Jennifer C. Lena

Jennifer C. Lena is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Barnard College and author of Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music (2012, Princeton UP). Her 2005 EMP talk was published in 2008 and reprinted in the second edition of the Forman and Neal (eds.) reader, That’s the Joint!.



"The Ground on which the Race was Run: Careers in Pop"

What characteristics of place impact musical careers? Drawing on interdisciplinary research on creativity and space, and over 350 histories of 60 American musical styles, I argue that space provides three primary resources used by American popular musicians. The first, space as instrument, is highlighted in the special characteristics of recording studios and performance spaces including the center of the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. In these examples, space serves an aesthetic function. Second, spaces, insofar as they are connected with regimes of authenticity, also can provide musicians that occupy them with legitimacy. In generic terms, this involves booking the “main stage” at a festival, or a larger venue for a concert; in specific musical idioms, it may be defined as playing The Apollo, the Viper Room, or the CMA Festival. This is the role of space as career bona fide.

Finally, the view of space as scene, the important link between spaces and non-aesthetic resources is illuminated. Artists in multiple pop genres support themselves by booking sequences of spaces that provide media attention and a fan base. These scene-based spaces include stops on the cuchifrito and chitlin’ circuits, Polka Road and the Gospel Highway. The goal of this presentation is to survey a broad range of popular musics in order to illuminate the general characteristics of space, and how they impact musical life.