Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Stephen Groce, Thomas Quinn, Aaron Podolefsky

Degree Program

Department of Sociology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


During the past three decades there has been growing academic interest in the sociology of popular music. Social researchers have investigated the economic impact of music consumers as well as the emerging roles of agents, managers and promoters. Other researchers have explored the sociological implications of musical performance from the perspectives of performer and audience. While we have learned much about some of the roles that people assume within the music industry, there is one important role that has received little attention: the role of the sound technician. The purpose of this study is to identify and describe the social interactional processes that band members (musicians and singers) and sound technicians use to organize, produce and maintain the specific social reality of a live musical performance in a club or bar. This thesis focuses on the description of the patterns of social interaction that emerge during the performance production, the set up and sound check, and the performance maintenance of regional-level rock and roll bands and their sound technicians.

Utilizing a qualitative approach to my research, I gathered the data for my study through participant observation. From August, 1989 through January, 1990 I observed eighteen bands during their set ups, sound checks and performances. My total sample consists of 118 band members (singers, musicians and sound/light technicians). These band members represent 110 men and eight women who ranged from nineteen to thirty-nine years of age. The seventeen sound technicians in this sample were men between the ages of twenty to thirty-six years. I combined field observations of the bands with in-depth interviews with forty-seven individuals. Analysis of the data yielded two distinct processes involved in the production of the performance (the set up and the sound check) and a plethora of subtle and not-so-subtle interactions between the band members on stage and their sound technicians which were designed to maintain the integrity of their performances.

I also identified primary and secondary role sets of the sound technician. I discussed the importance of the sound technician's roles to the regional-level rock band. The analysis of my data established evidence that the musicians and singers in such bands develop patterns of reliance upon their sound technicians, and that these patterns of reliance seem to be related to the individual and collective expertise, knowledge and goal-orientation of the band members and the bands as entities.

My analyses also suggested a group of criteria common to these band members' and sound technicians' patterns of interaction of practiced and perceived performance production and maintenance. These criteria organized themselves on five performance continua: professionalism, expertise, goal-orientation, reliance and self-definition. These continua reflected varying degrees of competence and ability within the bands' actions and interactions that facilitate the production and maintenance of their performances.


Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology

Included in

Sociology Commons