- Foreword: Television Music Studies at the Crossroads
It is the peculiar lot of forewords, as that part of the text which speaks before, to say what is necessary to begin while never fully embarking. Television music studies has for too long occupied a similarly prefatory position, clearing important ground but without clear movement forward. Positioned at a crossroads, we must wrest ourselves from this state of perpetual anteriority and at long last get going; it is time for television music studies’ time to come.
Specifically, the field finds itself at three interrelated crossroads, facing at each juncture a critical problem that suggests multiple pathways forward. Our responses to these problems will be telling, defining preferred avenues for future work:
1. The disciplinary problem. Television music studies is an inherently interdisciplinary area of inquiry. Arising at the intersection of a “sonic turn” in television studies and corresponding “media moment” in music studies, it is the dual beneficiary of both: of screen scholars’ somewhat belated attention to sound’s role in historical and contemporary programming and of music scholars’ slow but steady embrace of music in popular entertainment [End Page 398] media. Interdisciplinarity does not imply theoretical and methodological agnosticism, but it also makes reactionary retrenchments and disciplinary turf wars untenable. As partners in a larger conversation, scholars of television music must make explicit their own disciplinary commitments while recognizing the positioned and contingent nature of their knowledge and remaining open to external ideas and perspectives.
2. The definitional problem. Diverse theoretical and methodological foundations yield equally diverse research objects. From musical performances on television to music in television, understandings of forms and functions of “television music” have substantially broadened in recent decades, while “television” itself has proven a shifting signifier, encompassing everything from terrestrial broadcasts, to cable, satellite, and modern streaming services accessed in domestic and public spaces, to “useful television” deployed in spaces of industry and education. Favored musical genres have shifted across these different technological platforms, time periods, and spaces of reception, as have prevailing production and performance practices, aesthetic norms, and audience consumption habits. Which forms of “television” and “television music” will prove most pertinent for further study, and which disciplinary subregions will pursue them?
3. The archival problem. Different research objects favor different sources, raising a third problem of television music studies’ “archive.” This means not only establishing a preferred body of source materials (an archive in the general sense) but also examining the problem of television music archives in the sense of specific archiving institutions devoted to collecting and preserving music-related material, whether traditional paper records or various moving image and sound recordings. Television music studies scholars are key stakeholders in the development and use of archival materials, demanding active dialogue with archivists and archival studies scholars, as well as critical advocacy work to ensure preservation of and access to relevant collections.
Traversing multiple disciplines, research objects, and archives, television music studies now faces a series of critical decisions. The contributors to this forum map this difficult terrain and offer useful ways of moving forward with the important work ahead. [End Page 399]
Shawn VanCour is assistant professor of media archival studies in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. His research explores the history, technologies, production practices, aesthetic norms, and preservation strategies for US radio and television. He is the author of Making Radio: Early Radio Production and the Rise of Modern Sound Culture (Oxford University Press, 2018) and has published articles on media history and preservation in Media, Culture & Society, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Journal of Radio and Audio Media, Journal of Material Culture, and Modernist Cultures and in various edited collections and online forums.