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Professor Andrew Mall on Understanding the Culture of Popular Music

What influences do those on the margins of the music industry have on the success of popular music genres? In researching his future book, Marginalia: Niche Markets, Christian Rock, and Popular Music, Assistant Professor Andrew Mall, Music Industry program, will look at “…ways in which the aesthetic and social boundaries of niche markets for commercial popular music are constructed, policed, altered, and transgressed over time.”

He said ethnographic fieldwork was the core of his research methodology, including participant-observation, interviews, oral histories, audio/video documentation, and collecting ephemera – written or printed material not meant to have a long shelf-life, such as concert tickets, show flyers, worship services programs and fanzines.

Mall said his work would make two significant intellectual contributions to the music industry field By examining investments and responsibilities shared by music stakeholders, including artists, cultural intermediaries, and consumers, his research will add to the understanding of the forces that shape all fields of cultural production. Secondly, Mall said, “…through illustrating the ways in which musical aesthetics and their markets are co-constitutive, it complicates the top-down and grassroots market narratives that have dominated popular music scholarship.”

Portions of his project were supported by research funding from the University of Chicago Department of music and the Mellon Foundation. He hopes to have his book completed during the next academic year with an eye toward publishing in one to two years.