It feels weird writing and producing an album of music for non-commercial purposes. The process usually goes as follows: write and record an album, manufacture it, and then spend the next 12 months promoting it online, sending emails to blogs, sending emails to booking agents, sending emails to venues, sending emails and emails and more emails. My week includes very little time for making art – maybe 15-20 hours. Most of that includes teaching, rehearsals, and performances. Caught in the cult of productivity, most of my bands spend our rehearsals working towards the next show, rather than having an opportunity for writing sessions and improvisation.
Lordon (2014) writes at length about “the active investment of the neoliberal enterprise in practices of co-linearization” (p. 51) the practice of enlisting the desires of the employee towards the master-desire, or the desire of the business or corporation at which they are employed. Building off of Spinoza’s conception of desire, he highlights the ways in which the neoliberal citizen is subjected to a light-handed domination, one that affords them joy and desire. However, “if desire must be stimulated or produced, it must under no circumstances escape the functional limits of the valorization of capital and the social relations of subordination under which the latter takes place” (p. 107). He explores how the neoliberal enterprise “undertakes to produce intrinsic joyful affects,” (p. 52) whereby the work becomes joyful in and of itself. While Lordon focuses on areas of employment, the language of co-linearization is a useful concept when examining my own entrenchment within the neoliberal condition.
As a children’s entertainer, I write songs about self-expression, community, co-operation, and other themes of social and emotional learning. I pay my band mates well and work primarily with public or non-profit community partners. Concurrently, the vast majority of my time is spent emailing potential venues, working on marketing, filling out contracts and other paperwork, and scheduling rehearsals, videos, and performances (notice that playing music is not on that list). In choosing the life of an artist, I am unable to simply be an artist. I must expand myself into an entrepreneur or a creative.
I remember my first time watching Florence Reece singing “Which Side Are You On” on a video clip filmed in the 1970’s. At this point she is in her 70’s, her voice somewhat shaky as she recalls writing the song during the Harlan County Coal Strike of 1931. After a life spent advocating for worker’s rights, Reece’s voice still carries through the room of protesters as she proudly sings the chorus. As I reflect on the hundreds of students to whom I have taught “Which Side Are You On” and other labor and civil right songs, I am forced to reconcile the apparent contradictions (or hypocrisy) of writing a rock-n-roll album rooted in a critique of neoliberalism while falling trap to the neoliberal condition of individualism, egocentrism, and hyper-productivity.
I choose to employ my musical practice in the presentation of my research because I believe that “form mediates understanding” (Butler-Kisber, 2002, p. 230). I turn towards music to provide a medium by which I can communicate the complexities and tensions I experience as a neoliberal citizen in ways that are both thought provoking and emotionally evocative. Despite these intentions, the context in which music is performed, written, and consumed is equally as significant. By writing an album, I hope to expand conversations about methods of research and “create new sets of questions that go beyond our current approaches of inquiry” (Fox & Geichman, 2001, p. 47). By employing narrative form, the questions I raise about my own experiences are meant to catalyze broader conversations about how we relate to one another.
At the same time, I hope to offer a lens by which we can examine the ways in which artists have been appropriated into the neoliberal imaginary, by adopting the form and medium of commercial music for academic purposes. Just as I appropriate the language of neoliberal media and policy discourse in the writing of lyrics, so to do I appropriate the album - the archetype of mass-produced music – as the medium by which I present my music. Packaged within the familiar form of a 10-song album, my work aims to “stimulate imaginative faculties, inviting the reader to fill gaps in the text with personal meaning” (Barone & Eisner, 1997, p. 97). In my attempt to bridge my creative processes (writing research papers and composing music), I hope my work provides the impetus for deeper conversations about how our social relationships are mediated by economic language.