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In this post, Allan Moore shares his thoughts on the publishing process—from germ to publication—of his book Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song.
Song Means was some ten years in the writing. It had its roots in my undergraduate music studies, where the requirement to ‘analyse’ a piece did not seem to me adequately answered, even then, by simple parsing of harmonies and description of form. The list of questions I generated in order to get further into a piece eventually, after much experience of teaching analysis, and notwithstanding the shift of application to a popular music repertoire, became the germ which generated the book, and which, in its latest guise, appears as the book’s final chapter. The success I had in teaching through this interrogative method encouraged me to want to share it with the community of readers: my first aim in writing the book was not, then, to contribute to the field as much as to contribute to the potential understanding of listeners. The serious consideration of listeners, however, is not something that musicology is very good at, while the serious consideration of what listeners listen to is not something that popular music studies excels in. As I wrote the book, then, I realized I had the potential opportunity to intervene in two distinct fields. Reviews and citations of the book suggest to me that this aim may come to be realized, although it is still a little too early (the book has been out less than three years) to tell. And, surprisingly, nobody has yet taken me to task for what, from my vantage-point, is the book’s particularly glaring omission, something I shall have to fill if it ever goes to a second edition.
I continue this binary for a moment, for there is a yet more important point to make: musicology, as a whole, regards popular music as musically too simplistic to bother with; popular music studies, as a whole, regards popular music as culturally too important to approach with techniques which risk charges of dread formalism. In both fields, experts tend to ground their expertise in the privileged access they believe this gives them to the music’s meaning. My other key intention was to argue, and provide a methodology to underpin the position that, whatever else experts are, they are not repositories of meaning.
I am fortunate indeed to have gained much experience in academic writing, which meant I was able to approach this book in a very different way to that which I used to approach my earliest books. If as an author you believe in what you are writing, then while you should seek guidance both before you start, and in rewriting once you have finished various drafts, I believe it is crucial that you do not seek guidance while you are writing, if your writing is in any way to be described as the result of a creative process. For this book, I was able to manoeuvre my other research activities and commitments such that I wrote a full, detailed, draft of the book before writing the proposal. This meant that the proposal had a convincing level of depth, which is missing from many book proposals I have seen. Since the job of the proposal is to convince publishers that they need to take on a book, the more fully formed your ideas are, the more they have been tried out (on the page, at least), the more committed you should be able to make your proposal. If you can so organize your time, I think this is far preferable to the practice of writing a proposal and a couple of draft chapters and hoping you can fulfil their potential later on if called upon to do so.
The idea of writing being ‘enjoyable’ is something I find utterly strange! Writing is difficult, it’s a chore, and there are always innumerable things I would rather be doing. When I say ‘writing’ in this sense, I guess I mean inventing adequate words to put on paper in the first place. It is a completely different process to going through and re-writing, which I find inexplicably engaging and enjoyable. Sometimes my first pass has to be to put down any old rubbish, because it can always be improved on (you should have seen the way this paragraph first looked…). I must admit, though, I also find the process of relating my ideas to the music I hear to be fascinating, whichever actually comes first. And to be able to listen, to just about anything I choose to listen to, because I can eventually justify it as ‘work’, feels like the most extreme luck. I hope it doesn’t run out quite yet.
Allan F. Moore 2015
About the Author: Allan F. Moore is Professor of Popular Music at the University of Surrey. Author of seven monographs and edited collections, he is series editor for Ashgate’s Library of Essays in Popular Music, has been on the editorial board of Popular Music since 2000, and was founding co-editor of twentieth-century music. He has published nearly 100 articles and reviews in the field.
‘Song Means is an astonishing achievement, and an exceptionally important book. Drawing on more than 20 years of his own writing on popular music, but synthesising and developing it in a quite remarkable way, Allan Moore accomplishes what seems almost impossible: a completely engaging, beautifully clear, authoritative, and undogmatic account of musical meaning across a huge range of pop songs. Written in direct, accessible and uncomplicated language, but tackling fundamental questions of musical meaning and the nature of musical materials, the book is rooted in Moore’s own encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music set in a sophisticated conceptual framework. This is a landmark in the musicology of pop, and a book that will have a profound impact on how people think about, and understand, the most globally pervasive form of music of our times: the pop song.’ Eric F. Clarke FBA, Heather Professor of Music, St Aldate’s, University of Oxford, UK