Sunday, January 17, 2016

Working in Music: The Musicians’ Union, musical labour and employment

Although travelling to and from the conference was a prime example of why the railways across Britain should be renationalised, this conference was well worth travelling to. Far away on the outskirts, McDad's ashes are resting in peace; and Glasgow has been the city of many warm and friendly gigs, and also a great city to spring from to Ayr, where I used to be the External Examiner for the University of the West of Scotland's BA in Commercial Music.
After the opening event (described below), I was delighted that Marion Leonard from the University of Liverpool was presenting a paper that fills in huge gap in knowledge; she has studied working women in the business side of the Music Industry, and I can't wait to read the paper that her presentation was based on. Also on Thursday, I enjoyed Simon Barber's paper on Songwriting Strategies. Friday morning kicked off with a bang with Catherine Tackley's broad yet detailed sweep from sea shanties to cruise-liner musicians; what an enjoyable journey! Lots of thoughts were stimulated by her paper, not least because my ancestors were seafarers (from the west of Scotland, and I believe one of them pushed a sailor from the rigging during an argument, but we don't talk about that), but also because I know many musicians who play on cruises.
Dave Laing was the chair of the next panel, which started with Victoria Armstrong's (from St Mary's University) paper about the working lives of freelance musicians in the classical music world. Victoria's research is always enlightening; her book Technology and the Gendering of Music Education is really bang-on in its focus, and her paper built on this and didn't disappoint. Next was Laraine Porter from De Montfort University, who mainly writes on the history of cinema; however, this morning's paper was about the professional lives of the women who played as accompanists for silent cinema, and featured some probably rather embarrassing early edicts from the Musician's Union itself that led me, and probably everyone else in the room, to sigh with exasperation. I was last to present, and focused on the gender gatekeeping issue with producers, ending with a fantastic (appropriately inappropriate) malapropism that I will tell you about if you pay me a million pounds.
Regrettably, I had to leave early to make sure that I could get home at all, but Debi Withers accompanied me in book form on the way home, a book that I will review shortly after the 12 dissertations, 8 songs and 38 essays are out of the way, alongside reviewing five or six albums that I would have written about last year if I hadn't been mired in an administrative nightmare of trying to get people paid.
Although the common features of our research papers were depressing ones, it was oddly empowering to share this information with each other, and this, of course, is what conferences are all about. Hats off to the MU for now addressing the enormous (still) gender imbalance in all genres and forms of music. I'm not sure how much we can change, but it's sure as hell worth trying, innit.


Paul Roundhill said...

great Helen it looks like you are doing useful work.


How many 'Bribes' have you taken to ensure Passes in University Entrants Degree's