Uneven Structure – second installment

This post is in continuation from my previous entry, where I explained how I would use this week to look into different ways of structuring my case studies and the flow of my thesis.

I have always seemed to crumble and face difficulties in the structural component of my writing more so than anything else, and have identified this as something that I need to be clear about and in control of from an early enough point in time that I won’t face issues and anxieties prior to submission.

As I have established previously, my introduction will clarify the goals of my thesis, including straightforward explanations for why the concept album holds importance in music history and why it is likely to endure in the future. I will also highlight my personal inspiration for writing about the subject, introduce my four case studies (Coheed and Cambria for 2000s, Radiohead for 1990s, Queensryche for 1980s and Jethro Tull for 1970s), and explicate the two streams of thought that constitute my primary arguments:

1. The concept album has a history of reflecting the socio-cultural context of its time.

2. The concept album format has been adapted to reflect progressions in media technology and the dominant mode of music distribution.

My literature review will be concerned with the history of concept albums themselves, allowing readers to grasp an idea of what constitutes a concept album, as well as what a concept album is not. I discuss the concept album’s relationship with progressive rock music and outline famous examples that have been interrogated by scholars. The aim is to establish a linear, chronological order in my writing here that traces existing literature on the concept album from its early origins, through its most successful period, up to its supposed decline and possible resurgence. It will be important to familiarise readers with the chronological layout early, as it seems to be the most logical way to order my case studies.

The case studies are the difficult aspect. Quite simply, there are two layout options that I am weighing against each other at the moment, each with advantages and disadvantages.

The chapter headings used in a thesis are obviously intended to dictate the nature of the content to be discussed within them, and can play a major role in determining the effectiveness of the author’s argument. My dilemma is whether to give the concept albums I am using as case studies the chapter title ascendancy, or whether to make the chapter titles relate to the sociocultural and technological contexts I am exploring. i.e:

“2000s: Coheed and Cambria’s The Amory Wars (2002-2013)”
“Concept Albums as a Reflection of Socio-Cultural Contexts in Different Eras”

A rather telling wordle of this blog post.

In the case of the former approach, the concept albums themselves are the primary focus. The subheadings I include would dictate the different areas of discussion: Firstly, background information on the album and its time of release. Secondly, how the album was able to reflect it’s relevant socio-cultural circumstances. Finally, how it used technology of its time to enhance the effectiveness of its concept and ultimately reflect its era of media in transition. Setting out the case studies in this way would provide a close look into each album in their own separate chapter, analysing how they function as concept albums, socio-cultural indicators and reflections of technological progress.

The other approach, one championed by my good friend Ed Armstrong, is to use the ‘subheadings’ discussed above (Background info, Socio-cultural context, Technological context) as the overarching chapter titles that follow on from my literature review. If I were to do this, I would discuss each of my four case studies (in order of their time of release) under those headings, focusing on how they reflect the chapter’s title only. In adopting this structural style, I would be using the concept albums as my subject of study, but placing greater emphasis on the broader streams of thought that I have set out to investigate: the concept album format, the progression of new media technologies within the music industries, and the expression of socio-cultural contexts through music.

I feel that in either case, the many dimensions of my chosen concept albums (artwork, packing, narratives, themes, layout) may be able to function as languages of communication, allowing me to speak objectively about the broader points I have identified. However, as far as having the most powerful effect on the audience is concerned, I feel that perhaps the only way for me to know which structural method is “right” for this piece will be to draft two different versions of my thesis. For now, I’ll take things one big step at a time.. and hopefully the uneven structure will start to balance itself out.

About simonwoodhonours

Simon Wood (Honours in Media and Communication) is an RMIT student whose specialist discipline is in the 'contemporary music industry'. For his honours study in 2013, Simon will be researching the ‘concept album’, and its significance within the contemporary music industry.
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