Listening to (Mainstream) Popular Music in 2021: Sounds and Practices

11–12 June 2021, Department of Music, University of Innsbruck, Austria

General Information | Registration | Conference Schedule | Keynotes and Round Table

General Information

The interdisciplinary two-day conference seeks to intensify the scholarly discourse on the current sounds of popular music, and about those who stream, buy, talk about, like, use, and listen to them.

In 2 keynotes, 14 presentations, and one round table discussion, international scholars from different fields and methodological backgrounds will present (mostly remotely) their research and thoughts about the meanings, identities, experiences, and values surrounding contemporary sounds and practices. A particular focus of the conference is on notions of the mainstream, aiming not least to enhance understanding of how popular music acts as a mirror and agent of prevailing concepts, ideologies, discourses, images, and aesthetics in today’s society.

Hybrid Format

Online presentations (via Zoom) and in-person attendance in Innsbruck. Everyone who is able to come to Innsbruck, either as presenter or non-presenting participant, can watch and discuss all of the presentations in our lecture room.

Address: Universitätsstraße 1, 6020 Innsbruck (

The conference language is English.

Conference Fees and Registration

There are no conference fees, neither for presenters nor for non-presenting attendees. Registration is obligatory both for online and in-person attendance (see “Registration”).

Main Contact

Bernhard Steinbrecher (head of the conference committee):

Covid-19 restrictions

Please make sure to observe the current rules regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find constantly updated information on the website of the “House of Music” (; in German), on the website of the University of Innsbruck (, and on the official Tyrol website (

The conference should have taken place already in 2020 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Please find the initial CfP here:

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Registration (Closed)

With regards to in-person attendance in Innsbruck, the number of people allowed to attend the conference is strongly limited due to Covid-19 restrictions. We will apply a first come first serve policy.



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Conference Schedule

11–12 June 2021, Department of Music, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Download the full programme folder including abstracts and short biographies here.

Day 0 - Thursday, June 10th

  • 18:30 (CET): Come-Together (offline-only, location: tba.)

Day 1 - Friday, June 11th

  • 9:30–10:00 (CET): Coffee (online location: Zoom / offline location: 4th floor House of Music)
  • 10:00–10:30: Conference Opening (Zoom / 5th floor House of Music)
  • 10:30–12:00: SESSION 1 (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • Virtual Auditory Reality: popular music listening, embodied perception and digital culture ––> Iain Findlay-Walsh, University of Glasgow
    • Cultivating music listening through technologies of personalization. Analyzing 21st century listening practices ––> Max Alt-Hessenbruch, University of Bonn (Panel Practicing Sound / Sounding Practice)
    • Stutters, Glitches … and then there was Silence. Perspectives on Subjectivity and Affect in Digital Listening ––> Steffen Just, University of Potsdam (Panel Practicing Sound / Sounding Practice)
  • 12:00–12:15: Coffee Break (tba. / 4h floor)
  • 12:15–13:45: SESSION 2 (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • Post-Rock Composition and Performance Practice. Authenticity, Liveness, Creativity & Technology ––> Laura Lee, Farnham University for the Creative Arts, SRH Berlin School of Popular Art
    • “Once I was 7 years old” – the many lives of hit songs in the Youtube age ––> Henrik Smith-Sivertsen, The Royal Danish Library
    • The Musical (Metadata) Hooks of TikTok ––> Paula Clare Harper, Washington University in St. Louis
  • 13:45–14:45: Lunch Break (offline-only, 4th floor)
  • 14:45–15:45: SESSION 3 (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • A Production of Mainstream Culture Perspective? The Case of “Deutschpop” 2004 ff. ––> Alan van Keeken, University of Freiburg
    • The Deployment of Anachronicity ––> Francesco Venturi, Kingston University
  • 15:45–16:00: Coffee Break (tba. / 4h Floor)
  • 16:00–17:15: KEYNOTE 1: “Sounds” (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • Form in 21st Century Popular Music ––> Nate Sloan, USC Thornton School of Music
  • 17:15: Online Drinks (tba.)
  • 18:30: Offline Dinner (tba.)

