Dr. Mark Samples, first-year assistant professor of music and coordinator of musicology at Millikin University, is gaining attention for his ground breaking research efforts on commercialism in 20th and 21st century music. In his first academic year, Samples has presented his research at one national conference and will be presenting at two more national music conferences this spring. His research efforts will also be highlighted in an upcoming national publication.
Samples currently researches the role of commercialism in music after 1800, from Jenny Lind to Joan Baez, Tom Waits and Sufjan Stevens. Samples teaches music history with an emphasis on western classical music as well as ethnomusicology.
"My goal for the academic year was to get one major publication in the pipeline and to share my research at one major national conference," said Samples. "It's become a busy year, and having the opportunity to present my research at three national conferences is very exciting."
Samples' work titled "Timbre and Legal Likeness: The Case of Tom Waits," was met with great interest and discussion during the American Musicological Society (AMS) National Conference, held November 2013, in Pittsburgh, Pa. The paper explores Samples' view on how musicians should consider timbre or tone quality, both vocal and instrumental, to be a core part of their commercial brands. His expanded research will be published in a book on timbre called "The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre and Popular Music" (Oxford University Press).
In March, Samples will be attending the Society for American Music (SAM) National Conference in Lancaster, Pa., to present research on the 1960s American folk music scene and artists such as Joan Baez. He will also be traveling to the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum in Seattle, Wash., to present at the 2014 Pop Conference this April. The Pop Conference brings together a rare mix of academics, recording artists, music journalists, and industry executives to share ideas about popular music.
"All three of these opportunities have linked to my overall research plan which is the commercial branding of music and musicians," said Samples. "How musicians brand themselves and how they present their commercial identity to the public are key aspects of my research. This is an area that is cutting edge because people have been reluctant to talk about branding in music. Art has been seen as set apart from commerce."
Samples also emphasizes how artists must understand how to communicate with the broader public in certain strategic ways. In terms of branding, Sample uses the term "commercial identity" to explain how artists must find ways to form, articulate, and distribute their art, but also to retain a distinction between their public and private lives. Samples says, "Through my research, I hope that my students gain a better understanding of how to navigate this fine line in their own careers."
"Mark loves teaching, first and foremost, and has established an impressive resume in that important area of faculty work in the first stages of his career," said Dr. Stephen Widenhofer, director of the Millikin School of Music and professor of music. "His research focus, music and branding, is ground breaking in many ways. There just aren't that many people doing scholarship in that area, thus, we are excited to see what kind of results will emerge from his efforts."
Samples added, "I've been very pleased with the success that this research is getting. It's more than what I've expected, and what it tells me is that we are ready to talk about these topics."
Samples is also looking forward to sharing his research with the Millikin community. "One of the reasons why Millikin was so appealing to me is because Millikin is light years ahead of other institutions on this subject. Millikin's curriculum allows students to develop the artistry of their craft. It also teaches students the strategies and skills needed to succeed professionally, which goes to the heart of the mission, and that is performance learning."