Saturday, October 11, 2008

out in the field.. in the studio..

Last week I did my first four hours of studio observation for my pilot project. I'm researching musicians' practices in the process of music-making to see how they implicate copyright law. (I use the word "implicate" because I'm having a hard time finding a word that could suggest law affecting practices but also practices having implications for law, but it's that 2-way relationship that I'm most expecting to find and that I don't want to obscure or ignore.) Those of you who have followed along, especially last summer's 2 months in Jamaica, might remember what this is building up to - an ethnography of Jamaican musicians in the context of Jamaican and international copyright law.

The pilot project is on musicians in the Bay Area, to map out some of the ways copyright law comes up in the recording and rehearsing process. By trying to sketch out some of the different ways the law is visible among musicians in the process of creating, I hope to get a sort of vocabulary of things to look out for in the Jamaican music-making process. Ultimately it will all become part of a schema for a comparative study about copyright law and music-making. By focusing on the music-making aspect - the beginning of th creative process, I am going to focus on something that hasn't been so much studied in terms of copyright law's effects. It's easier to track how the law manages the products of music-making (music-recordings), and this has been done in various ways. But what actually happens with decisions in the music-making process? This is what I can't demonstrate in my panel today at the Free Culture Conference. I will be playing music recordings (the product) and talking about what they suggest about the process of making it. But I will be reallye excited to come back from my research with some discussions about music-making (and recording) that rely on evidence from observing the making itself.

Just like article writing, it's easy to see an end product as a series of triumphs and a logical progression of decisions: I thought this, I researched it, and I got a conclusion. Wa-hey! But the process is usually much messier and relies more on chance, setting, social connections and interactions, mistakes, battles, and compromises. I imagine that may be true for music-making as well. In both cases accounts of processes can tell us something important about the conditions of creation - which could help us improve those conditions if we thought it was important.

By the way, if anyone in the Bay Area is in a band, and wouldn't mind letting me observe a rehearsal or two or some studio recording sessions, leave me a note in the comments. I will keep identities confidential (if you want that can include no blogging at all about my experience, otherwise I might write but would keep the identity of the band/people anonymous).

Also if anyone has ideas for more funding for this work, I've gotten some, but living in Kingston is not cheap at all, so I am still working on more. Any sources, public and private, beyond the usual (SSRC, Fulbright, Wenner Gren Foundation, Soroptimist, NSF) much appreciated.


  1. That sounds like a really cool project. I look forward to reading about it as you continue your work.
    Wanted to attend the Free Culture Conference, but I'm a bit far away (currently living in Nigeria, studying their copyright law).
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Interesting project...could you keep me posted about the results of this study???


  3. Hey Ripley, I'm workin on a bunch of stuff this week. Wed night or Saturday day. I work at my house by Mosswood park. Hit me up if you think you'd want to stop by.

  4. This looks like a great project. I am excited to see how it turns out. We are definitely working on similar things. I would love to know more about your work.