Day 2 - Saturday, June 12th

  • 8:30–9:00 (CET): Coffee (online location: tba. / offline location: 4th floor House of Music;)
  • 9:00–10:30: SESSION 4 (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • Silicon Valley, Late Capitalist Anxiety, and the Psychological Value of Mainstream Popular Music ––> Kira A. Dralle, University of California Santa Cruz
    • Getting Close to the Music and Musicians: Traditional and Innovative Approaches to Urban Ethnography ––> Thomas Burkhalter, Norient and University of Bern
    • Šlágr and lidovka: A battlefield between the local and global mainstream ––> Ondřej Daniel, Charles University Prague, and Jakub Machek, Metropolitan University Prague
  • 10:30–10:45: Coffee Break (tba. / 4h Floor)
  • 10:45–12:00: KEYNOTE 2: “Practices” (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • Psychological Characteristics of Subjective Experiences of Popular Music in Everyday Life ––> Ruth Herbert, University of Kent
  • 12:00–13:00: Lunch Break (offline-only, 4h floor)
  • 13:00–14:30: SESSION 5 (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • “This Is America:" Mainstreaming the Black Lives Matter ––> Gianpaolo Chiriacò, University of Innsbruck
    • Vietnamese LGBT pop music in the 2010s ––> Ly Quyet Tien, Eastern International University, Binh Duong, Vietnam
    • Hit Song Science of Reggaeton ––> Mariia Mykhalonok, European University Viadrina
  • 14:30–15:00: Coffee Break (tba. / 4h floor)
  • 15:00–16:30: ROUND TABLE (Zoom / 5th floor)
    • Mainstream Popular Music Research. Goals, Objects, Approaches ––> with Ralf von Appen, University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna / Christofer Jost, University of Freiburg, Zentrum für Populäre Kultur und Musik / Amanda Krause, James Cook University, Australia / Helen Reddington, University of East London
  • 16:30–17:00: Conference Closing (Zoom / 5th floor)
  • 17:00: Pub (tba.)

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Keynotes and Round Table

Keynote 1: “Sounds” – Mapping Pop Form in the 21st Century

Nate Sloan, USC Thornton School of Music,

Friday, 11 June, 16:00–17:15 (CET, remote)


The phrase, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” is a cliche of pop songwriting, one that speaks to the centrality of the chorus in pop composition, and by extension, a song’s potential for commercial success. The chorus has anchored pop for decades as the climactic section of verse-prechorus-chorus form. But that convention might be about to change. Recent hits from Billie Eilish, Halsey, and Kanye West shift sonic energy away from the chorus, dilute the chorus, or eliminate it all together. 

As Asaf Peres, Drew Nobile, Alyssa Barna and others have argued, pop form appears to undergoing a tectonic shift. Postchoruses, anti-telos choruses, and dance choruses have reinvented pop’s formal logic. Through close study of key songs, and a broad survey of forms used in the Billboard Hot 100 during the 2010s, this paper assesses whether new formal structures are upending verse-prechorus-chorus form and what their emergence might say about wider stylistic and economic developments in the music industry. 


Nate Sloan is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, co-host of Switched on Pop, a podcast analyzing down Top 40 pop music, co-author of the Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why it Matters (Oxford University Press), and author of articles in Musical Quarterly, Journal of Musicology, and the Cambridge Companion to George Gershwin.

Keynote 2: “Practices” – Psychological Characteristics of Subjective Experiences of Popular Music in Everyday Life

Ruth Herbert, University of Kent,

Saturday, 12 June, 10:45–12:00 (CET, remote)


Streaming platforms, video-sharing platforms and mobile technologies are a ubiquitous part of everyday life, allowing individuals to use music to interweave with and mediate a more diverse range of contexts and activities than ever before. For Generation Z in particular (those born in the late ‘90s onwards), digital technologies have played a central role in shaping personal modes of listening and ways of engaging with music.

This talk addresses the phenomenology (subjective ‘feel’) of unfolding lived experiences of listening to popular music in daily life. I draw on qualitative empirical data from several research projects to explore the psychological processes involved in musical reception, charting the interaction between individual, musical attributes and environment in a range of real-world contexts. I highlight some key characteristics of experiences of music, including the prevalence of multimodal listening, age-related differences in listening and the use of music to effect subtle self-regulatory dissociative and absorbed shifts of consciousness.


Ruth Herbert is a pianist, music psychologist, and Senior Lecturer in Music Psychology and Music Performance at the University of Kent, UK, Department of Music and Audio Technology. She is also Director of Research (Music & Audio Technology) and Director of Graduate Studies (School of Arts) at the University of Kent.

Her diverse research interests encompass the fields of music in everyday life, music, health and wellbeing, music and consciousness (including ASC and Trance), sonic studies and music education, performance psychology, evolutionary psychology and ethology. As a professional pianist, Ruth has performed with various ensembles, notably recording soundtracks for silent films commissioned by the British Film Institute (BFI) with the piano trio Triptych, subsequently touring these works at major venues in the UK and USA.

