Monday, 28 April 2014

Bright Club Glasgow: Academics hit The Stand Comedy Club to present their research

As a researcher, I routinely find myself standing on front of strangers discussing my research. I have been to plenty of workshops on public speaking over the years and one of the ‘golden rules’ when presenting to an academic audience is ‘DON’T TRY TO BE FUNNY’. I disagree. I think it’s a case of gauging your audience and if it suits your natural rhythm to approach your topic humorously, then go for it. The goal is to engage the audience. Information which is encoded semantically, or more meaningfully, is retrieved more efficiently later. In other words, don't be boring - people won't remember what you were talking about.

And so, when I heard about a bunch of academics who present their research in a Comedy Club in Glasgow? Naturally I got quite excited. 

Bright Club was born in University College London in 2009, with the idea of engaging with the public. The recipe took off in a big way and ‘Bright Clubs’ starting popping up all over the country, hitting Edinburgh in 2011. I spoke to Bright Club Glasgow’s Founder Zara Gladman, between rehearsals for the upcoming Glasgow show, to get the scoop. 

Zara got involved on the first Edinburgh event and enjoyed it so much she approached The University of Glasgow to help fund a Glasgow event later that year. Zara recalls 6 academics performing at the first show: “Which spanned a range of subjects, from maths and engineering to marine biology, tissue engineering and economics”. She notes more recent shows have: “Covered everything from beetle sex to Burns poetry”. 

Over the last few years, the group has gone from strength to strength, with support from veteran comics on the circuit like Bruce Morton and from Tommy Sheppard, who runs The Stand Comedy Club. Part of the success may be down to the audiences themselves. Zara explains that the shows are strictly heckle-free, with audiences well aware that performers are not professional stand-up performers and are in most instances in unfamiliar territory for the very first time. Even thinking about it makes me nervous!

Academics are obliged to report their research in various ways, mostly in written form in books and academic journals. Often inaccessible to the general public, presentations are a more interactive way to reach out to audiences (and blogs and resulting 'altmetrics' are becoming more valuable). Zara explains: “Public engagement is a growing priority for universities – it’s good for the public to know about some of the amazing research happening right on their doorstep”. I couldn't agree more.

Reflecting on past successes like a themed show about Scottish Independence, and looking ahead to a show at the Glasgow Science Festival this year on June 9th at The Admiral (with biologist and TV presenter Simon Watt hosting) the breadth of the expertise across the individual contributors for the April event looks to be very eclectic indeed. A testament to the worthwhile research from academics from all over Glasgow, I’m excited at the prospect of Bright Club Glasgow and look forward to the upcoming event to see what it’s like for myself. 

In the past, many (but certainly not all) of my talks have went down a treat at conferences and other events. It sort of depends on the audience really. I often poke fun at the weak research methods used in piracy studies or the different justifications people forward to appease piracy engagement, etc. It usually raises a smile at the very least. Maybe I will give it a shot in the future. I'm less interested in the idea of getting laughs though and more that you have an audience who are all there for one reason (and who won't leave halfway through your talk to go see someone elses...)

Anyone can come along on the night, and tickets are available from The Stand website.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Probing the research methods used to study digital piracy

In another new article of mine, this new critique article published in the excellent Convergence is in response to their special issue in 2013 dedicated to digital piracy (reviewed here) and goes into some depth on reviewing the traditional research methodologies used to study digital piracy; it also proposes some alternatives.

It's written in a fairly accessible way, given the content, and is a great introduction to understanding how researchers make sense of digital piracy and how this impacts on the knowledge generated. It also ties in nicely with the recurring thread on this blog where readers are encouraged to dig a little deeper into how research is carried out (methods, funding, etc.) before getting carried away with headlines or soundbites.

Not strictly 'out yet', the article will appear in print format in the journal Convergence next month.

I should also note, I have a few more articles due to appear in 2014 on eclectic topics and will post links in due time.


Brown, S.C. (in press). Approaches to digital piracy research: A call for innovation. Convergence, 20(2), 129-139.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Why pirate? The most important article on digital piracy you will read in 2014

I have to tip my hat here... This is some really well put together research.

In this critical and timely CREATe working paper, 'Determinants and Welfare Implications of Unlawful File Sharing: A Scoping Review', Watson, Zizzo and Fleming (2014) review the findings from hundreds of research articles on digital piracy (so you don't have to). Their method included sorting through over 54,000 sources to review the findings from those which met their strict inclusion criteria.

The authors conclude that: "current knowledge of file sharing is dramatically skewed by sector and method", echoing a recurring criticism on this blog. The authors further observe that the majority of research does not draw from actual data, and calls for more experimental and longitudinal research.

Beyond acting as an excellent critique piece, the research forwards five motives for why individuals engage in file-sharing: these include a) financial and legal utility, b) experiential utility, c) technical utility, d) social utility and e) moral utility.

