On Developing Sound Matters: The SEM Blog

Editor’s Note: Ethnomusicology Review Editor In Chief Alex W. Rodriguez is participating in the roundtable presentation “Ethnomusicological Perspectives on Open Access Publication” at the upcoming Society for Ethnomusicology meeting in Pittsburgh, alongside Darren MuellerGuthrie RamseyJustin SchellWendy Hsu, and James Cowdery. Over the next few weeks, Sounding Board will post a short position paper by each participant. Please join us at 10:45 am on Thursday, Nov. 13, to further discuss these pieces.

Sometime in 2009 a colleague at RILM made an offhand comment—something like: “We know so much about the interesting things people are publishing! We ought to have a blog about that.” I thought that it was a great idea, and an excellent way to raise awareness about RILM’s bibliographic database, which is largely unknown outside academia. I queried my Facebook friends about software, settled on WordPress, and launched Bibliolore in October of that year. For a niche blog, it is fairly successful; it rarely gets fewer than 100 hits per day, and it’s not unusual for it to top 200 hits in a single day.

In 2012 I joined the SEM Board of Directors as First Vice President, a position that entails overseeing the Society’s publications, and I arrived at my first meeting eager to suggest that SEM should launch a blog; I was delighted to learn that Harris M. Berger, the incoming President, was already planning to propose that!

A call was put out for an editor, and since I am enjoying blogging for RILM I decided to apply myself. The Board graciously gave me the nod, and I put together an Editorial Advisory Board, which helped me to hammer out guidelines for submissions and select a name: Sound Matters: The SEM Blog.

A good blog has a clear mission. My Advisory Board and I agreed that the mission of Sound Matters would be to publish lively, widely accessible peer-reviewed articles, taking advantage of the opportunities allowed by online publishing and fostering both a sense of community within SEM and an atmosphere of outreach beyond the limits of academic journals.

A call for submissions was issued in early 2014 and, per the SEM Board’s mandate, members of my Advisory Board and I started to contact colleagues who we thought could contribute articles that would make worthy blog posts.  A fine contribution arrived almost immediately after the announcerment, it sailed through peer review, and it became the inaugural post on Sound Matters on 12 March 2014. Two more submissions followed soon after, and both were peer-approved and published.

And, so far, that was that. Despite very positive feedback, Sound Matters is stalled, with no new submissions since spring 2014. I recently issued a suggestion on SEM’s listserv that teachers could have their students produce SEM-style blog posts, and forward to me ones that seem likely to pass peer review. I plan to proselytize tirelessly at SEM’s next annual meeting, where I also hope to discuss this situation with members of my Advisory Board and with the SEM Board of Directors. If Sound Matters is still not building momentum, it may be that we simply have to be patient; scholars and students may yet realize its potential. But it is also possible that we need to rethink its mission.

One possibility would be to redefine it not as an online journal, but as something more like a magazine with staff writers. A number of fine blogs work this way; one of my favorites (being a professional editor) is Lingua Franca, which is published by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Lingua Franca’s blogging staff comprises experts in linguistics who are also teachers, and its mission involves exploring interesting corners of the English language and presenting general observations about teaching; posts eschew technical lingo, inviting a wide readership. Such a mission might be deemed worthy by SEM, but I suspect that Lingua Franca’s staff members are not writing for free.

Several interesting questions arise from this situation; I look forward to discussing them with the roundtable participants and with you!



Jim Cowdery is Editorial Director of Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM); in addition to overseeing the organization and day-to-day activities of the International Center, he is responsible for representing the field of ethnomusicology in RILM's database. He has served as Editor-in-Chief of Ethnomusicology and as a consultant and writer for the PBS television series Exploring the World of Music; his publications include The Melodic Tradition of Ireland (Kent State University Press, 1990), articles in several encyclopedias and journals, and, as co-author, the textbook Exploring the World of Music (Kendall Hunt, 1999). He was elected First Vice President of the Society for Ethnomusicology for the 2011-13 term, and has served twice on the Society's Council. As a composer, Cowdery has received commissions from the Long Island Choral Society and Meet the Composer, and his works have received premieres in New York City, Tokyo, and Budapest. He also performed Irish, Scottish, English, and American traditional musics throughout the U.S. and Canada from the 1970s through the 1990s. He received the Ph.D. from Wesleyan University in 1985.


"Sounding Board" is intended as a space for scholars to publish thoughts and observations about their current work. These postings are not peer reviewed and do not reflect the opinion of Ethnomusicology Review. We support the expression of controversial opinions, and welcome civil discussion about them. We do not, however, tolerate overt discrimination based on race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, and reserve the right to remove posts that we feel might offend our readers.