"Get Listenin' Kids!": Independence as Social Practice in American Popular Music
Schnitker, Laura Beth
Witzleben, J. Lawrence
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This dissertation examines the concept of independence--defined as alternative approaches to the creation, distribution and consumption of music that actively resist cultural hegemonies--as an ongoing tradition in American popular music. While previous studies of independence have focused on specific independent record labels or eras, this project views independence as a historical trajectory that extends to the beginnings of the recording industry. Pierre Bourdieu's concept of the social field frames my investigation of the ways in which independence becomes socially and musically manifested in communities of musicians, mediators and audiences. I explore how these communities articulate their distinction within the dominant music industry by responding to the social and aesthetic chasms created by the centralization of media. This study is divided into two sections. The first focuses on independent record labels and local radio broadcasts in the first half of the twentieth century, when "independent" referred to either a record label that distributed outside major label channels, or a radio station unaffiliated with a network. In the second section, I show how the modern concept of independence became more overtly political with the emergence of the punk movement of the late 1970s. I follow the subsequent development of independent underground networks in the 1980s through their present-day fragmentation in twenty-first century internet culture. I conclude with an ethnographic examination of independent music performances in order to show that, while independence remains situated in ideas about community, authenticity and autonomy, it is subjectively understood and constructed by individual members of independent communities. The primary research for this study draws from eight years of personal experience as a freeform DJ and active consumer of independent music, as well as seven years working as a sound archivist at the University of Maryland Broadcasting Archives. Because this is a study of popular music, I engage with several interdisciplinary theoretical areas, including ethnomusicology, musicology, sociology and media studies, in order to conceptualize some of the patterns that shape independent social practices.