PhD Proposal: The Welsh Music Industry (1997)

The research degree would attemp to analyse the complex network that comprises the Welsh-language popular music industry, the organisations and institutions that work within the industry, how they interact with each other and how each works towards the goal of achieving the continuation of the Welsh pop music industry.

Part one: Issues & key concepts

Certain questions will be raised, discussed and hopefully answered during the course of the theseis, such as

  • What are the characteristics of Welsh Popular Music and how do performers assert their cultural identity?
  • How has Welsh popular music developed as a genre (or more accurately, a collection of genres) over the past thirty years?
  • What are the differences in definition and cultural significance of pop and gwerin and how do they influence each other?
  • Is it merely the language that makes Welsh pop music Welsh or is there a culturally defining element within the subject matter or the musical language?
  • How has the Welsh music industry grasped new technologies, from electric instruments, to digital recording to the use of the Internet as a marketing tool?

To date, there is very little academic research available concerning Welsh popular music and culture – the most significant of which are Roger Wallis and Krister Malm’s books on minority cultures and music (Big Sounds From Small Peoples and Media Policy and Music Activity), and their articles which have appeared in Popular Music Journal. This research now ranges from six to fifteen years in age and is quite obviously inappropriate and dated,since the Welsh pop music industry has moved on, and several Welsh media policies have changed since the research was written.

More recent research includes a chapter on Wales in the Rough Guide to World Music (Rough Guides Reference Titles) Rough Guide to World Music, and published essays by local writers Damien Walford Davies (on the poetry of Welsh music) and Pwyll ap Sion the roots of reggae in Welsh pop music).

The thesis would take into account the differences between a major music industry and that of a “minority culture” and how one is influenced by the other. The influence of Anglo-American music is strong in Welsh pop music, but now, at the end of the 1990s, Welsh music is making an impact on both the national pop charts and the music industry psyche. Super Furry Animals and Catatonia are household names and Welsh heroes, and are redefining the way the music press and the non-Welsh regard Wales, the Welsh and their music.

Since I first decided to study Welsh pop music in 1996, record company A&R personnel are still coming to Wales to sign up new talent, and Wales is still fashionable in the eyes of the music press. There is an increasing number of Welsh bands being signed (one of the most recent being Melys to Arctic records and whose Lemming single contains a Welsh-language B-side, ‘Hedfan’), Rockfield studios in Monmouth has been a major recording centre for international pop music since the 1970s, and with the current resurgence of interest in “folk” and traditional music both inside and outside Wales, there has never been a better time to place Wales’ popular music firmly in its historical and cultural context.

Part two: Approach & techniques

Much of the research for this project would be gleaned from anthropological methods, participant observation, interviews and questionnaires. It is hoped that this will be achieved through a series of work placements in various parts of the industry, eg

  • The Band
  • The Venue
  • The Radio DJ
  • The Fanzine etc.

Other research materials would include annual reports from the BBC and S4C, the two companies who are largely responible for the presentation of Welsh-language music to the public via broadcast media. Other companies and organisations, however small, are essential to the continuation of the culture – independent record labels, fanzines, promoters, local recording studios etc. – and their roles would be fully researched and duly noted.

A comparative study could be made between the music industries of Wales and other Celtic countries such as Scotland – a cultural pfhenomenon which boasts a wealth of resources, including books by Patrick Kane (Tinsel Show: Pop, Politics, Scotland), Jim Wilkie (Blue Suede Brogans) and Hamish Henderson (Alias McAlias) as well as its own Network Chart.

It is hoped that the data and results will be presented in the form of various media – appendices including photographs, record and magazine sleeves, copies of reports or other relevant documents, transcripts of interviews or statements, compilation audio and video tapes of live material, promo clips, TV appearances or interviews etc.

The hope is that this project will be developed into a website that will promote Welsh music throughout the world on the Internet. This project has begun during my diploma/MA studies, with the development of The Welsh Pop Music Resource Pages, which includes contributions from various bands, record labels, management companies, venues. cybercafes and magazines which are dedicated to the promotion of Welsh pop music.

The project was begun in December 1997, features graphics, text and audio, and is currently under continuous development. It is hoped that this site will become a resource base for the benefit of networking and maintaining contacts, and more importantly, that it becomes a respected resource and research site for anyone interested in the study of Welsh popular music. To this end, it is hoped that my complete thesis will form part of this site along with the associated media clipswhich I intend to clear for use with the appropriate owners.

The thesis could also be developed as an audio or video documentary containing interview material as well as musical excerpts, which could be broadcast locally or nationally, and which would help further promote both the industry and the academic body responsible for creating and supporting the work.

At the time of writing, a CD-ROM format is also being considered as an appropriate form for this project, which will help promote the understanding of Welsh popular music as a promotional CD-ROM for distribution to arts organisations around the world. This CD-ROM could also be used at home thanks to the growth of home computer systems and information technology.

Further reading on this topic