Job title: Emeritus Professor, Music


Research outputs: Prof Simon Frith on Edinburgh Research Explorer

I became Emeritus Professor of Music in 2017 on retiring from the Tovey Chair of Music, which I had held since 2006 following quite an unusual academic career. My undergraduate degree (from Oxford) was in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. My Masters and PhD (from the University of California, Berkeley) were in Sociology. (My thesis topic was Education and the Working Class in Leeds, 1780-1870.)  I initially taught in the Sociology Department at the University of Warwick, before moving to Strathclyde University to become Director of the John Logie Baird Centre for Research in Film and Television and Professor of English Studies. In 1999 I moved to the University of Stirling and a chair in Film and Media.

For much of my career, as both an academic and journalist, I was engaged with the problems of taking popular music seriously. As an academic I was a founder member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and a founding editor of the journal, Popular Music, and the majority of my scholarly publications have been in this field. As I journalist I started out as an editor of the pioneering British rock magazine, Let It Rock, and became rock critic for both the Sunday Times and the Observer. I was a music columnist for the New York Village Voice from 1980-1995, and chaired the judges of the Mercury Music prize from 1992 (when it was founded) until 2016.  I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2011 and awarded an OBE for services to higher education and popular music in 2017.

Research interests

  • Music sociology and music policy

Research activity

From 2009-2011 I has a research grant from the AHRC for a three year project, in collaboration with Dr Martin Cloonan, then of Glasgow University, on the history and current practice of live music promotion in the UK. The AHRC also funded the follow-up project, which explored ways to promote knowledge exchange between academic researchers and live music industry practitioners.  The result was an online live music research hub: The first volume of our history of live music in Britain was published by Ashgate in March 2013 ( Volume 2 was delivered to the publisher in 2018 and volume 3 is being written for delivery in 2019.




‘Live Music Exchange’, Popular Music 32(2) 2013, 299-303.

(with Matt Brennan, Martin Cloonan and Emma Webster) The History of Live Music in Britain since 1950. Volume 1: From Dance Hall to the 100 Club.  The History of Live Music in Britain 1950-1967, Ashgate. 2013, 221pp.


Edited (with S. Ryven and I. Christie): Living Politics, Making Music. The Writings of Jan Fairley, Ashgate 2014, 208pp.


(with A. Behr, M. Brennan, M. Cloonan and E. Webster), ‘Live Concert Performance—an Ecological Approach’, Rock Music Studies 3 (1), 2016, pp.5-23.


‘Are musicians workers?’ Popular Music 36(1) 2017, pp.111-115.

What does it mean to be cultured? Desert Island Discs as an ideological archive’ in N. Cook, J. Brown and S. Cottrell eds. Desert Island Discs and the Discographic Self, British Academy/OUP 2017, pp.125-152.

‘More than meets the ear: on listening as a social practice’ in H.Barlow and D.Rowland eds. Listening to Music: People, Practices and Experiences, Open University Press (2017)—online:


‘Afterword’ in S. McKerrell and G. West eds. Understanding Scotland Musically, Ashgate 2018, pp. 252-259.


Current PhD students

  • “For the love of it?”: Amateurs and Unconventionalists in Icelandic Popular Music
  • Rethinking technology: The importance of live performances for an Aesthetics of Rock, 1967-1973.