⇓ Academic Research and Teaching Focus

Research Areas

Songwriting Camps in the 21st Century (in collaboration with Prof Michael Ahlers, Lueneburg University, Germany & Dr Simon Barber, Birming City University, UK) (2023-2026)

This project (SC21) researches how collaborative songwriting takes place in songwriting camps. As the first study to focus on the UK and Germany, it investigates what forms of songwriting camps exist in the 21st century to understand the interests of convenors (publishers, record companies, individuals) and participating professionals. It investigates the collaborative creative processes and interplay of the different skill-sets of various roles (topliners, beatmakers, lyricists, producers, performers) and offers insights into the organisation of offline and online camps, legal factors, and the role of songwriting camps within the wider music industries. The investigation will uncover who convenes these events, for what purposes, and what is created and ultimately selected for release. Legal factors such as royalties, shares and splits will be considered as well as the power structures at play. Apart from the organisation of these camps, the research will investigate how the participants’ personal, professional and cultural backgrounds influence their aims and actions. This includes an in-depth analysis of the collaborative creative work and the evaluation of the value of collaborative songwriting offline and online. Furthermore, the research will study how the industry uses the results of the camps in the short and medium term.

ahr The project is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the United Kingdom and the German Research Foundation (DFG).
⇒ project website

Extreme Metal Vocals: Musical Expression, Technique, and Cultural Meaning (in collaboration with Dr Eric Smialek, Huddersfield University, UK) (2022-2024)

"At last! A book about heavy metal as music." This opening exclamation in Sheila Whiteley's preface to Andrew Cope's history of Black Sabbath (Cope 2010) laments a long-standing practice in popular music studies of under-emphasizing musical details. This project (EMV) remedies this gap with four articles that synthesize linguistic, acoustical, historical, and musicological studies of vocal techniques. The first will be a reception study of verbal descriptions of extreme metal vocals, taken from magazines and online reviews. From this chart of semantic relationships, the second article will use spectrograms to demonstrate patterns between the descriptors and musical aspects of extreme metal vocals that correlate to different time periods and genres. The third article applies these acoustical findings to study the rhetorical qualities of climactic song sections. Finally, the fourth article's kinetic approach uses motion-capture footage of vocalists to see how their movements communicate tension, anticipation, and climax without requiring participants to verbally articulate that information or consciously reflect on their actions. Ultimately, the project will offer unique insights into extreme metal's appeal and contribute to debates about musical meaning and its relationship to identity.

ahr The project is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the United Kingdom.
⇒ project website

Heaviness in Metal Music Production (in collaboration with Dr Mark Mynett, Huddersfield University, UK) (2020-2023)

The project (HiMMP) sets out to explore heaviness as the metal genre’s central quality feature. It will show how heaviness is created sonically on the record and also, how leading metal producers define it and as such process and control its constituent aspects when mixing recordings. Heaviness in metal music can be created in different ways so it will be studied how genre, composition and performance determine technical mixing requirements. Ultimately, it will be evaluated what impact technical requirements have on the producer’s personal style, their aesthetic intentions and on genre conventions.

ahr The project is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the United Kingdom.
⇒ project website

German Heavy Metal

Wacken, Rammstein, Teutonic metal. It is probably safe to say that Germany is a country where metal music enjoys huge popularity. After the genre emerged in the UK and the USA, Germany was amongst the first countries to adopt this new form of music. With German hard rock acts such as the Scorpions and Accept having been successful since the 1970s, metal exploded in Germany in the 1980s and shaped a unique style that is valued and has often been copied by international artists. This work in progress book-sized project investigates the history and the sound of German metal. It identifies key places, musicians, producers and labels, covering many aspects from original approaches to songwriting, performance through to production, ultimately discussing if there is, or has ever been, such as thing as the ‘Teutonic metal sound’ as commonly labelled by the media and public discourse.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome (‘GAS’) (in collaboration with Dr Jonas Menze, Paderborn University, Germany)

Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or just GAS, has anecdotally been described as the musicians’ compulsive and unrelenting urge to buy and own gear as an anticipated catalyst of creative energy and bringer of happiness. This research projects explores the GAS phenomenon, analysing how person-related factors like age, gender and occupation as well as musical factors like the instrument or the music played interrelate with the behaviour of dealing with musical equipment. Next to musical motivations such as expressiveness and sound design, it explores the cultural discourse surrounding the obsession with musical gear as can be observed in countless discussions on musicians’ message boards and in music stores. ⇒ website

The Electric Guitar In Popular Music

This project explores the musical and cultural relevance of the electric guitar in popular music. As one of the fundamental differences to the acoustic guitar, distortion determines the playability and expressiveness of the electric guitar. Central themes explored in the project are effects of distortion on solo guitar playing (e.g. playing techniques, ‘shredding’) and on rhythm guitar riffs (e.g. interrelation of distortion level and consonance perception, rock harmony), as well as recording techniques and practices, guitar amplification technologies, genre-specific guitar equipment and rock aesthetics.

Rock Guitar Virtuosos: Advances in Electric Guitar Playing, Technology and Culture (in collaboration with Alexander Vallejo)

This project is motivated by speculations about the stagnation and demise of the electric guitar and the lacking recognition of advances in guitar playing. By analysing why certain guitarists were recognised and how they developed the instrument, the case is made that playing styles and sounds have continued to evolve to this day, as evidenced by the likes of player Tosin Abasi, Jason Richardson or Yvette Young. The early guitar heroes of the 1960s and ‘70s developed lead guitar styles outside the idioms of the blues. A decade dedicated to the pursuit of speed and progress of playing techniques were the 1980s. Characteristic of the 1990s and 2000s was experimentation with sound effects, seven-string guitars and amplifiers. After the ‘shred boom’, progress in guitar playing was more ‘musical’, bridging styles and genres, drawing inspiration from other instruments and using the new affordances not only for lead guitar playing but above all as a compositional tool. This project systematically explores how virtuosic electric guitarists in search of new forms of expression dealt with the unique characteristics and ergonomics of the instrument, and it will show how some overcame those challenges to advance the music. By combining playing with culture, technology, production, the recording industry and guitar communities of practice, the project will contribute to the understanding of how guitar playing reflects and drives cultural change.

Professional Roles In The Recording Industry

In the last years, the role of the music producer has received increasing academic attention. This project extends the current research by focusing on less explored roles in the music industry such as the recording studio operator as a variation of the role of the traditional record producer, the one commonly being at a more grass roots level in the industry. Another profession not having received much attention is the role of professional session and studio musicians. This project reveals how changes in the industry and advances in music technology have affected their work, now needing other skills for becoming successful ‘hired guns’, and how national copyright regulations and musicians’ unions have an impact on their economic situation. Other professions explored include for example composers for advertisement media, who are challenged to balance their creative aspirations with the wishes of their clients.

Network Sound: An Educational Challenge Of Popular Music

The project deals with music production in popular music genres from historical, technical, aesthetic and educational viewpoints. Starting from the premise that produced sound is a key element of recorded popular music, the project explores topics such as the history of recording practices and equipment, sound and identity, authenticity in music production, sound and emotion as well as functions of space in recorded audio. It presents a methodology of popular music analysis based on the means of technological (re-)production as the centre of the music’s aesthetics, cultural inscription and decoding. One main intention of this research is to raise awareness of technologically mediated sound in educational contexts. The final outcome is a theoretical educational model of teaching music production and listening skills accompanied by sample lessons.

Academic Research and Teaching Focus

  • Music Analysis & Methodology (musicology, music theory, cultural studies, sound analysis, semiotics)
  • History of Popular Music & development of musical styles and genres
  • Rock and Metal Music Studies
  • Music Technology & Art of Record Production
  • Empirical Musicology
  • Music Performance Studies
  • Popular Music Education

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