The Ethnomusicology Review Sounding Board: A Brief History

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.

The Ethnomusicology Review Sounding Board began in 2006, as a space for invited contributions to the journal by senior faculty in the discipline. By the time that I arrived on the editorial staff at the beginning of 2012, the Sounding Board—along with the journal itself—was already beginning to be reimagined. With the publication of Volume 16 in 2011, then-editors Nolan Warden, Logan Clark, Jessie Vallejo, and Andrew Pettit had engineered an inspired transformation of the journal, which included a new name, a new website, and indexing by the influential Directory of Open Access Journals. The Sounding Board grew as well, featuring an invited essay by David Shorter as well as “General Generations,” an archival collaboration between Warden and the Native American DJ collective known as A Tribe Called Red.

As the incoming Website Editor for Volume 17, this piece stood out to me. It embraced the experimental possibilities of digital publication, emphasized collaboration, and, as Warden put it in the introduction to Volume 16, “places audio, rather than text, at the center of the intellectual statement.” This served as a model that I would pursue over my next three years on the Ethnomusicology Review editorial board.

Volume 16 had also launched a “blogs” section of the new journal site, with the intention of providing space for ethnomusicologists to share their research immediately with a global audience. However, as I begin to manage this section as part of my role as Website Editor in 2012, it did not function as intended. This is largely due to a fact with which I had become acquainted before I came to UCLA, as a music journalist and web producer: blogging is hard! Or, to put it another way: the process of publishing—even in the immediate, online format of a blog—amounted to a labor requirement that was too much for individual authors to manage on top of the many other demands of ethnomusicological research.

Any given post, I knew, required many steps, including:

  1. Outlining a theme or idea to post
  2. Producing any audiovisual content and uploading it in the appropriate format
  3. Drafting the post text
  4. Checking for copy errors
  5. Formatting the post to be easily viewable on the web interface
  6. Publicizing the new post

Furthermore, I knew from my time in web journalism that the key to developing an audience of readers online is to publish regularly. These blog posts were being posted sporadically, and thus receiving very few pageviews.

Inspired by the example of the Volume 16 Sounding Board, we decided to build the Sounding Board its own section on the website, featured under its own tab on the dropdown menu, replacing the “Blogs” tab. Rather than an open space for authors to publish unfiltered posts, we agreed that the Sounding Board would publish in the style of an online magazine, with Ethnomusicology Review editors actively seeking out contributors, editing copy, formatting posts, and publicizing them via our new social media channels.

Initially, the Sounding Board was divided into four subsections, each managed by one editor. These included “What’s Goin’ On,” for news, reviews, and editorials; “From the Archives,” on archives and ethnomusicology; "Notes from the Field,” for essays on current fieldwork; and “Space is the Place,” for posts related to ethnomusicology and jazz studies. The publishing system was designed so that posts could be tagged in multiple categories—for example, my double-CD review of two jazz discs was published under both “What’s Goin’ On” and “Space is the Place.”

Although this took most of the year to get off the ground, by the time the journal volume was released in November, we had published 27 posts on the new Sounding Board page. Half of these, it bears noting, were produced by UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive librarian Maureen Russell, whose enthusiasm and diligence has provided a shining example for all of us at the journal.

The following year, we were fortunate to add a sixth editor to our editorial team; this allowed us to tweak our editorial structure to include an Editor In Chief, a Technical Editor, two Reviews Editors, and two Managing Editors. Because the Sounding Board had grown so dramatically, it made sense for the Managing Editors to divide their responsibilities—one managed the peer review process for the annual journal volume, and the other managed the Sounding Board. Increased interest in the Sounding Board also allowed us to introduce two new subsections—“Bring the Noise” for popular music studies, and “Historical Perspectives” for historical ethnomusicology—that spring. At that time, we also added the image slider to the front page.

We also decided to post all reviews on the Sounding Board throughout the year, rather than have some be associated with the journal volume and others with the Sounding Board. Reviews editors Eric Schmidt and Darci Sprengel solicited 24 reviews over the course of the year—and, I’d like to add with a hint of pride: that’s more than the journals Ethnomusicology or Ethnomusicology Forum. In total, the Sounding Board published 79 works of public scholarship in 2013. These have included traditional academic book reviews, fieldwork notes, collaborations with musicians, commentaries on issues in the field, and original scholarship. When we published Volume 18 in November, Sounding Board returned to its original place on the journal page, with an overview of all that we had published there over the course of 2013.

This year, I have taken over as Editor In Chief, and the continued activity has coincided with further growth for the journal. Our editorial staff now includes ten members, including our first Associate Editor from outside UCLA, Ben Cosgrove, who manages our new Ecomusicology section. The collaboration grew out of a conversation between Volume 18 editor Scott Linford and UCLA ethnomusicology graduate Michael Silvers, who has worked to galvanize further interest in ecomusicology. We have maintained a similar editorial structure—with separate managing editors for the Sounding Board and the journal volume—and published 71 pieces on the Sounding Board.

The rapid growth of this digital publishing institution would not have been possible without the continued effort and investment of many people. Like all sustainable publishing endeavors, this requires a coordinated effort that includes both authors and editors. I am optimistic that, as I become less involved with the journal soon, the incoming editors will continue to develop this system. Most of all, though, I am proud to see that the Sounding Board continues to offer ethnomusicologists an opportunity to demonstrate how scholarship in our field can be accessible, multimodal, and collaborative. And so I will be watching and listening eagerly and attentively to the adaptations and permutations that emerge in the coming years.


Alex W. Rodriguez is the current Editor in Chief of Ethnomusicology Review. He is also a writer, improviser, trombonist and PhD student in ethnomusicology at UCLA. He studied trombone performance Amherst College, and completed a Master of Arts degree in Jazz History and Research at Rutgers University, where he wrote his thesis on early jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden and studied trombone with Conrad Herwig. His current research focuses on jazz clubs around the world and the creative improvised music communities that surround them, with case studies in California, Chile, and Siberia. Alex also contributes jazz coverage to NPR Music and maintains a blog, Lubricity. He also co-leads the UCLA Omni-Musicality Group, and serves as the Brass Instructor and Curriculum Director for the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra and PS1 Elementary School.

Header image: Sound board of a Vose and Sons upright piano. Photo submitted on Wikimedia Commons by user Ragesoss.


"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.