I was very pleased to discover in April 2010 that I had been awarded one of two Environment and Planning A Ashby Prizes for 2009 for my paper ‘The software slump: digital music, the democratisation of technology and the decline of the recording studio sector within the musical economy’. The journal publishes a response from authors, which will appear shortly.
Ashby Prize Response
When I was thinking of what to write in response to being awarded the Ashby prize for my paper on the impact of software on the musical economy, I was suddenly reminded – appropriately, perhaps, given the subject of my paper – of the acceptance speech of Guy Garvey, lead singer with the band Elbow, when he was called to the stage after the band won the 2008 Nationwide Mercury Music Prize for their album The Seldom Seen Kid. He said that he knew he was expected ‘to be cool and say something coy’, but in truth, he admitted in an unfashionably unguarded way, winning the award ‘was the best thing that’s ever happened to us’. Now, let it be clear that I’m not saying that winning the Ashby Prize is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, nor am I equating the Ashby Prize with the Nationwide Mercury Music Prize (there was no boozy awards event hosted by Jools Holland for a start). But this is only the second academic prize I have won in 30 years, following on the Best Humanities A-Levels Prize at Ynysawdre Comprehensive School in 1979. There are two further reasons why I am particularly delighted to be a recipient of this award.
The first reason is the esteem in which I hold the journal. I encountered Environment and Planning A as first an undergraduate and then a PhD student in the University of Swansea library during the 1980s. I remember the sheer physical effort needed to carry a few of the weighty, purple-bound volumes back to my desk. The sheer heft of the journal is probably not noticed so much these days with electronic access and the ubiquity of pdf files, but the journal is substantial in all senses of the word, and testament to the large amount of material that flows through it every year. During my doctoral research, which was on uneven spatial divisions of labour, I drew on it constantly, and I can still reel off a number of key references published in the journal that helped to establish that debate from the mid-1970s through to the mid-1980s. The other remarkable thing about it is that despite the high turnover of papers, and the punishing monthly publication schedule, the quality of production and attention to detail is, in my experience, unsurpassed. Every ‘final version’ of a paper that I have sent to E&PA after acceptance has been further improved through its quality control process. As an editor of a rival journal between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, and which was owned by an organization very different to Pion, I could only look on in envy and admiration.
The second reason why I am delighted to have won one of this year’s Ashby Prizes is that it is for work which the music industry press would no doubt describe as a ‘side project’ to research for which I am perhaps better known; that is, work on the geographies of money and finance. I have long had an interest in the musical economy, which was probably first noticeable in my fascination for the record labels that covered the 7” records that I bought with my pocket money in the 1970s. However, it took a while before I had the confidence to begin thinking of music as subject for geographical enquiry. Discussions with people such as Stuart Corbridge and Gerry Kearns in the early 1990s were important in this regard, although in the end these discussions came to nothing, but discussions and then collaborations with David Matless and George Revill did, resulting in the Place of Music conference in 1993, and the publication between us of both a theme issue of the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and an edited book (imaginatively entitled, The Place of Music), both of which were broadly based on the conference proceedings. Although this work was well received, and helped to carve out a new line of enquiry within human geography, I was never entirely satisfied with it, simply because I had not found a problem that played to my strengths and interests as an economic geographer. For this reason, I remain particularly grateful to a German Erasmus undergraduate at the University of Bristol who, knowing I had already published work on the geography of music, came into my office in 1997 to tell me of a new phenomenon that was sweeping hacker communities on the Internet, that made it possible to download music for free. I wish I could remember his name to thank him properly – perhaps he might read this and get in touch, you never know – but as soon as he described the MP3 format and how it was being used I knew that this was both an inherently geographical phenomenon, as it enabled music to move through time-space in new ways, and that it was going to have serious implications for the organization of the music industry. By having the rise of MP3s and Internet piracy brought to my attention relatively early in its development made it possible for me to publish one of the first papers on its economic consequences in the academic literature, which I am pleased to say was also published in Environment and Planning A in 2001. This work formed the basis of subsequent investigations into the impact of digital technology on music, and in particular the investigation of what I describe as musical networks, which helped me shift the focus of my research to networks of creativity in general, and to recording studios in particular.
This research has been undertaken with relatively little funding, although I am particularly grateful to the Research Committee of the School of Geography, University of Nottingham for providing me with the money that enabled me to travel to undertake the interviews which formed the basis of the paper in question. Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the broader environment of the School and the University in which I work, which have been very supportive and encouraging. In particular, I wish to acknowledge my colleagues Shaun French, Steve Daniels and David Matless, as well as former colleagues Michael Samers and Dan Grimley, who have all provided input along the way in the form of questions and discussions at internal seminars and workshops on the subject of music, economy and culture, as well as more informal conversations over lunch, coffee and in the bar. I would finally like to thank Linda, Sophie and Tom, despite their persistent refusal to admit that I might actually know something about music and their united front against my musical taste, or what they invariably describe as that ‘awful, awful racket’ which they usually want me to turn down or, preferably, off.
Andrew Leyshon 24.5.10