With Oliver Wang I became co-editor of the journal in summer 2013. We took it over from Gus Stadler and Karen Tongson, who had succeeded in increasing its visibility and attracting submissions from a more diverse roster of scholars than the journal had previously attracted. Naturally, as soon as the transition was complete, Wiley announced that it would be radically reducing our budget. There would still be money to pay a managing editor, but no longer would there be funds to compensate knowledgeable copy editors to supplement the perfunctory and uncritical proof-read provided in-house.
Oliver and I had no choice but to go along with these cuts, but we did try to continue the journal’s upward trajectory. We oversaw a redesign of the cover and logo, worked with Wiley to make its online services more accessible to IASPM members, and transitioned the journal to an online-only submission process through a platform called ScholarOne, which made our peer review system more efficient. We also made or continued to oversee changes in content to create space for material other than traditional academic articles. We published proceedings from conferences; solicited essays that reviewed performances or museum exhibits; and created the Field Notes section of the journal.
In our tenure, the more straightforward challenge we faced was how to attract new and diverse scholars, or underrepresented topics, defining the journal’s scope. Most submissions reflected qualitative if not humanities-based research, but what to do with scholars who took quantitative approaches? If a minority read musical notation and a majority did not, what advice could we give scholars who wanted to bring music theory to the fore? In the end we insisted that work submitted to JPMS address the inter-disciplinary nature of popular music studies as a field. For historical reasons connected both to the rise of black studies and the emergence of cultural studies, popular music studies has always been critical in its approach to disciplinarity. Our messy field encompasses music but also media, visual culture, fan practices, technology studies, questions of policy, politics, history, and society, and embodied experience of musical subjectivity.
The second challenge of what to do in the face of corporatized academic publishing was less straightforward. Wiley, an imprint dating to the nineteenth century, had acquired Blackwell in 2007 and decided to focus on academic publishing, which profits off of paywalls such as those that protect subscription databases purchased by libraries. Wiley Blackwell’s move reflected the globalization of academic publishing. The firm opened branches in Dubai, China and Brazil, all of them then defined as emerging markets and seen as especially lucrative for STEM publishing. JPMS was one of a relatively small number of social science or humanities-based journals owned by the publisher, which saw them as a means of adding value to bundled primarily STEM-focused services such as Wiley Online Library. Oliver and I would ask Wiley, “Why do you even care if you publish us? You’re really in the business of doing science and social science?” They would say, “Well, it’s kind of nice to have something on popular music bundled with this other stuff, and we can sell it that way.” Our copy editors were in Singapore, where they were forced to read journal copy according to regimented rules that allowed for little or no subjective evaluation. This resulted in egregious errors. In the very first issue Oliver and I were fully responsible for a piece on hip-hop came back to with the cited song lyrics corrected into standard English.
This was but one of the factors that made the search for a new publisher rather urgent by 2016. All of our reasons for wanting to sever the relationship, however, reflected in some way larger issues of globalization and the corporatization of academic publishing. So the proliferation of websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, self-publishing and the like have made music criticism and music writing more ubiquitous, but, that said. I think the work that we do, work that is at best both deeply informed by knowledge of history and archives and invested in asking new questions of both old and new subjects, remains valuable and vital.
Robin James: Eric and I have been at the helm of JPMS for about eight months, working to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by our new publisher, the University of California Press, and to make the journal both more inclusive of people and musics underrepresented in popular music studies, including non-traditionally academic voices. We’ve talked a bit about how to do that, and it really comes down to money. And this blurred boundary between who is a scholar is and who is not a scholar—or who is an academic and who is not an academic. For example, there are graduate students who freelance as their day job in addition to being a graduate student. Where would you put them? That’s a sticky issue.
Part of the opening up of the journal to non-traditional voices has been through commissioning, but we really need people and welcome them. Come to us with your new creative ideas! As Eric said, our inclination is to say, “Yes.” We don’t want us to be the only voices determining the direction of the ship.
Now that we’re working with UC Press, every issue is longer than our issues were with Wiley, and this means we regularly need Amplifier reviews, Field Notes overview, a ‘From the Vault’ piece where we revisit something previously published and have a dialogue about it, plus several peer-reviewed articles for each issue. So, PLEASE! Submit! We’ve brought on an assistant book review editor to help expand the books review section, Alyx Vesey, who is also in charge of compiling a regular round-up of new books in popular music studies, both academic and non-academic. Eric and I are looking to take advantage of the journal’s now digital-only format and dedicated webpage on the IASPM-US site—thank you Brian Wright for curating that. We are figuring out ways to publish more bloggy or of-the-moment pieces of pop music writing that may with some further work make it into the Amplifier section. So if you have a take, hot, maybe not quite so hot responding to something going on in the world and you would like to see it on the IASPM-US website? Get in touch with us. Send us a pitch. And we also welcome suggestions about how to better use digital content.
Challenges: So how do we reach the entire pop music studies audience, which stretches beyond the academy, while also making sure that the journal serves the academic functions, namely peer-reviewed articles that go on CVs, right, for those of us that need it? Some people need peer-reviewed articles; some people don’t. How do we meet as many needs as possible as best we can? There are some models for this, but the real challenge is just the limitation in resources.
Messaging: How do we get submissions that are in pop music studies and not a paper by some random academic writing about their favorite band who doesn’t cite any of the literature in the field? Getting article contributions from senior scholars. Senior scholars, you have friends inviting you to write here and here and here, but we also need you to contribute back to the journal. That’s part of helping the journal be seen as a prestigious place to publish, another kind of mentorship and supporting the field. And finally getting writers outside of tenure processes to see the journal as a rewarding place to write for. We get just about enough money from UC Press every year to pay our managing editor and related expenses. To pay people to contribute to the journal we’d have to find some other funding source.
