Why Music?

With continued cuts to the arts both in and outside of the academy, music studies (and especially popular music studies) faces increasing risk of disappearing off the research agenda. So, why study music? I’d like to take a brief look at three main reasons.

1. Music allows us to better understand ourselves

For me, this is one of the most persuasive arguments for music studies, and it is what led me to start my PhD in the first place. As Allan F. Moore (2012: 286) writes:

From a good song, we learn about ourselves. From finding out what we make of the song, we make that learning conscious, and that seems to me to be of inestimable value.

Although I think the issue of quality in what makes for a “good song” both complicates and problematises the issue (after all, I have also learnt from songs that I do not think of as good), this makes for a very agreeable line of argument.

2. Music is ubiquitous in everyday life and western culture

There’s no sense beating around the bush, music is almost unavoidable in everyday life and if it allows the learning about oneself, it certainly rewards study as a cultural phenomenon. In a recent programme for BBC Radio Four, Professor Trevor Cox (University of Salford) tried giving up music for lent. In his summary, he writes that “it’s impossible to completely avoid music and try and go about a normal life.”

In 2013, UK Music produced a comprehensive summary report in which the music industry is stated to be worth £3.5bn to the UK economy. Research has also indicated that music influences consumer behaviour in-store (indeed, the Musak company which pioneered ‘applied’ uses of music had relied on music as a mood-setter since around 1934). This has received increasing attention from the marketing research community of late. Knoferle et al. (2011), for instance, identify that tempo and tonality both influence how quickly consumers navigate stores and hence their likelihood to buy more. Similar studies have suggested musical style has a similar influence though, to my knowledge, narrative and sonic design have not been subject to extensive attention.

3. Music as therapy

Finally, music has positive restorative effects that make music therapy a candidate for a variety of cases including care for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, social disorders, and even pain management.

I could make a case for each of these but in this instance I think Music and Memory’s powerful video says it better:

If music can have such profound effects then the value of its study is surely self-evident. In an ageing population, the popular music of the present will become increasingly important in the future for music therapists. It’s time to get studying.


BBC Radio 4. 2015. “Giving Up Music for Lent – BBC Radio 4.” BBC. March 16. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b055g10j.
Cox, Trevor. 2015. “Giving up Music for Lent.” BBC, March 16, sec. Entertainment & Arts. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-31875727.
Knoferle, Klemens, Eric Spangenberg, Andreas Herrmann, and Jan Landwehr. 2012. “It Is All in the Mix: The Interactive Effect of Music Tempo and Mode on in-Store Sales.” Marketing Letters 23 (1): 325–37.
Moore, Allan. 2012. Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song. Farnham: Ashgate.
Story of Henry – Music & Memory iPod Project – Alive Inside Documentary. 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgNLLelQYwI&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Professional Online Presence

It’s professional online presence week on the Surrey 23 Things programme, which has everyone thinking about their personal brand online.

To get started, we were asked to take a look for ourselves and our work online. Thankfully no surprises there! Googling in search for Alexander Harden goes to demonstrate the popularity of the name across the globe, with an assortment of LinkedIn and Facebook profiles among the top results. Hence, I include my initial when giving work and sure enough, searching for Alexander C Harden is somewhat more fruitful, with my work and professional profiles among the top results.

After delivering a conference paper a few weeks ago, I was slightly taken aback by the media attention it received (thanks in no small part to my novel discussion topic). I keep all my conference abstracts available to view on Academia.edu, a platform for sharing research openly, which lets my work be found fairly easily for those who look for it. Thanks to the handy analytics on offer, academics can also track which countries are accessing their work most and which platforms/pages are directing viewers.

When it comes to social networks, I’m weary of using Facebook in a professional capacity. That hesitation, though, is certainly not global and it has been a great way to keep up with some of my contacts, particularly in the United States. When it comes to LinkedIn, a service which aims to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful” (more info here), it’s far easier to connect with me.

For interested readers in the sciences, ResearchGate also offers a similar service to Academia.edu, which you can read about on the Surrey 23 Things blog.

23 Things

Hot off the tails of presenting my paper Kraftwerk and the Issue of Posthuman Authenticity to Aston University’s Kraftwerk and the Birth of Electronic Music in Germany conference, I’m happy to be taking part in the University of Surrey 23 Things programme.

The 23 Things programme is an opportunity for postgraduate students and early-stage researchers to develop an online presence for their work. It is also what encouraged me to set up this blog, which I shall be updating from time-to-time with developments from my PhD research in the interpretation of 21st century popular music. On Hermeneutic Jukebox, I shall be posting analyses and responding to theory which surrounds the interrogation of meaning in music with an aim of generating discussion in an area which has a limited online presence. Beyond my Academia.edu page, I rarely share academic ideas on the internet so I hope it will lead to interesting debate about music, its meanings, and the role it plays in our everyday lives.

If you’d like to find out more about the 23 Things programme at surrey, head to 23thingssurrey.wordpress.com.