Q&A on Being a Scholar and Musician

This is one of those blog entries from an email exchange. Someone asked:

Someday I’d love to hear anything you have to say about being a musician/scholar.

I’m probably the wrong person to ask since I’ve been doing serious admin for the last 2.5 years and at the same time I’ve been playing the jet-setting academic giving talks all over and as a result my music has really suffered. I’m not in a band — ironically, I have time to be in one but not to find one, since finding a band is a lot like dating, which is completely unappealing to me. I content myself with the home studio. I’m finishing about 2 songs or in 1 case a piece of audio art in a year. I’m very close on mixes of songs I recorded in 2004 with Mike Witmore, my lo-boy partner in crime, before I left Pittsburgh, so I guess I will have a record coming out after he makes it up here to visit. Plus the social life here is really intense.

Basically, I decided early on that I didn’t want to commoditize my art, I wanted it to be something I did for the love of it (same with my work for Bad Subjects), a free part of my life where I didn’t seek professional recognition. It appears on my CV in a very low-key manner, I don’t try to pass it off as equivalent to my scholarship and research, and I don’t ask to be professionally rewarded for it as an academic. In exchange, I don’t have to justify artistic choices intellectually or intellectualize my art. Since I started out as a rock musician, it’s probably better that way.

That said, until I started doing admin and getting flown all over, I always found time to make music and be involved in some kind of political or volunteer organization; if I had kids (not a baby, obviously), I could probably have done one of those two things in addition to being a prof.

If you want to get professional credit for your music, you need to get a job that involves some component of sound production (and maybe teaching sound) in a Comm Studies department — there aren’t many such positions but they exist. In Canada, there’s this whole research-creation thing where at some schools you can do theoretically informed art and get it treated as scholarship in departments other than art departments. There are a lot of issues in research-creation (which I will someday write about in public if I can find a way not to sound like a jerk doing it). For instance, as of yet, I don’t know of artists getting jobs meant for traditional scholars, but it’s a different way to address production.

My guess is that if you’re going into other fields besides music, art or a few Comm Studies programs, you should think more in terms of a double life and reserving time for music than getting credit as a scholar who makes records. That said, it’s nice when your colleagues like the idea of you being in a band. They did in Pittsburgh, and I’m sure they would here if I were in a band. Though they might not like the band. . . .