Over the past 30 years, the ways in which identity, music culture, and the commercial music industries interact and intersect have been of major concern to academics and music researchers.
In her book, Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars, Kirstin Lieb describes the processes by which artist’s images, and the careers of artists are branded and marketed as commercial objects. Paying particular attention to women artists and pop stars, she describes the professional pressures on these women’s careers, to be:
“cross-capitalized empires who can generate vast amounts of revenue in a variety of entertainment verticals… the career lifecycle for female artists is much shorter than it is for male artists”.
In 2011, Erin Hatton and Mary Nell Trautner’s research revealed a history of objectification on the cover of Rolling Stone. They analysed over 1,000 covers and found that there has been a dramatic increase in hypersexualised images of women since the 1960s – accounting for 61% of women’s images in the 1990s and 2000s – while images of men remain largely non-sexualised across time.
The Nationwide Irish Music Industry Research (NIMIR) Project is a sub-project of the music and media website, Lazer Guided Reporter, and aims to continue this investigation. The Coordinator of the NIMIR Project, Yvonne Kiely, has to date presented her research concerning the representation of gender on the covers of Hot Press and Rolling Stone at the 2018 Annual Critical Media Literacy Conference at Dublin Institute of Technology, and the same research is currently under review for a Dublin based peer-reviewed media journal.
The NIMIR Project is a self-funded, open access, public facing piece of research. Interviews will be taking place over the next twelve months with eligible participants in Ireland, and the covers of music magazines will continue to be analysed. At the end of the project an summary report will be compiled and published.
Operating in the middle ground between academia and journalism, the NIMIR Project applies best practice from academic research in its methodology and ethics. Participants will be informed about their rights within the project and are free to withdraw their consent and data at any time.
Eligible participants are two sides of the same coin. First, artists who have direct or indirect experience of the commercial processes of image management. Second, those who are behind those decisions, shaping and facilitating the processes of image management – record labels, A&R, music magazine editors, artist managers, to name a few.
Eligible participants are invited to take part. Please email Yvonne at email@example.com for further details.
Music researchers are also invited to share their research on Lazer Guided Reporter, either as an article or on a soon to be launched research podcast. More details on how to be involved can be found here.
The primary concern of the NIMIR Project is the ways in which bodies, identities, and the images of artists are packaged, marketed and distributed in a heavily commodified music culture. Yvonne’s magazine analysis has supported the findings of previous music research, and in addition has found that while the images of women within these particular cover spaces are being branded along certain gendered rules of visibility and exposure, so are the images of men.
There are more questions left to answer about how artists, and images of artists are shaped by capitalistic processes of image management. Bodies, and people as cultural objects – products with an economic value – continue to be a site of changing symbolic significance. The NIMIR Project endeavours to shine a light on these processes, to reveal an untold narrative about gender, space, music, and a commodified music culture.