Simon Barber


Dr Simon Barber researches, writes and lectures about popular music, the music industries, digital culture and jazz. As a member of the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research, Simon is particularly interested in the study of songwriting, and relationships between creative workers and industry. He convenes the Songwriting Studies Research Group at Birmingham City University and has published in The European Journal of Cultural Studies, The Radio Journal, The Journal on the Art of Record Production and the Jazz Research Journal among others.

Simon has worked with a number of external organisations and individuals within the cultural industries, including the BBC, Pearson Education, Arrow Film & Video, Edition Records and The Scarborough Jazz Festival. He studied music at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and holds a PhD from the University of Liverpool. He is a member of the editorial board of the jazz journal Epistrophy, and webmaster to the executive committee of IASPM UK and Ireland.

Simon is also one half of the songwriting team Sodajerker. He has produced and co-presented over 90 episodes of their popular songwriting podcast, which has received upwards of 1 million downloads, charted in 46 countries, and been awarded coverage in Esquire, Slate, NME, and The Guardian among others. The podcast was also the basis for the BBC World Service documentary The Secrets of Songwriting, which Simon co-presented.

As a musician, Simon has performed at events including BBC Radio 1 @ The Cavern, The Music Week Festival and BBC Big Screen for 6 Music. He has contributed songs to the soundtracks of independent films such as Brutal, Dark Chamber, 10 Yards and Dead in Love, and has composed scores for award-winning animations and short films such as Killing Time at Home, The Lilac Papers, Day of the Jackanape, The Censor and The Odyssey. 

Areas of Expertise
  • Popular music
  • Music industries
  • Digital culture
  • Jazz studies

Simon's work focuses primarily on songwriting with an emphasis on creative labour, strategy and routine. He convenes the Songwriting Studies Research Group at BCU and is a practicing songwriter/composer. Beyond his primary area of interest, his work with partners and organisations like the BBC, Pearson Education, Arrow Film & Video, Edition Records and The Scarborough Jazz Festival has enabled him to pursue a wide range of research related to the practices of vinyl record collectors, the origins of digital audio production, cult film fans and jazz collectives. Current supervisions include work on Audio Mastering in the 21st Century and Agency and Immersion in New Media.

Postgraduate Supervision

Simon supervises doctoral students primarily in the areas of songwriting, popular music and music industries. His recent work has spanned everything from the strategic approaches of Brill Building writers in the 1960s, to the track writing, ‘top-lining’ and beat making of contemporary pop writers. He convenes the Songwriting Studies Research Group at BCU and his conversations with world-renowned songwriters and musicians are available via the popular Sodajerker On Songwriting podcast. He is most interested in supervising projects that explore the nature of the songwriting process and the relationships between songwriters and the infrastructures of the music industries.


Book Chapters

‘Professional Songwriting Techniques: A Range of Views Summarised from the Sodajerker Interviews (2011-2015)’, The Singer-Songwriter Handbook, Bloomsbury (forthcoming 2017).

‘‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’: The Brill Building and the Creative Labor of the Professional Songwriter’, The Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter, Cambridge University Press, 25 Feb, 2016.

‘Collective Cultures and Live Jazz in Birmingham’, The Cultural Politics of Jazz Collectives: This is Our Music, Routledge, 9 Mar, 2015.

Journal Articles

Wall, T. and Barber, S. (2015) Collective cultures and live jazz in Birmingham. In: The Cultural Politics of Jazz Collectives: This Is Our Music. Taylor and Francis Inc., pp. 117-131. ISBN 9781317672715 (ISBN); 9781138780620 (ISBN)

Voicing Passion: The Emotional Economy of Songwriting [with Paul Long], European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 18 no. 2, April 2015, pp: 142-157.

‘The Collective Organisation of Contemporary Jazz Musicians in the UK’ [with Tim Wall], Jazz Research Journal, Vol 5.1/5.2, November 2012, Equinox, ISSN: 17538645.

‘Soundstream: The Introduction of Commercial Digital Recording Technologies in the United States’, Journal on the Art of Record Production, Issue 7, November 2012, ISSN: 1754-9892 (online).

‘Smooth jazz : A case study in the relationships between commercial radio formats, audience research and music production’, The Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast and Audio Media, 8/1, 57-70, 2010.

Conference Papers

'My Jazz World: The Rise and Fall of a Digital Utopia', Rhythm Changes Conference, Birmingham City University, April 15, 2016.

'Track Writing, Toplining and Lyricing: Songwriting Strategies in the Work of Pop's Professionals', Working in Music: The Musicians’ Union, Musical Labour and Employment Conference, Mitchell Library, Glasgow, January 14, 2016.

‘The Clones of Bruce Lee: The Political Economy of ‘Bruceploitation’’, Martial Arts Studies Conference, Cardiff University, Wales, June 12, 2015.

‘The Brill Building: Professional Songwriters and Creativity Under Industrial Conditions’, Words of Popular Music IASPM UK and Ireland Biennial Conference, University College Cork, Ireland, September 12, 2014.

‘Better Records: Hot Stampers, Sonic Shootouts and the Art of Looking in the Dead Wax, PopLife: The Value of Popular Music in the Twenty First Century, The University of Northampton, June 7, 2014.

‘Jazz in the Digital Age’, New Jazz Conceptions: History, Theory, Practice, Warwick University, May 31, 2014. 

‘Edition Records: Re-imagining Jazz Culture in the Digital Age’, Rhythm Changes II: Rethinking Jazz Cultures, MediaCityUK/University of Salford, April 12, 2013.

‘Live Jazz in Birmingham’, Live Music Exchange, Leeds College of Music, May 5, 2012.

‘CineTorrent: The Remediation of Cult Film in Online Filesharing Communities’, Online Mainline, Birmingham City University, September 15, 2011.

‘The Agency of the Amateur Archivist in Online Communities’, Transforming Audiences 3: Online & Mobile Media, Everyday Creativity and DIY Culture, University of Westminster, London, September 1, 2011. 

‘CineTorrent: Remediating Cult Images in Online Communities’, Cine-Excess V: The Politics and Aesthetics of Excess, Odeon Covent Garden, London, May 26, 2011.

‘Soundstream: The Introduction of Commercial Digital Recording in the United States’, The Art of Record Production Conference, Leeds Metropolitan University, December 3, 2010.

‘Creating British Jazz Archives: Experimenting With Online Media’, MeCCSA, London School of Economics, January 7, 2010.

‘Industrial Practices in Jazz Production: A Case Study of GRP Records’, Mediating Jazz, Popular Music Research Centre, University of Salford, November 27, 2009.

Links and Social Media