Keith Negus

Keith Negus, Professor of Musicology, Goldsmiths, University of London entered higher education as a mature student, having spent many years playing keyboards and guitar in a variety of bands. He completed a PhD study of the music industry and subsequently taught at the Universities of Leicester and Puerto Rico before moving to Goldsmiths. His books include Producing Pop (1992), Music Genres and Corporate Cultures (1999), and Bob Dylan (2008).



"Making it in the Big City: Small Town Boys, Country Girls and Suburban Dreamers"

The idea of making it in the music industry is frequently expressed in terms of moving to the big city. This informs the practices of countless musicians and bands when moving from a small town, village or suburb. The narrative of the geographical move to the city is a staple of pop biographies – the metropolis being the site of opportunity, contacts, deals, recognition and reward. This paper highlights the persistence and power of such aspirations and actions. But, it also considers the pitfalls, and the flip side of failure – the resigned return from the city to the suburb, to the small town (as, ironically, the rewards of recognition in the city allow the successful an exclusive escape to country retreat or island hideaway). Hence, I consider the city as looming physical presence in the trajectories of success and failure pursued and experienced by amateur and professional musicians. I also explore how this trajectory of aspiration, and success (fleeting or enduring) and the realities of rejection are expressed in the imagery songs, through an often-incoherent blend of irony, ambivalence, cynicism and despair (this will be explored and illustrated with examples of songs).

Underlying this proposal is my desire to take issue with the urban bias in much popular music scholarship and criticism, and the way in which this intentionally or inadvertently establishes a series of oppositions, privileging the centre over periphery, and the urban over the suburban and rural. Drawing on Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City, I will argue for a link of mutual interdependence and equal value that connects the city to suburbs, provinces, small towns, and country – it is across and between these places that the sound of the city is created, rather than ‘within’ the bounded metropolis.