‘Popular Music, Power and Play’ by Marshall Heiser – available November 4th.

Available November 4th from Bloomsbury Academic and all good booksellers.

Pre-order now: Bloomsbury US , Bloomsbury UK , Bloomsbury AU * (*Australian release – 30th December).


Once the domain of a privileged few, the art of record production is today within the reach of all. The rise of the ubiquitous DIY project studio and internet streaming have made it so. And while the creative possibilities available to everyday musicians are seemingly endless, so too are the multiskilling and project management challenges to be faced. In order to demystify the contemporary popular-music-making phenomenon, Marshall Heiser reassesses its myriad processes and wider sociocultural context through the lens of creativity studies, play theory and cultural psychology.

This innovative new framework is grounded in a diverse array of creative-practice examples spanning the CBGBs music scene to the influence of technology upon modern-day music. First-hand interviews with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Bill Bruford (King Crimson, Yes) and others whose work has influenced the way records are made today are also included. Popular Music, Power and Play is as thought provoking as it will be indispensable for scholars, practitioners and aficionados of popular music and the arts in general.

Table of Contents

1. The Frame
2. Power, Play and Creativity
3. Pushing Humpty
4. Playframing
5. Negotiations
Case Study: Remain In Light
6. Beyond the Frame
Case Study: The Struggle Behind the SMiLE
Last Thoughts
Appendix: Interview with Bill Bruford


By assigning an individual fader to numerous theories on creativity, then incorporating case studies and reflections from several working musicians as filters and processors, Heiser has crafted the equivalent of a classic pop album; balancing compositional elements that proudly bear their influences coupled with new ideas and insights that spark the mind. Popular Music, Power and Play holds up to repeated listens and is a welcome addition to both popular music studies and creativity research literature.

Alan Williams, Professor of Music, University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA

This book heads into territory desperately needed to understand the playful side of creativity and its role in popular music. Marshall Heiser is wise enough to understand that it is in the interaction of technology with the social, the interaction of social and cultural structures with a creative individual’s agency, and the interaction between individual psychological perspectives with sociocultural understandings of popular-music production, that is where we all need to go. The book takes us on a journey through the confluence of interdependent components which must converge, both within and without the individual, in order for creativity to emerge in popular music. It adopts a playful frame of mind and picks its way through the latest theoretical concerns. It exemplifies these with adept case studies and, in doing so, it puts the person, in all their glorious playfulness, back into the map of the system of creativity.

Phillip McIntyre, Professor, University of Newcastle, Australia, and co-author of Paul McCartney and his Creative Practice: The Beatles and Beyond (2021)

Focusing on the intangibles — uncertainty, risk, playfulness, contingency — Heiser brings a fresh vibrancy to the study of the art of record production. An insightful guide to the exploratory nature of studio practice. 

Albin Zak, Professor of Music Emeritus, University at Albany, USA

About the Author

Marshall Heiser is an Australian academic, classically trained instrumentalist, producer and music-technology developer. His previous publications explore such varied topics as sound in cinema; the interrelatedness of humor, play and creativity theory; the music of Brian Wilson, and the phenomenology of record production.