November 25

The Academic Standard for Publication of Music

In academia, the minimum standard for publishing work is two-fold. An article must say something novel, and it must say something substantial. In other words, you have to say something new and that new thing had to be important enough to publish. The standard, which we will call “the academic standard” works as a kind of justification for the existence of a published piece. It justifies its existence by pointing out that (1) what it presents can’t be presented elsewhere, and (2) what it presents is worth the time spent perusing it.

When I say “the academic standard”, I don’t mean that the standard helps to identify things that have any particular scholarly or erudite quality. In fact, many things can be both novel and substantial and not “academic” per se – only that it is the standard which is more or less uniquely employed in academia. Moreover, when I say that it justifies its existence – I mean that it justifies itself as a piece of work that the author makes available to the public.

The standard was, perhaps, employed in music at one time. Take for instance, the concept of the recital. A recital is not something done on a monthly or weekly basis. A recital is performed only once in a while when the musician has prepared something that is worth presenting publicly. The recital has, in recent decades, given way to the “show”, where musicians go into the city and give performances on a monthly or even a weekly basis. In general “shows” don’t satisfy the academic standard. That’s perhaps a discussion for another time, but you can see how the standard can be applied in a variety of contexts.

The academic standard is one that is not used in music. Music already has a standard that is uses for justification of its existence – and that is the commercial standard. If you can make money off of it, then its existence as a public piece of work is justified. This isn’t to say that music publishing even tends to satisfy the commercial standard – as there are certainly many people who release music publicly who do not make any money off of it. However, it is a standard that is employed in commercial popular music.

Of course, something can fall beneath the commercial standard and still nevertheless satisfy the academic standard. I have some friends who I believe release work that fits into this category. You also, of course, have music that satisfies the commercial standard but nevertheless fails to satisfy the academic standard. And this includes a great deal (perhaps most) of the music released commercially by big labels and commercial indie labels that have so come to dominate indie music.

Earlier, I mentioned the flexibility of the concept of the academic standard. I note additionally that it can be applied as a standard to making music available to the public – but it can also be used as a standard for writing about music. In fact, music journalism falls clearly into the category of hewing to the commercial standard and forgoing the academic standard. I think this is probably no more evident than in recent admissions from both major and indie music journalism outlets (look it up) – that major publicists are endorsed as a filter for the publishing of music.

The justification for using the commercial standard is effectively that the enormous volume of music submitted has presented procedural hurdles that make it impossible for all music to be reviewed. But this is a procedural problem not a standards problem. After all, why not use filters that employ the academic instead of the commercial standard? A filter that doesn’t accept payment and employ socio-economic hurdles as the bar to publication? The justification is not actually a justification at all. And the fact is that no significant major or indie outlet comes close to that standard.

I think a question that presents itself is this: Why should anyone care about the academic standard at all? I mean, what can I say? The academic standard is what helps to give meaning and integrity to the sciences. Suppose a scientist discovers a cure for a significant disease. We recognize and cover it because there’s value in publicizing something which brings a new value into the world. And tracking significant value helps to transmit significant value to the public. Tjere are obvious and significant benefits external to the value associated with direct consumption. And if the idea is that music and art don’t need the academic standard applied to it when it comes to publishing and publicizing of music and art, then I think the problem has made itself clear – the issue is that we don’t employ the academic standard in the arts because we don’t believe that art is really that important after all.

I think it’s worth asking what you think the value of art and music is – and see the way in which the academic standard relates to one’s conception of its value.