Applying Ethnomusicology to Musicians' Needs

I became aware of the challenges of being a musician in Ghana at an early stage of my music career. I found from initial research efforts that there is an incredibly high level of difficulty in sustaining a music career in Ghana, stemming from how the society relates to music generally and, therefore, as a career. Music is mostly treated as a hobby, free service, and a community affair. Consequently, communities labeled professional musicians as lazy individuals who had refused to do "actual jobs." These social factors have remained prevalent and continue to hinder the sustenance of musical careers in Ghana. Thus, in graduate school, this directed my interest in researching ways to help musicians sustain their careers. Situating my research within the concept of sustainability, i.e., "music career sustainability," my master's studies revealed some strategies musicians can adopt and adapt to enhance their music careers.

As passionate as I am about the well-being of musicians, I realized that musicians could benefit more from my research in two ways. First, by making the language in my academic manuscript more accessible to non-academic musicians. Second, by putting my research findings into practice by working with musicians. With the support of Humanities Engage, from May to July 2022, I have been able to do these and translate my research beyond the walls of the academy. I worked with the Legon Palmwine Band (LPB) to explore music career strategies. Using my academic training and findings from my master's research, my summer immersive project was directed at helping LPB pay attention to the business aspect of their music and explore avenues of getting better remuneration. Specifically, I organized workshops that included both industry personnel and professors from the University of Ghana to educate musicians on the business aspect of the music industry. Furthermore, I worked on expanding and promoting the social media presence of the band, where I solely designed and created their website.            

When I started working with the LPB, my first action point was to familiarize myself with the band and its patrons by observing rehearsals, performances, and recording sessions. My training in graduate school had prepared me for fieldwork ethnography. Thus, I could interview, participate with, and observe the band. What my academic training had not prepared me for was how to translate my academic findings to a non-academic audience. But the workshops I organized challenged me to explore ways of conveying my research findings on music career sustainability to musicians and other music industry personnel in a non-academic language in order for my research to be accessible to them. I find this a great new skill that I will use in and outside of future academic career contexts.

 Another vital skill I acquired during my immersive was managing a band. Working with LPB, some of my roles placed me in the capacity of the band's manager, where I temporarily managed the affairs of the band and members. For instance, my immersive coincided with the band's release of their latest single, "etoɔ," which has captured many local and international audiences. Through the process of promoting the single, I gained insight into how the current Ghanaian music industry operates, like organizing radio and TV tours and securing platforms for musicians to perform. I also made many connections through this process.

Dr. Sunu, the band leader, was very helpful throughout my immersive fellowship. As a scholar and a performer, he could relate to most of the challenges and ideas I had and provided guidance, advice, and support whenever needed. Therefore, I see the skill and experience I acquired during my immersive tremendously influencing my career trajectory. Working with musicians and music industry personnel over these few months has strengthened my interest in working in the music industry, where I will continue to help musicians. Also, the next stage of my academic career is writing and defending my prospectus, so the skills I have acquired in project management, data gathering, and analysis will be beneficial. I plan to incorporate some of the data into my prospectus and dissertation.        

I will encourage Pitts doctoral students to consider the Humanities Engage immersive fellowship, as it provides an unmatched opportunity to put academic training and research into practical use and have diverse career options after Ph.D. For departments, I think they should incorporate immersive experiences for graduate students more deeply into their curricula. Not only will that attract more prospective students, but they will also produce students who meet the demands of society and not just the academy. With my interest in working with and for musicians, the immersive fellowship was an excellent opportunity to put my training in ethnomusicology to the needs of the Legon Palmwine Band.

Josh Brew
August 2022

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