I have a very cool job. I am currently working on the exciting UK Live Music Census project, based at the University of Edinburgh – the first ever national music census in the world to map live music activity across a whole country. Before that, I worked on the one-year AHRC-funded Impact of Festivals at the University of East Anglia with Prof George McKay, in collaboration with the EFG London Jazz Festival (2015-16).

Life as an academic

Graduation Day, University of Glasgow 2011

I received my PhD from the University of Glasgow in November 2011; the title of my thesis was ‘Promoting Live Music: A Behind-The-Scenes Ethnography’, and the research involved comparative ethnographic work into live music scenes in Glasgow, Bristol, and Sheffield, including participant observation and extensive interviews with live music workers and audiences.

Life before academia

Headcharge gang
Headcharge family c. 2001 – I am in the purple top

Before returning to academia, I spent eight years working in live music in a variety of guises and music genres including opera (Opera North), festivals (Big Chill), world music (JuJu Club), and techno (Headcharge), and I have a thorough theoretical and practical knowledge of the UK’s live music sector. With previous experience in marketing, historical and statistical data analysis, and company management, and working at a variety of levels from small-business to large arts organisations and local councils, I have a broad skill-set and a comprehensive understanding of the varied needs and interests of stakeholders in the UK live music sector.

Research overview


  • My principal research interests are in live music and the live music industries in the UK, with a particular interest in festivals.
  • At the moment, I am working on the UK Live Music Census, the first ever national music census in the world to map live music activity across a whole country. The project is led by Dr Matt Brennan at the University of Edinburgh, with Professor Martin Cloonan at the University of Glasgow and Dr Adam Behr at the Newcastle University. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and follows on from our work on the Edinburgh Live Music Census in 2015.Between November 2015 and November 2016, I worked on a one-year project about the Impact of Festivals at the University of East Anglia with Professor George McKay, which resulted in a published critical history of project collaborators, the EFG London Jazz Festival, and a report for the funder, Arts and Humanities Research Council, published at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in April 2016.
  • I am the co-author of a major three-part series of books about the history of live music in Britain, and have single-authored one journal article and one book chapter. See books and papers for more information.
  • I have presented at a number of national and international conferences, including giving the keynote speech at the UK-Ireland Postgraduate Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) in September 2015, and the MARS FestivalMARS Festival in Seinäjoki, Finland, in February 2016.
  • I am a co-founder of the knowledge exchange network and online resource, Live Music Exchange, a development of a three-year AHRC-funded project investigating live music in Britain, led by Professors Simon Frith and Martin Cloonan.
  • As part of my knowledge exchange activities, I appeared on the Festivals Britannia panel at Kendal Calling with Professor George McKay in 2015, wrote the Association of Independent Festivals’ six year report for the Festival Congress in 2014 and co-authored the Festival Awards market report in 2010 with Matt Brennan; I presented both reports at the related music industry conferences.

    Emma Webster MARS keynote 040216
    Giving the keynote at the MARS Festival in Finland 2016