Publications include an edited volume (with Eric Clarke (University of Oxford) and David Clarke (Newcastle University) on music and consciousness (OUP, 2019), a book on the psychology of everyday listening (Ashgate, 2011), chapters in edited volumes on Music and Consciousness (OUP, 2019, 2011; University of Wales Press, 2017), modes of music listening (Rombach-Verlag, 2017), Sounding Art (Routledge, 2017), peer-reviewed articles in a range of journals in music psychology and ethnomusicology, plus encyclopaedia entries in these fields (Sage, 2014). She has also published extensively on aspects of music teaching and education in mainstream specialist magazines (Rhinegold, Aceville publications and ABRSM publishing), in addition to undertaking consultancy work for OMD UK (featured in the Mail Online), the Daily Telegraph and the BBC. 

Ruth is a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Sonic Studies, Musicae Scientiae and the Global Listening Centre. She is also a member of the Music Education Expo and Musical Theatre and Drama Education Advisory Committee, the NYJC/IoE Jazz and Gender Forum, is a trustee for the National Youth Jazz Collective, Beyond Divisions Education Trust,  and an external examiner for the Royal Academy of Music (BMus programmes).

Round Table Discussion:
Mainstream Popular Music Research. Goals, Objects, Approaches

Saturday, 12 June, 15:00–16:30 (CET, remote)

In this round table, four renowned scholars will talk about the research field of mainstream popular music. Within an interdisciplinary frame, the speakers will discuss goals, objects, and approaches through different research foci and perspectives, such as psychology, sociology, technology, production, gender, media, and aesthetics.

The round table will be open for spontaneous questions from the audience, too.

Speakers (in alphabetical order)

Ralf von Appen, University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria

Christofer Jost, University of Freiburg, Zentrum für Populäre Kultur und Musik, Germany

Amanda Krause, James Cook University, Australia

Helen Reddington, University of East London, UK


Bernhard Steinbrecher, University of Innsbruck


After graduate studies in musicology, philosophy and psychology at Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany, Ralf von Appen worked as a teaching and research assistant in Bremen and Giessen where he received a doctorate in musicology in 2007 and deputized the professorship for music pedagogy from 2017 to 2019. In 2019 he became professor for the theory and history of popular music at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. He has published widely about the history, psychology, aesthetics and analysis of popular music and presented papers at conferences in all across Europe. Ralf von Appen has been chairman of the German Society for Popular Music Studies (GfPM) from 2008-2020. He is also a member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and has been elected co-editor of the annual book series Beitraege zur Popularmusikforschung.

Christofer Jost is a senior lecturer at the Center for Popular Culture and Music and associate professor (Privatdozent) at the Department of Media and Cultural Studies, both at the University of Freiburg. In 2008, he received his doctorate in music pedagogy from the University of Mainz. In 2011, he completed his Habilitation in media studies at the University of Basel (Umhabilitation 2018 at the University of Freiburg). In 2013, he represented a chair of media and communication studies at the University of Mannheim. He is currently head of the joint project “Music objects of popular culture. Function and meaning of instrument technology and audio media in changing socio-cultural constellations” funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (funding period 2018–2021). His main areas of research and teaching are: popular music, digital media and music, audiovisual media cultures, music pedagogy and performance studies.

As a music psychology scholar based at James Cook University, Dr Amanda Krause studies how we experience music in our everyday lives. Amanda is the author of numerous academic publications and currently serves on the Australian Music & Psychology Society (AMPS) as secretary. Her research asks how our musical experiences influence our health and well-being with current programs of research looking at how listening to music and the radio might improve quality of older life.

Dr Helen Reddington is a senior lecturer in Music Production at the University of East London. She has been writing both on punk and women musicians and producers since 2007, as well as being an active songwriter and performer herself under the moniker Helen McCookerybook. In the 1980s her bands The Chefs and Helen and the Horns were regulars on BBC’s John Peel show. Since then, she has worked in Higher Education, lecturing in song writing and production and cultural studies. Her book on women instrumentalists in British punk bands, The Lost Women of Rock Music: female musicians of the punk era was published by Equinox in 2012. She’s at the Controls: sound engineering, production and gender ventriloquism in the 21stcentury was published by Equinox in 2021 further develops her research on unheard women’s voices in the popular music industry.  Website: Link to book: (discount code for 25% off: enter code MUSIC at checkout).

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