Rocking research

Martin Cloonan. Photo by Hannah Jenkins.

Martin Cloonan. Photo by Hannah Jenkins.

In summary: 
  • Distinguished Visiting Scholar Martin Cloonan has been advising UTS on the reaccreditation of its Music and Sound Design program
  • The Professor of Popular Music Politics at the University of Glasgow he’s made a career out of researching and rocking out to great music

Martin Cloonan isn’t your run-of-the-mill academic. As a Professor of Popular Music Politics at the University of Glasgow he’s made a career out of researching and rocking out to great music.

Cloonan has spent 25 years looking at the broad relationship between popular music and social politics, campaigning for UK musicians and chairing Freemuse, an organisation for freedom of musical expression in Copenhagen. Most recently he spent a month with the UTS School of Communication as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar.

Sharing his expertise in popular music and music industries research, Cloonan gave guest lectures and workshops and advised on the reaccreditation of the Music and Sound Design program that will begin in 2017.

“I think UTS is an exciting place to be at the moment,” says Cloonan. “Mark Evans, who is Head of the School of Communication, has a clear vision of what needs to be done to keep the school up-to-date in terms of industry and international partnerships.”

These industry relationships are key to the new Music and Sound Design program, which is planning to engage more practitioners from the Australian music scene.

“I think it’s great for the students to see experts’ relationships with the industry so that they can get those professional experiences,” he says.

“The physical location of UTS is great for this, too, because a lot of music companies are within walking distance. I’ve been so impressed by the people I’ve met in the music industry here – they’re very open to academic research.”

Another aspect of Cloonan’s visit involved looking at external funding opportunities in the creative industries, something he believes UTS is well placed to explore.

As universities worldwide push for more measurable evidence of research impact, the School of Communication is striving to reach its research potential on the back of a solid teaching reputation.

“People want to know what impact social research is having in the real world,” explains Cloonan.

“But, it can often be somewhat intangible or it can take 10 or 20 years to see a result if, for example, you’re involved in campaigns to change laws. We need to think much more inventively about what we do in our research so the results have impact.”

Cloonan has written books, curated exhibitions and even put on gigs in the name of research. This included staging a gig featuring a host of acts as part of Glasgow’s annual Celtic Connections festival in January this year.

For Cloonan, academia and music politics are “all about changing power dynamics”.

“If you look at the music industry 15 years ago you would have thought about the record industry, but that’s been in decline since about 2000. Live music is more important now, so we need to think about what that means for musicians and their lives.”

That’s why Cloonan also worked with the City of Sydney and other academics around Australia to discuss the issue of live music in the context of Sydney’s controversial ‘lockout laws’.

“It’s always useful to have someone coming in from the outside who has a different vision,” says Cloonan. “You get a chance to step back when someone says ‘Oh, have you thought about doing this?”.

It’s something Cloonan and Evans also incorporate into their co-supervision of PhD students.

“This wasn’t a one-off visit,” assures Cloonan. “We’re building exciting relationships and I think student exchange is one thing to aim for – I don’t know many Glasgow students who wouldn’t want to come here!”