BA Music and Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Popular Music in the Digital Age

Unit code MUSC20511
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course-unit acts as an introduction to the study of popular music as it relates to the people, technologies, creative industries and cultural politics that characterise the most recent, digital phase of neoliberal capitalism (viewed from the UK).


The course-unit is divided into two large, interrelated parts. The first concentrates at a general level on changes in the production, promotion and consumption of popular music that have taken place following the ubiquity of cloud computing in everyday life and the near-ubiquity of branding as an industry ‘framework’ for popular music. In addition, this section of the course-unit introduces students to the history of ideas and theories on popular music and capitalism.


The second part of the course-unit assesses a number of recent themes and topics in order to tease out the ways in which the effects of ‘the digital age’ might be interpreted in the texts and objects of popular music (from the margins to the mainstream). Students are introduced to different media including songs, music video, commercials, fan texts and more. Issues range from authenticity to nostalgia and from austerity to individualism, all of which cuts across representations of gender, race, sexuality, age and class.


The course-unit does not attempt to provide students with preparation for the music industry, though this may be a happy side-effect. The course-unit is suitable for any student with an interest in the academic study of music, popular culture and cultural critique.



Available as Free Choice (UG) or to other programmes (PG)?

Yes, but note prerequisite of A Level Music or Grade VIII Theory or equivalent.



The course-unit aims:


  • to improve students abilities at close reading and cultural critique in essay writing
  • introduce students to a range of popular musics; to the issues and meanings that might be heard and viewed therein; to debates and issues pertaining to the study of ‘the digital age’ and related categorisations; to methodological and theoretical debates concerning the study of music, technology and culture;
  • to introduce students to popular music studies and its scholarly antecedents; to develop an awareness of different methods for the cultural analysis of popular music;
  • to enable students to develop confidence, critical engagement and originality in their approach to the study of popular culture; to give students the tools to undertake an independent essay; to further develop the skills necessary for related independent projects at level three and beyond.


The list below is an indication of topics, which may be subject to change.


Part 1

  1. Introduction and Orientation: Understanding Popular Music (Studies) / Understanding the Digital Age
  2. The Music Industry in the Consumption Era
  3. Music as Content: Streaming Logic
  4. Popular Music, Neoliberalism and Promotional Culture

Part 2

  1. Music and Meaning in the Experience Economy
  2. YouTube, Prosumption, Convergence
  3. Always Connected: Music, Mobility, Listening
  4. Old and the New: Vinyl, Cassette and Retro Logic
  5. Digital Signatures
  6. Digital Vocalities
  7. Unit Summary


Teaching and learning methods

  • Beyond the lectures, throughout the course-unit students are expected to prepare for weekly, ‘hands-on’ seminars which may take the form of debates, object handling sessions, Q&A sessions and reading groups.
  • In order to gain feedback on set readings and lectures, students are required to complete online weekly tasks, in the form of blog posts or quizzes within Blackboard.
  • Students are also required to develop and share a diary of listening and viewing in order to expand their knowledge and engagement with popular music and contemporary culture.
  • Working in small groups students will be offered the opportunity to produce and upload one episode of the unit podcast, undertaking a review of recent reading and listening. (Optional.)

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • demonstrate an awareness of the various topics and approaches pertaining to the study of popular music in the digital age;
  • demonstrate a sound understanding of recent industry changes and their relationship to socio-economic, political, technological and cultural contexts;
  • demonstrate an increasing awareness of the range of genres and musical practices that fall under the category of popular music;
  • articulate and critique different tropes and cultural codes that recur in a variety of popular musics and the existing scholarship thereon.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • explain the impact of digital technologies upon selected examples of music-based cultural practice;
  • show an awareness of the complexity and nuance of identity politics and its analysis in cultural texts related to popular music;
  • apply and critique theories of representation as a methodological and theoretical basis for the analysis of audio and audio-visual texts and practices;
  • demonstrate critical engagement with a range of scholarly and non-scholarly discourses.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • produce an independent project to a high standard of presentation and to a set deadline.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • demonstrate the ability to synthesize and evaluate material systematically to produce arguments and solutions that are communicated clearly in both written and verbal form;
  • show an ability to produce good-quality work independently with developing critical self-awareness and within an increasingly self-directed environment;
  • demonstrate the ability to communicate ideas and information clearly in written and verbal form;
  • demonstrate developing data information and organisation skills especially for online materials and non-standard scholarly sources;
  • demonstrate developing team-working and collaboration skills by communicating clearly with peers in seminar discussion and small presentations.

Employability skills

The course-unit requires students to engage critically with contemporary cultural industries, technologies and cultural meanings, improving self-awareness and independence, requiring analytical and problem-solving skills and strong communication (especially the ability to listen to and persuade others). The course-unit builds awareness of different industry discourses and thus the ability to understand and asses underlying causes, patterns and effects. The course-unit fosters an awareness of personal and cultural differences, improving students¿ emotional intelligence and collaboration skills.

Assessment methods


Assessment task


Weighting within unit

Weekly online tasks

(blog post, quiz and podcast)

Coursework essay 1

(formal essay)

Coursework essay 2

(formal essay)



2000 words


3000 words







Feedback methods

  • Feedback on weekly quizzes (model answers)
  • Feedback on coursework essay 1 (submitted by week 8; feedback by week 11)
  • Summative feedback on coursework essay 2 (submitted by week 14, following completion of course-unit)
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading


Dominik Bartmanski and Ian Woodard, Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen and Anne Danielsen, Digital Signatures: The Impact of Digitization on Popular Music Sound (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016).

Jean Hogarty, Popular Music and Retro Culture in the Digital Era (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).

Brian J. Hracs, Michael Seman, and Tarek E. Virani (eds.), The Production and Consumption of Music in the Digital Age (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).

Leslie M. Meier, Popular Music as Promotion: Music and Branding in the Digital Age (Cambridge: Polity, 2016).

Mark Mulligan, Awakening:  The Music Industry in the Digital Age (MIDiA Research, 2015).

Raphaël Nowak and Andrew Whelan (eds.), Networked Music Cultures: Contemporary Approaches, Emerging Issues (London: Palgrave, 2016).

Nick Prior, Popular Music, Digital Technology and Society (London: Sage, 2018).

Richard Purcell and Richard Randall (eds.), 21st-Century Perspectives On Music, Technology, And Culture: Listening Spaces (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2016).

Jim Rogers, The Death and Life of the Music Industry in the Digital Age (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

Steve Savage, Bytes and Backbeats: Repurposing Music in the Digital Age (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011).

Robert Strachen, Sonic Technologies: Popular Music, Digital Culture and the Creative Process (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).

Timothy Taylor, Music and Capitalism: A History of the Present (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2015). See also the accompanying website:

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Roderick Hawkins Unit coordinator

Additional notes

 Most years students benefit from an invited guest speaker who works in the music industry.



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