I am an ethnographer who analyzes music, digital cultures, listening norms, and American popular culture. I just finished a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, and I will be a Postdoctoral Fellow at Emory University in the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry in the fall.
My work examines how people stage themselves as popular music consumers, by turning listening into a performance. I wrote an ethnographic dissertation called “Syncing Out Loud,” which analyzes how people sync their bodies with pre-recorded media through things like karaoke, lip syncing apps, and air guitar competitions. While writing my dissertation, I published two articles on extra material from this project. One is a deep dive into the rock remix aesthetics of the Air Guitar World Championships, which transforms gestural listening into a performance art. I also wrote a far-reaching history of air guitar as a gesture, which traces air playing from blackface minstrelsy to 1980s air bands to contemporary pantomime practices (think: TikTok). My subsequent work explores listening in digital cultures, including a forthcoming article on the appeal of popular music reaction videos on YouTube. I’m currently working on a book manuscript titled: Spectacular Listening: The Performance of Music Consumption.
I teach courses on popular culture, new media, disability, and world music. I’ve taught genre-specific courses (The Meaning of Mashups), topical courses on digital worlds (Music, Technology, and Digital Cultures), and courses that span the globe (World Music and Music of Asia). Since my work addresses the intersection of listening norms and disability, I push to include disability justice in all of my courses. This past semester at Northeastern I designed and taught Music and Disability Justice, which examined how music informs disability identity and advances disability activism.
I hold a PhD in ethnomusicology (Brown University) and master’s degrees in American studies (University of Alabama) and ethnomusicology (Brown University). My projects have been generously funded by the American Folklife Center and the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, and my work can be found in Ethnomusicology, American Quarterly, Disability Studies Quarterly, and New Media and Society (forthcoming).
In this life, I’m a guitarist and karaoke enthusiast. In my next life, I’ll be a GIF artist.
byrd.mcdaniel [at] gmail.com