Dr Allan Watson
Reader in Economic Geography – Geography and Environment
Dr Allan Watson is a cultural-economic geographer – his research explores the geographies of music and the musical economy, but he is also interested in film and the wider media landscape. His work combines geographical, economic and sociological perspectives on cultural production, technology, labour and consumption.
The economic and cultural geographies of music
The music industry has a very defined geography of production, focused on clusters of companies, musicians, venues and intermediaries in major cities across the world. Furthermore, the location and cultural background of musicians inspires and inflects their music, often giving them a distinctive sound and resulting in the emergence of identifiable music scenes. Add to this the technological advances around digital platforms in the last 30 years, along with the more recent impacts of COVID-19, and exploring the economic and cultural geographies of music can tell us a lot about the nature of contemporary cultural production in the cultural and media industries.
I have always been passionate about music – and intrigued by how it’s produced and the workings of the music industry.
Sadly, lacking the talent of Hendrix or Page, I was never going to be a guitarist, so exploring music as an academic seemed like the next best career option.
Geography is another of my long-standing passions, and I’m lucky to have found a niche that brings the two together.
Over the years, many people have asked, “What does geography have to do with music?” My answer is that music and music production are inherently geographical, and as a student I was inspired by an emerging body of literature on the geographies of music.
My works falls under the wider umbrella of economic geography – a sub-discipline of human geography which considers how geographical factors impact economic activity and vice-versa.
As a cultural-economic geographer, I am interested in how cultural products – music, films and other media – are produced, marketed, distributed and consumed.
Like many other parts of the economy, the music industry has a very defined geography of production focused on clusters of companies and scenes in major cities across the world. So, part of my work explores the inner workings of these music clusters – in particular how tacit knowledge is shared via business and production networks, as well as professional mobility.
But I am also interested in sociological aspects of work in the music industry and the creative industries more broadly – emotional and relational labour, the precarity of working in the business, and how working in the sector continues to evolve.
Further, the music industry is perhaps the industry that has most significantly impacted by digital technologies. From physical products to illegal file sharing and now music streaming, the way in which music is distributed and consumed has been fundamentally altered over the past 40 years. It is noted as a pioneer sector for platformisation, and this has opened up new areas of study in relation to the economics of the music industry.
More recently, I have been researching the policy mobility of Music City initiatives, the ways music tourism draws on music heritage and contemporary music scenes in place branding and marketing, and the relationships between music tourism, sustainable economic development and gentrification.
My work has a strong industry and policy focus, and I’ve been involved in several projects with industry partners which has been an interesting application of my work.
In 2017-19, I led a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Sentric Music to enhance the company’s ability to report royalties information to musicians, safeguarding their income.
Currently, I’m exploring music streaming and platform re-intermediation in the music industry alongside innovation in MusicTech. The latter is in partnership with Tech Nation’s Insights Team.
In 2020, I was awarded British Academy funding to look at musicians’ use of online platforms to monetise music during the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing specifically on the Twitch live streaming platform.
Most recently, I have been awarded funding by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre to examine digital opportunities for the UK independent music industry and strategies for building sustainable regional music industry clusters post-COVID 19. The BPI, the UK music industry trade body, is involved in this research as part of the project advisory board.
My research journey
Loughborough has been my research home, on and off, for almost 25 years. I completed my undergraduate (BSc Geography) and postgraduate studies (MSc Global Transformations) here, as well as my PhD.
I actually began to explore the economic and cultural geographies of music as part of my undergraduate dissertation and continued my research as part of my Masters studies.
My doctoral thesis focused on cultural production in recording studios. It combined economic geography perspectives on cultural production with those from other disciplines, including sociology and cultural studies.
This inter-disciplinarity still very much defines my research today – which has expanded to include research on film and the global media industries.
I secured my first lectureship at Staffordshire University in 2008, and returned to Loughborough in 2016. I am now Reader in Economic Geography and lead the Culture, Economy and Policy Theme in our Centre for Research in Communication and Culture (CRCC).
I’m also Associate Director (Cultural and Creative Industries) of the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC) – a leading thinktank which gives me the opportunity to work with some of the world’s foremost academics in this field.
In addition, I am a Chartered Geographer and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and have also recently taken up the role of Chair of the Royal Geographical Society’s Economic Geography Research Group (EGRG).
Over the next few years, my research will be focused on the continued impact of digital technologies on the music industry, in particular the emergence of new platforms and the growth of the MusicTech innovation ecosystem, and on the recovery of regional music industries following the COVID-19 pandemic.