Becoming Dr. Rock

Who says that graduate-level research is a drag? Carey Sargent, a UVA sociology grad student and local musician, has been working long hours on her dissertation about local music scenes…by going to hear good music and talking to really interesting people.

“For a long time I’ve been thinking about ways to talk about music in a sociological framework,” she says. “Why do people make music? What’s the role of music in U.S. society?

Move over, Jack Black: Sociology grad student Carey Sargent is studying how local musicians connect with each other.

“With this project, I’ve been interested in musicians’ lives, especially musicians working at a local level. They’re not professionals. They don’t have a record deal. In Charlottesville and Richmond, there’s such a rich music scene going on, and it’s all because of people doing it because they want to.”

A video of Carey Sargent talking about her studies.

As those scenes evolve, expand or flatten out, as they inevitably do, media technology has emerged as a large driving force in how local bands get their music out and connect with fans and each other. This is what interests Sargent. In the era of MySpace and mp3s, how are musicians creating new forms of social organization?

With these online tools, says Sargent, a band can begin to build a scene around themselves immediately and collaborate with other musicians. Slowly fading away are the days when you and your friends loaded in at a bar where nobody knows you or your songs and only wants to hear Maroon 5 covers.

“The people who are younger totally take it for granted that of course they need to be doing this scene-making, to be networking with people, to be promoting themselves,” says Sargent, who at 29 years old is positioned almost perfectly between Generation X and Generation Y. “They’re already doing it. They don’t talk about it in the sense like, ‘You know what I just figured out?’ The Gen X folks are like, ‘I’ve been struggling with this for years, and now I know what I’m supposed to do.’”

Last semester, while teaching her Culture and Power class, Sargent brought in two Charlottesville hip-hop musicians to perform. While researching the local scene for her dissertation, which she expects to complete next spring, Sargent says she had a hard time finding any local hip-hop acts. Then she logged on to, a dinosaur of downloading.

“That was where I first found that there’s tons of hip-hop artists here,” says Sargent. “There’s just not that many venues for them to play in, and not enough of an infrastructure. There’s nobody here that’s got a big distribution deal or a label. There’s nobody here with the institutional power to create a scene here.”

The recent shutdown of hip-hop shows at the one venue that supported local artists, The Outback Lodge, was essentially the death knell for any open hip-hop scene. The situation is complicated, Sargent says.

“It’s hard not to think there’s something going on there. It’s not like there’s a specific person or policeman or ethnographer—me—or the press, who’re also white, are trying to suppress the scene or control it. But there’s something institutional going on. There’s a lot of things that are going on there where race and class intersect.”

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