Research explores inter-generational creativity and leadership in music

Intergenerational leadership in music

Shelley Bishop is a multi-instrumentalist, producer and music industry professional, working in creative and management roles in Australia and the USA for more than ten years.

In 2017, at the ripe age of just 26, Shelley was appointed the role of Studio Manager of the largest and longest running recording facility in the Southern Hemisphere, Studios 301, where she oversaw all operations.

During her time as a producer/engineer at the legendary Chicago Recording Company in Chicago USA, Shelley worked with acts like Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and Mavis Staples, and co-wrote and produced many independent releases for American artists.

Shelley recently accepted a full scholarship to the University of Technology Sydney to study her PhD. She is researching Generational Management Systems in the Workplace and Unconventional Leadership in the Creative Industries and she has some poignant observations about how the music sector has responded to COVID-19.

Generational management, Shelley explained, is a subset of diversity in the workplace. It’s the process of looking at different generational cohorts – baby boomers, generation X and Y and millennials – and more specifically, how they work together.

“I’m looking at those different sub-groups,” she said, “and how they interact and the skillsets they may bring. How do their ideologies affect business outcomes?”

While that seems like a very niche subject, Shelley’s observed some interesting strategies with which leaders of different ages have responded to the current pandemic.

“What really shocked and surprised me, was that all of the leaders in our industry, they were the first ones to take traditional routes,” she said.

“They were the first companies and peak bodies to visibly and publicly go towards government support and funding, even talking directly to the Prime Minister about how to boost the sector.”

“Interestingly, younger generations are looking at ‘how do I have power in my own hands?’ They’re doing Insta live and Zoom calls, Isol-aid…”

“It’s interesting to see the different responses.”

“What’s blatantly obvious is that everyone is trying to scramble and figure things out. It’s great to see ingenuity and the ways people are trying to approach it.”

Shelley said that while artists were whole-heartedly embracing digital technology there was a small number who were consciously choosing against digital performances.

“Some artists don’t want to do virtual options,” she explained, “because they don’t think it will serve their audience.”

And that’s less about a financial decision than it is about maintaining their brand.

“That’s more about the setting of the performance. Face to face and real live connection is what they’re known for and what they want to give to their fans. They don’t feel comfortable performing to a camera.”

The interesting thing is because they’re focussed on digital media, they’re now able to find fan bases globally. Which brings up the question, what is a local act?

And Shelley reflects that moving into that digital space then gives artists some solid metrics for when we do start to open up and tour again.

“When everything else is taken away, you’re forced to hone in on these silos,” she said.

“If Tones and I is playing on a street corner in Byron, who knows who’s walking past and where they’re from,” Shelley said.

“But online, you can track exactly who it is and where they are and what else is in their algorithm and who else they listen to.”

Which brings us back to Shelley’s PhD topic. How do we start to define leadership in the creative industries and what that looks like?

“That’s been a point for academics for decades in this industry,” she said.

Everything I study is about the relationship between creativity and commerce and how we put a dollar figure on creativity and art.

“What I’m finding is at a certain point when you allow the creative to have autonomy and freedom and feel like they have a voice… and then you have a leader – someone that’s bold and decisive and wants to help them with that journey but still allowing that freedom to create. And then you pair the two… it’s a fine art.”

“It’s a beautiful balancing act and a fine art,” she explained. “Controlling the creative and the relationship with commerce.”

As with many research projects, Shelley is starting hers by completing a literature review so that she knows everything that’s already known. She does that to present a case for her new research. After 12 months of data collection, reading thousands of articles, books and literature reviews as well as peer-reviewed articles, then she’s comfortable knowing where she fits in.

“I’ve chosen a topic where there’s such a breadth of knowledge and so much writing on diversity in the workplace and so much around creative leadership but cross-over is so seldom.”

“At the moment, I’m trying to find that crossover point and where the two come in to play.”

“I have to be an expert on what’s already out there. That’s what I’m doing right now.”

If you have something to contribute to Shelley’s research, she’d love to hear from you. You can touch base at

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