Some questions for y’all: how can JPMS serve the IASPM-US membership best? What’s working and what needs to change or improve? What would be the advantages or disadvantages of paying non-academic contributors for written journal work? And it would also be helpful for us to know, since this is an interdisciplinary organization, academics, how does JPMS count in your field? Especially as more established and traditional journals in a range of fields are more welcoming of work in popular music, how can we help JPMS maintain or grow clout with hiring, tenure and promotion committees? We welcome your feedback on any of those questions.
Elijah Wald: I just want to step up because I did make the comment about journalists liking to get paid. And I absolutely don’t think you can pay some people and not pay others. No matter how much working journalists need to get paid, we do not need money more than grad students. And no matter how little we think is going to accrue, you never know when you’re going to get a speaking date. And I think you either pay people or you don’t pay people. . . What I would I suggest is you pay people with a box that tenured faculty can check if they want to waive their fee voluntarily.
TM Scruggs: When we moved from print to all-digital and so on, what changed in the subscriptions? What kind of changes happened in terms of circulation or number of subscribers, if any?
Robin James: We don’t have those figures now. . . We just published the first issue with UC Press in July 2018, so it’s still a very recent shift.
Eric Weisbard: By far the biggest challenge with the shift is institutional subscriptions have to start all over again. Individual memberships that include access to the journal, that part is fine. If you do have an institutional affiliation, urge the librarian at your institution to make sure that just as in the past they subscribed to Journal of Popular Music Studies; now with the UC Press arrangement, they should again subscribe.
Norma Coates: Possibly stating the obvious, but I know my university is all about the H-score, or whatever that means, that is number of citations. So, make JPMS your first go-to when you’re starting to write something. Cite the authors in it. Teach the articles. Just go there first. I know I try to.
Kwame Harrison: I know this has changed, but when I first joined the editorial board of JPMS there was a policy at the time that they wouldn’t look at work by anybody affiliated with the journal. So, if your name appeared anywhere in the masthead, they wouldn’t review your book. For me, personally, that put me in a situation where I just always looked elsewhere. That’s different now but something to just make sure people are aware of. One of the real values, I found, in the journal was when we received the physical copy, it was came to all of our members, so we had a community that would receive a physical copy. When I go to shows I still try to buy a physical copy because it sits there and forces me to make sure I revisit the band, listen to the music. This speaks to my own ignorance, but I’m not sure exactly how new issues get rolled out? It’s worth paying attention to how we roll it out, to make sure that our members are aware of what’s going on, so we can continue to consult and cite what’s in it.
Robin James: We’ll be working with Brian on having a robust web rollout, but also as to your first question, one of the things we’ll be charging the editorial board with very shortly is coming up with a set of ethical guidelines for reviewing work for the journal by people editorially involved with it.
Brian Wright: In terms of the rollout question, one of the things we’re working on. . . is having a more robust website and especially a more robust social media presence where. . . instead of just dumping, “Here this new issue is,” also highlighting specific things in the journal, trying to start conversations online in that way.
Rebecca Bodenheimer: I’m not sure why the issue of possibly paying people who either identify as independent scholars or freelance writers would create a caste system. I mean, there already is a caste system. In our society, obviously. I guess I just think of it in the ways that I looked at the sliding-scale fee structure in terms of the membership fee. Why couldn’t it be something like that? It would be easy enough to verify that someone is who they say they are, that they’re not affiliated, you know, with an institution. You know that they are precarious if that’s the way that they’re identifying. I’m not sure why that would necessarily create more economic inequality, whereas it already is there.
Eric Weisbard: Let the record show that Elijah Wald was nodding in agreement at Rebecca’s point!
Mike D’Errico: Just sort of a logistical question about the peer-review process for the journal: having served a few times in that, I don’t know whether there’s a standard protocol. Just how many people generally peer-review? Is it a standard thing? Just one? Okay. Because that’s kind of one thing I was wondering about. I feel like in my experience with it I’ve found that I’ll end up doing a lot of work trying to really build these articles up, and sometimes they come in with varying quality, of course, and that’s part of the process of peer review, but I wonder if it would help to have a couple more peer-reviewers on board.
Robin James: That would be nice, but our experience so far is that it’s difficult often to get one.
Eric Weisbard: And, and by the way, that is part of the challenge of talking about diversifying everything. We think seriously about the range of people we ask to do the reviews, but we’re conscious of the fact that only some people check off a box called ‘Service’ at the end of the year.
Brian Wright: I wanted to go back to Paula’s point about precarity. I’m also the secretary/treasurer of the AMS Pop Music Study Group, and one of the things we’ve done recently is we have our summer junior faculty symposium. It’s not just for musicologists; it’s for anyone who studies popular music. A fairly affordable summer institute. You come out for a few days, you get to network and meet senior scholars who you may or may not know. Speaking I guess officially, I would see it as a very easy move if JPMS wanted to be involved in something like that, and we could make it bigger and have some journal presence. You submit an article or you submit a chapter of your dissertation; it’s a workshopping exercise. That has been really successful, to give us a space where we can get practical, actual advice that is useful. And I’d be totally fine if JPMS wanted to be more involved in that.
Norma Coates: Steve Waksman is the person who in the last two years has moved the journal, did a boat load of work, and since many of us in the organization are sitting in this room right now, I think we need to give him a round of applause.
Robin James: Thank you all, and thank you Steve, especially. Please look for this in an upcoming issue of JPMS in the Field Notes section. If you have further reflections on the state of the field or what it means to practice popular music studies, or anything[Laughs] Front of the book stuff you just pitch directly to Eric and me; submissions go through the regular process. We look forward to reading your work in the future.