Live Music Exchange Resources

Social Semiotics – The Business of Live Music: Special Issue – (2012)


Author(s): Simon Frith (ed.), et al
Publisher:  Social Semiotics, 22:5
Date: 2012

Social Semiotics (22:5) is a special edition given over to papers arising from the ‘Business of Live Music’ conference held in Edinburgh in 2011.

Several pieces in this edition have been made freely available in their entirety.

The following articles are available to read online or download for free:

The Business of Live Music – ‘Social Semiotics’ special issue editorial – Simon Frith

This issue of Social Semiotics is concerned with the staging of live music. The papers here were first prepared for a conference on the Business of Live Music, held in the University of Edinburgh from 30 April to 2 May 2011.1 The term ‘‘business’’ in the conference title was chosen because of its double meaning: on the one hand, we were interested in the economics of live music, in music promotion as a sector of the music industry; on the other hand, we were interested in the construction of the concert as a meaningful event, in the institutional and ideological activities that cause live music to heard in particular ways. Our reference point here was magic: magicians use stage ‘‘business’’ to mislead the audience, to make what they do seem literally magical. Live music is akin to magic in that many mundane things must be organised – sound, lights, seating/standing space, etc. – for an audience to appreciate the musical performance itself as extraordinary, as something transcendent.

From Gigs to Giggs: politics, law and live music – John Street

This paper explores what it means to talk of live music as a right. It does so by looking at the ways in which courts and other actors constitute music as a political entity to which such rights might be attached. It considers two case studies. The first is the cancellation of a tour by the UK grime artist Giggs; the second is the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Drawing upon the work of Paul Chevigny, the article argues that in both instances we can see music being constituted as “political”, where this entails the recognition or denial of particular rights claims.

Patterns of listening through social media: online fan engagement with the live music experience – Lucy Bennett

In recent years, the expansion and use of mobile Internet and social media have changed live music engagement and fandom quite considerably. It has not only allowed fans to find and connect with each other at shows, but also to tweet and text concert set-lists and other information as they happen, thereby allowing non-attendees around the world to feel part of the event.

This study examines the responses of fans engaged in this activity, identifying the key themes and patterns apparent within this behaviour, arguing that fans are using social media and mobile technology in an effort to contest and reshape the boundaries of live music concerts. It demonstrates how these online tools are involving fans that are not physically present at the show, seemingly incorporating them into the real-time “live” experience. This article explores how fans of prolific touring artists U2 and Tori Amos undertake this, with assigned concert attendees tweeting the set-list to online fans, where they gather to enjoy the show together, from the comfort of their computers.

The real “crossroads” of live music – the conventions of performance at open mic nights in Edinburgh – Adam Behr

This article presents ethnographic work on open mic nights in Edinburgh, a hitherto under examined activity that lies in the hinterland of professional live music and serves as a junction between professional and amateur practice.

It proceeds from the theoretical context of different musical “worlds”, notably the difference between “folk” and “commercial” popular music, to provide a basic typography of the different types of open mic. These intersect to varying degrees with the wider music “scene”, allowing for contact between musicians at different points on the scale of amateur to professional. Open mics also differ from other forms of “open” activity like folk sessions in that they face towards the commercial popular world, as exhibited in the use of microphones and the privileging of individual performers.

I describe how different types of night, and venue, act as nodes onto the wider scene and look at the common features of open mics, particularly the central role of the host in managing spaces that serve musical and other business purposes simultaneously. The host is responsible for maintaining the explicit rules, which vary, and the implicit code of a supportive atmosphere, which is a common factor and takes precedence over other rules.


‘Editorial’ – Simon Frith: pages 517-522

‘Rules and expectations of jazz gigs’ – Karen Burland & Stephanie Pitts: pages 523-543

Patterns of listening through social media: online fan engagement with the live music experience – Lucy Bennett: pages 545-557

‘The real “crossroads” of live music – the conventions of performance at open mic nights in Edinburgh’ – Adam Behr: pages 559-573

‘From Gigs to Giggs: politics, law and live music’ – John Street: pages 575-585

‘Live music and urban landscape: mapping the beat in Liverpool’ – Sara Cohen: pages 587-603

‘Glasgow as a live-music city: an analysis of the “legendary” Apollo venue and its audience’ – Kenny Forbes: pages 605-621


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