University Of Tasmania
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Shapeshifting : a grounded theory of contemporary songwriters‚ÄövÑv¥ career constructions

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posted on 2023-05-27, 19:24 authored by Broad, TL
This thesis examines the career constructions of contemporary Australians working as collaborative songwriters and music producers, conflated under the term, ‚ÄövÑv¿backroom writers‚ÄövÑvp, in the global music industry. Working in teams behind the scenes to create songs for, and with, prominent recording artists, backroom songwriters power the entire production chain in popular music (Bennett, 2013). A crucial context for this project is the music industry‚ÄövÑv¥s so-called ‚ÄövÑv¿digital disruption‚ÄövÑvp, the process of globalisation and technological change that began two decades ago, because it continues to transform the way songs are created, distributed, heard and valued. Although occupying a place on a century-strong continuum of popular music production going back to Tin Pan Alley of the 1920s, the contemporary iteration of backroom writing is in many ways a new-look form of creative work: enterprise-oriented, dependent on 24/7 connectivity, and practiced by globally mobile freelancers who must collaborate in a highly individualised, competitive environment. In the Australian setting, such writers are contributing to a growing music export return for Australia (\Meet the billion list \" 2021; Year in Review 2017-2018 2018) although little is known about the processes by which they come to this work progress in it and cope with its many challenges. A broader context is the changing world of work in which careers increasingly will revolve around project-based work outside traditional organisational bounds and in permanently precarious economic conditions (OECD 2019; Storey & Davis 2018). Because careers in the cultural production industries of which music is part often signal broader workforce trends such careers are considered useful sites from which to explore the processes by which individuals cope with the kind of uncertainty becoming the ‚ÄövÑv¿new normal‚ÄövÑvp for more and more workers across a range of industry settings in today‚ÄövÑv¥s economy. Through a constructivist grounded approach informed by a broader social constructionist stance this thesis explores the careers of ten commercially active contemporary Australian songwriters working in the post-digitised popular music industry. All participant songwriters bypassed tertiary music training enroute to their careers. The following research questions drove the study: Research Question 1: In the absence of both formal post-school training and prescribed pathways into songwriting work what are the pre-career experiences of contemporary Australians working as backroom songwriters in the post-digital music industry? Research Question 2: What are these songwriters‚ÄövÑv¥ processes of career enaction and progression? Drawing on individual semi-structured interviews this thesis explores songwriters‚ÄövÑv¥ reflections on their pre-career experiences including within and beyond their formal schooling their decision-making at their school-to-work transitions and how they initiated and sustained their careers around what is a culturally and economically important but under-theorised form of creative work. The substantive grounded theory presented in this thesis integrates insights derived from engagement with extant literature on relational perspectives of contemporary working live communities of practice and the role of calling - a compulsive passion seemingly beyond one‚ÄövÑv¥s volition - as a driver in people‚ÄövÑv¥s work. In so doing it makes several original contributions. First it extends an emerging body of research that explores contemporary experiences of learning working and career constructing through a relational perspective. Second, it extends an emergent area of research concerned with investigating dimensions of calling in contemporary working lives. Although in general a sense of calling is understood to be implicated in creative careers the specific processes that propel sustain and challenge contemporary creatives‚ÄövÑv¥ callings are under explored. Further, extant scholarship has privileged both an individualised view of calling and a focus on people engaged in traditional organisationally bound employment. In this thesis I extend the scholarly work to date by presenting a complementary relational view of how callings are developed enacted and sustained in less conventional settings around new forms of creative work. Third, this thesis connects with scholarship on situated learning and knowledge production by extending the concept of the temporary cluster (Maskell Bathelt & Malmberg 2006) to songwriting sessions and camps. I theorise these as important contexts for Australian songwriters‚ÄövÑv¥ development of knowledgeability across a landscape of practice in the global song production system. This work also addresses a significant gap in scholarship to date concerning the processes by which contemporary creatives‚ÄövÑv¥ communities of practice initially form and evolve. Finally, I theorise the contexts actions and meanings at the heart of participant songwriters‚ÄövÑv¥ career constructions as a process of shapeshifting. Like the Homerian mythical sea god Proteus who could change form at will in response to opportunity or threat songwriters proactively adapt to changing circumstances to enact and sustain their creative callings - callings which also continually transform over time. Arising from a first-time exploration of the relational processes of action interaction and adaptation of Australian backroom songwriters in the global music industry this thesis informs a richer taxonomy of contemporary careers unfolding in changing challenging industries in volatile times."



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