Saturday, July 18, 2009

IASPM: Day Five

This morning it was again difficult for me to decide which presentations to go to.


The first paper I saw was called 'Away with protest song!' by Jan Fairley. Jan began by noting the difficulties in the use of the term 'protest song' suggesting that it was a label that was used to connote a definitive body of songs when in fact it is not that determinable. She played examples of the song We Shall Overcome used in connection with Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson and noted the statement of Mavis Staples at WOMADelaide in which she stated "If he [Martin Luther King] can preach it, we can sing it. We joined the movement to sing freedom songs." Jan noted that the PBS website, Strange Fruits, suggests that there are 8 time periods in which protest songs can be said to have been written.


Jan then went on to consider and compare the position of cancio protesta in Cuba, stating that songs written to reflect on the position of people in that country were done so without the influence of western artists and that most artists in Cuba rejected the label of cancio protest as they did not sit down to deliberately write songs with the intention of protesting. Jan stated that it was not until recently that a Colombian rock group Aterciopelados led by Andrea Echevarry wrote and released a song about the USA dropping bombs in country side in the name of the war on drugs, that there was a deliberate choice to adopt the term cancio protesta.


I found this presentation interesting. As my research concerns two western jurisdictions I am not extensively familiar with the place of songs of this nature outside of these nations. While I personally do not take issue with the label 'protest' or 'political' music and think that it is useful and necessary to enable discussion and debate (as with most labels) I nonetheless appreciate that not all cultural backgrounds associate the same meaning to these types of terms.



The second paper that I saw presented today was by Aekyung Park titled 'War, Gender and the Popular Song – with a focus on the Military Popular Song under the Total Moblization System'.


Aekyung discussed 1940s Korean protest songs and in particular analysed the gender issues in military songs between the onset of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the Pacific War in 1941. At that time the basis of Japan's cultural policy was one of censorship and prohibition, with full scale control by the authorities. The need to fight against enemy countries like the USA and UK was at the heart of the cultural policy.


Korea began to produce militarist songs only after the Sino-Japanese War however these were pushed aside by the popularity of love songs and jazz and almost no militarist songs were released from the middle of 1938. The intense dissemination of militarist songs began in 1942.


Aekyung noted that the militarist songs of this time used the female – mother, wife or lover – as the voice of propagandize militarist ideology stating that "the woman as a soldier's helper and war collaborator, internalizes the value of devotion and self-sacrifice". Aekyung gave the example of the Song of Military Nurse (Columbia Records, January 1938) with lyrics reinforcing these ideas.


This was a very interesting presentation and highlighted the use of song in times of war and the characterisation of women as empathetic to both conflict and the caring and nurturing of political ideas.



The third paper I attended was by Kalina Zahiva – Why Do Words Have Songs? Kalina discussed the traditional perception of lyrics as secondary to melody, rhythm and voice. She stated that in reality lyrics are held to be of lower importance than music by music scholars. Typically lyrics are not seen to have their own artistic value – at best they are attributed a sociological, political, gender and/or psychological value.


Furthermore those in Literary Studies traditionally perceive sung poetry as popularised, and/or folkorized; as bad poetry especially with respect to popular music where it is considered the 'weak' element of a predominantly mass art without its own artistic value.


Kalina went on to discuss the setting of the lyrics as instrumental to their acceptance or attribution. They are able to suggest affiliations, incorporation, togetherness, and contribute to the formation of identity. Lyrics written with a deliberate setting are different to those written in a spontaneous setting and this can assist in determining or affect their purpose. She also discussed the setting of the lyrics as constructive of memory, how the text builds, modifies and generates memory. Setting can also invoke an aesthetic claim and contribute to perceptions of quality and genre. Finally she considered the effects of setting on the effects on memory, the development of new meanings and as a rearrangement of the literary process.


This was a fantastic presentation which I very much enjoyed and it provoked much discussion about the role of lyrics and the approaches taken to both their composition and analysis.



Later in the day I was also lucky enough to see a presentation by Matt Stahl titled 'Indentured Servants, Rich Whiners, or Workplace Democrats? US Recording Artists and Californian Labor Law'. This was a great presentation which considered the contractual arrangements of artists and labels in California.  He stated that recording artists are considered to be employees under Californian labor law (2855 of the California Labor Code) – the law establishes their engagement as being a personal services contract. Important elements of the contractual arrangements include exclusivity, assignment (can be transferred to another label if the company the artist is signed to is sold), as well as duration & option periods.


He went on to discuss the duration of recording contracts in California in greater detail. The seven year rule that applies to all engaged in contracts for personal services is designed to remove the employee from an open ended arrangement. Initially the term was limited to a 2 year period but has been extended over time. In 1987 changes were made to the labor law which specifically excluded recording artists from this limitation period. These changes were designed to reinforce changes that had been made to recording contracts following a 1979 dispute with Olivia Newton John (Olivia Newton John v MCA). Newton John refused to record further albums under a recording contract (non performance) which triggered a change in practice by labels from setting time limits on the contracts between artists, to specifying obligations in terms of the number of albums they were required to produce and the damages artists would be liable for if they did not.


In 2002 Senator Kevin Murray sought to repeal the 1987 change through SB 1246. The RIAA, label executives, recording artists and artists' attorneys testified before a hearing of the State Senate Judiciary Committee. Matt played some excellent sound bites highlighting the divergent views of those that gave statements for and against the repealing of the legislation. The move to repeal the law ultimately failed with Matt suggesting that their loss was directly attributable to the lack of political and employment theory that artists and their attorneys argued.


He also noted that aside from Louisiana there is no other State in the United States that limits the length of recording contracts and how this creates ongoing problems for the bargaining power of artists. Furthermore he noted that these changes had a wider impact with contracts formed in other States able to designate California as the venue for the resolution of disputes.


This was a fantastic presentation both in content and style. It was well put together, provided an excellent level of explanation and enough detail in order to comprehend the events that have taken place and their wider implications. I would however, suggest that there is a greater part to this equation, with the United States having a highly corrupted political system with campaign donations 'assisting' to determine the content of the legislation that is passed. I would argue that the result would have been the same regardless of what arguments the artists' and their representatives made. Public Choice Theory would suggest that the Californian representatives would not be in a position to risk losing the economic stability provided by the content industry and would therefore not be in any position to bring in more restrictive laws. Furthermore, as Matt noted, with the vast majority of other States failing to provide any legal limitations, even if it had been successful, the most likely result would be the nomination of an alternative forum for dispute resolution outside of California.



Kalina said...

Hi Sally,
Pleased you liked my presentation in Liverpool and thanks a lot for commenting on it.
I find your blog very interesting and informative.

Name: Sally Hawkins said...

Hey there - yeah it was a great presentation I really enjoyed it. Glad you found my blog - I try to write once a week or more if I can depending on whats happening on the net and how much work I have on... it was a great conference, I am missing it a lot and wish there was more!!