If one were to measure individual pieces of research on a 'best of the year' type basis as with album releases, this would be number 1 on the list of important works so far in 2014. It rests well alongside my own research due to appear in print in the journal Convergence in May in encouraging researchers to take a step back and really evaluate what's going on.

It's not perfect, as the authors rightly acknowledge (I had trouble interpreting the graphs), but this research is a landmark in digital piracy research for it's methodology. The time and effort which has went into this research is also illustrative of how academic research can best serve the literature base (only academics can ever have the time to do this sort of thing). To further expand on this point, Williamson, Cloonan and Frith (2011) argue that academics:

"Should assert more aggressively that as academics we have not only methodological expertise but also, on the whole, more knowledge of our specialist field than its practitioners - we understand its broader context, we can draw on comparative international and institutional material, we have a longer historical perspective, we have the advantages of disinterest, we are not constrained by encrusted conceptual frameworks" (p. 471)


Williamson, J., Cloonan, M. and Frith, S. (2011). Having an impact? Academics, the music industries and the problem of knowledge. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 17(5), 459-474.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Love music? Love Finnish Libraries: Why Libraries in Finland are the best in the world

A little off topic here, but hear me out.

When I travel, I tend to make a point to check out Churches and Libraries (amongst other things). Now, I am not religious, nor do I read many books (at least not for pleasure), but I find that much can be learned from a city based on both the Churches and Libraries, in both a historical and contemporary sense. 

I was fortunate enough to go on a skiing holiday in Northern Finland last week, and as well as messing around in an Angry Birds themed kids park and shrivelling in a sauna, I checked out the public (or state) Library in Rovianemi, the capital of Lapland. It's modest, but amazing (how Finnish). Their Church is also awesome...

I specifically checked out the Music section and was blown away by the volume of sheet music (see image below), vinyl, CD's and music DVD/Blu-Ray titles available. It was also not a particularly 'shooshy' Library, with people chilling out listening to music on headphones and occasionally singing along. The books ranged from biographies to academic titles including those from researchers I have discussed on this blog many times. You simply wouldn't find these books in an equivalent Library of approximate size and in an area of comparable population in UK: Fact.

These are all books with sheet music, including (perhaps unsurprisingly?) metal bands

It's not that remarkable to discover a great music section in a Finnish Library. They are known both for their excellent Education system and musical proficiency, particularly in classical music (Music Teachers are often held in the same regard as Doctors or Lawyers). I also expect that their high rate of tax goes into excellent public services such as Libraries, and from talking it through with locals, this very much seems to be the case. Nonetheless, I was surprised to find a truly HUGE music section in such a small town.

After wrestling some Elk as I headed South, I stumbled upon the public Library in Turku, the former capital of Finland and the first city; it's more of what you could call a proper city with a big student population and multiple train stations, etc. The Library there was EVEN MORE AMAZING.

It's a mystery that there are more titles by Scottish band 'The Jesus and Mary Chain' in a Finnish Library than in any Scottish Library you could find

The music section was enormous and had thousands of CD's, DVD's/Blu-Rays, sheet music, vinyl, books... everything you could want. And MORE. They put on regular live music events, allow you to transfer old cassettes into digital format.. all sorts. I should note, their CD's extended to huge, expensive boxed-sets that cost around the £100 mark. They can all be rented for free, with no limit on how many you take out at once. An interesting poster boasts that they have titles that do not appear on Spotify, which caught my attention (see below).

Still not entirely sure what the thrust of this poster is, but I'm fascinated by it

So, what am I trying to say here? At the risk of sounding old fashioned, dull, etc., I had a blast sifting through all of the CD's and books in there for what my wife assures me was "for ages". If I lived here, I would be in this Library every week, and I would enjoy discovering the never-ending array of music titles on offer in a stimulating environment where I can be truly surprised with what I find. I would be hard pressed to find a good reason to pirate anything, because it's all down the road in the Library. 

I'm excited to be going back to Turku next month, where I suspect I will be spending much of my spare time in the Library. 

If you love music, then you will love Libraries in Finland.

They also do beer in 1 litre cans...

 Ergonomics aside, holding 1 litre of beer in your hand makes you feel like a real man (until you inevitably drop it)

Tweets when I'm not pondering creating a blog dedicated to my love for Finnish Libraries @musicpiracyblog

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Immense database listing over 500 articles into music business research (open access)

Don't say I'm not good to you.

From our friends over at Music Business Research, check out this article database which lists some 500 articles on research into the music industry. It will blow your mind.

From empirical quantitative papers to discussion articles, the database is also very well put together with additional information such as keywords to improve readability and help you find what interests you very quickly.

I'm pleased to say I met the man behind Music Business Research at the annual Vienna Music Business Research Days conference last summer (see previous blog post here), and recommend you check out his work into music piracy (look up Tschmuck on the database). If I see him again, I will thank him on your behalf.

There's your reading for 2014 sorted.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog