Web data is especially useful for the cultural study of music as the internet plays host to novel and complex cultural and social forms, like music streaming, ripping and sharing, and online co-production of music. However, specialised digital skills are required to retrieve, process, and analyse this data, especially at the scales that are required to deal with the increasing volumes of information available to researchers online. Despite its importance, which has been recently recognised by music researchers working in a variety of disciplines - including historical musicology, ethnomusicology, digital media and communication studies, and sociology - there are limited opportunities for UK-based researchers to acquire the necessary skills that will allow them to unlock this valuable data for use in their own research.
The proposed research will address this problem by piloting a new digital skills training programme for music researchers, which will train approximately 60 UK-based researchers at a variety of digital skill levels and representing various career stages in topics relevant to using Web data as a primary source. Six, one-day, online workshops will be held on topics that are directly relevant to the needs of music researchers who are interested in making use of Web data in their research, which will be elicited through a survey programme and focus groups at the partner institutions of Durham University and the University of Birmingham. Some of the topics covered include: an introduction to Web technology for music researchers; training in the use new, user-friendly graphical user interfaces (GUIs) for the retrieval of Web data; and the advanced use of command-line interfaces to capture and analyse large amounts of Web data. The training offered will be of direct relevance to music researchers, as all workshop leaders themselves are music researchers, and they will be invited to illustrate how digital skills training has allowed them to answer exciting, transformative research questions.
To ensure the usefulness of the training sessions to a much broader audience than the first cohort of trainees covered in this pilot project, workshop leaders and project staff will prepare their training materials according to an innovative and well-regarded methodology for open, reusable, and sustainable software skills training, known as The Carpentries. To ensure this, the project will consult with trainers from the Sustainable Software Institute, who will provide workshop leaders and project staff with the training needed to become certified Carpentries instructors and to successfully design and deliver collaborative digital skills training lessons. Toward the end of the project, the results of the survey programme and focus groups will be analysed, and the strengths and the weaknesses of the pilot will be critically analysed in a co-authored, peer-reviewed journal article. Additionally, the training materials used in the workshops will be published online and made freely available to all participants and other music researchers, so that they in turn may train others in digital skills that unlock Web data as a primary source.
The project is led by a multidisciplinary team of investigators, spanning computer science and musicology, who all have used digital skills to advance their research goals. Working together with a Research Associate, the project team will impact digital skills delivery in the UK in three ways. In the short term, the pilot embeds a new capability at Durham and Birmingham for scalable digital skills training for music researchers, responding to actual need and training best practice. In the medium term, the project deliverables will be used to train peers, educate students, and support future decision-making by digital skills training stakeholders. Finally, in the long term, we embed digital skills in music research by emphasising their transformative aspect and creating future demand for related training.