At a time when the bulwarks of the music industry are collapsing, what does it mean to be a successful musician and artist? How might contemporary musicians sustain their artistic communities? Based on interviews with over seventy-five popular-music professionals in Nashville, Beyond the Beat looks at artist activists—those visionaries who create inclusive artist communities in today’s individualistic and entrepreneurial art world. Using Nashville as a model, Daniel Cornfield develops a theory of artist activism—the ways that artist peers strengthen and build diverse artist communities.
Cornfield discusses how genre-diversifying artist activists have arisen throughout the late twentieth-century musician migration to Nashville, a city that boasts the highest concentration of music jobs in the United States. Music City is now home to diverse recording artists—including Jack White, El Movimiento, the Black Keys, and Paramore. Cornfield identifies three types of artist activists: the artist-producer who produces and distributes his or her own and others’ work while mentoring early-career artists, the social entrepreneur who maintains social spaces for artist networking, and arts trade union reformers who are revamping collective bargaining and union functions. Throughout, Cornfield examines enterprising musicians both known and less recognized. He links individual and collective actions taken by artist activists to their orientations toward success, audience, and risk and to their original inspirations for embarking on music careers.
Beyond the Beat offers a new model of artistic success based on innovating creative institutions to benefit the society at large.
Awards and Recognition
- Shortlisted for the 2016 ASAP Book Prize, Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present
Daniel B. Cornfield is professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Becoming a Mighty Voice and coeditor of Worlds of Work.
"This innovative sociological study of the Nashville music scene explores the business realities of an industry that has been radically changed by technology. . . . His findings are encouraging because they reveal an environment in which many artists support one another in their quest for individualistic attainment."—Choice
"Anyone who wishes to read a remarkably grounded analysis of how cultural work—in this case music—is changing, and about the roles of both artist entrepreneurs and trade union activists in pursuing a community-encompassing response, will find this book a wonderful read and an eye-opener for students in multiple fields: the sociology of occupations, the economics and sociology of the arts, arts management studies, industry studies, and labor relations. That Cornfield also offers a conceptual framework for thinking about structures and strategy is an extra plus."—Ann Markusen, ILR Review
"A compelling analysis of how musicians are responding to ongoing rapid transformations in the music economy and the broader post-industrial economy."—Daniel Silver, Contemporary Sociology
"An emerging generation of musicians and artists in Nashville, Tennessee is drawing on a dynamic peer community that encourages activism, collaboration, and cross-promotion. Cornfield's illuminating and insightful Beyond the Beat skillfully chronicles the cohesive culture of this highly engaged and often inspiring community, and offers an encouraging take on creativity in the wake of digital disruption."—Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center
"This illuminating investigation into the restructuring of the Nashville music scene provides an insightful look at how artists seek to recreate occupational community in an era of precarious work. The sociological theory of artist activism developed here makes an important contribution to cultural sociology as well as the new sociology of work."—Arne L. Kalleberg, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
"In this graceful and committed book, Daniel Cornfield sings a song for us about the Nashville music scene, Emile Durkheim, and understandings of worker and artist agency. Drawing on rich interviews with music professionals, Cornfield develops a nuanced theory for their artist activism. Those who are interested in contemporary forms of changing art worlds, and those who are interested in the new sociology of work in an increasingly individualized era should listen with open ears."—Marek Korczynski, University of Nottingham
"This insightful and original book looks at how participants in the changing world of Nashville music are creating new ways of organizing careers that are more entrepreneurial and collective than earlier bureaucratic and corporate modes. Cornfield is clearly onto something important about music careers and epochal transformations in the music industry. His talent as a sociologist of work shines through."—William G. Roy, University of California, Los Angeles
"With an amazing range of scholarship, this engaging and thought-provoking book intertwines biography and context to examine emergent patterns among musical change agents in Nashville. Distilling complex arguments and concepts in a straightforward fashion, the book is not only about art worlds and their dynamics, but also about workers in the twenty-first century."—Timothy J. Dowd, Emory University