‘Busking by app – that’s not how it should work’ (Crispin Hunt, Chair of The Ivors Academy, 04/06/2020): creativity, community and survival in the streaming age.


Understanding of the ‘establishment’ continues to influence perceptions of narratives of both success and failure (Negus in Hawkins ed. 2017) in popular music. Underpinning them lies the seemingly simple equation of what constitutes a career:  ‘Make some music, create a fan base, sell ‘em stuff. ’ (Cooke 2018) Accompanying challenges, however, fuel the lucrative market that has emerged alongside new industry as opportunities for ‘success’ diminish. As I have noted elsewhere, DIY has become big business. (Wolfe 2019)

Despite this, recent media attention (Empire 2019, Snape 2019) concurs with the argument that creative control is a significantly viable means of progress either within or on the margins of an industry that grows ever narrow and uniform at the top despite the DIY explosion at the bottom. (Wolfe 2019) It is also buoyed up through the recognition of the leverage afforded by individual rather than corporate muscle (AIM Music Connected 2020).

If coming out fighting from one’s own sonically created corner is a key way to construct what might be understood as a career in that ever-widening ‘gulf between the universally famous and the known-to-just-some’ (Reynolds 2019), the methods used to mediate such activity results in ‘promotional suicide’, if they ape those utilised by the mainstream where ‘Even the astronomically famous have had to resort to ruses to commandeer public attention.’(Ibid.)

What are the routes following the ‘splendid isolation’  (De Beauvoir 1949 in 2010 ed.) of creativity with which to achieve ‘a scintilla of significance’ amidst ‘the rubble of the mainstream’ (Reynolds 2019) where institutional gatekeeping remains wearily consistent in its discrimination based on gender, race, class and age. This paper offers case study analysis of models that negotiate the positioning of career construction both within and on the side lines of establishment convention.


Dr. Paula Wolfe is a researcher in the fields of music production, the independent music industry and gender. Her published work is widely cited and she regularly presents her research on a wide range of issues that accompany the work of female producers, artist-producers and artist-run record labels. Her book Women In The Studio: creativity, control and gender in popular music sound production (Routledge 2019) examines the wide ranging impact of music production as a gendered field of practice incorporating themes that include music production, self-production, music technology, the music industry, entrepreneurship, media representation, gender and diversity and has been nominated for The Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research Award 2020, from the Association for Recorded Sound (ARSC).

Practitioner as well as scholar, Wolfe is also a highly critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and producer who has been self-producing and self-releasing her music on her own label, Sib Records, since the early noughties. Her third album White Dots (* * * * MOJO) was released alongside her book and her remastered and reworked back catalogue is due for release later this year.

Leave a Reply