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Frequently Asked Questions
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Annual Meetings


General FAQs

What is ethnomusicology?

Ethnomusicology is the study of music in its social and cultural contexts. Ethnomusicologists employ a global perspective on music (encompassing all geographic areas and types of music) and engage in ethnographic fieldwork (observing and participating in music-making) and in historical research. More information.

What does SEM do?

SEM is a U.S.-based organization with an international membership dedicated to the study of all types of music from diverse humanistic and social scientific perspectives. Each October or November the Society holds an Annual Meeting that features scholarly presentations and discussions, films, workshops, concerts, and the award of prizes for outstanding work in ethnomusicology. SEM publishes Ethnomusicology (the leading journal in the field), the SEM Newsletter, SEM Student News, an Ethnomusicology Translations series, and various electronic forums. In addition, the Society develops special projects related to research, teaching, and activism in ethnomusicology, and in support of ethnomusicology as a profession.

Who belongs to SEM?

SEM’s approximately 1800 individual members include scholars, teachers, students, performers, media professionals, museum specialists, archivists, librarians, and administrators from such disciplines as musicology, anthropology, folklore, cultural studies, ethnic and area studies, acoustics, and music education. In addition, the Society has approximately 800 institutional members, consisting primarily of libraries that subscribe to its journal.

How can I join SEM and what are the benefits?

Anyone with an interest in music can join SEM. Individual members of SEM receive subscriptions to Ethnomusicology and the SEM Newsletter. They are also entitled to vote in Society elections, join various component groups within the Society, receive Society-related discounts, and gain access to the Members' Area of the SEM website, which includes a member directory and other resources. Information on membership and joining. If you have further questions about membership, please contact the SEM Program Specialist at sem@indiana.edu or at (812) 855-6672.

What are SEM’s publications?

SEM’s main publications are Ethnomusicology, a peer-reviewed journal that is issued three times a year; the SEM Newsletter, which is issued quarterly and includes information about current activities within SEM and ethnomusicology; SEM Student News, which is issued biannually and generally includes articles on a theme in ethnomusicology; and Ethnomusicology Translations, an online series. SEM also produces a variety of online forums. Information on publications and submissions.

How can I learn about prizes awarded by SEM?

SEM and its Sections and Regional Chapters award numerous prizes in support of work in ethnomusicology. Information on prizes and application procedures. Winners of prizes are announced at the Annual Meeting, during the General Membership Meeting.

How can I learn about SEM diversity action programs?

To increase diversity and inclusion within its membership and the field of ethnomusicology, SEM offers Annual Meeting travel awards, a research and publication award, and a Day of Ethnomusicology for high school students. More information. Additional diversity initiatives are carried out by the Diversity Action Committee and the Crossroads Section on Diversity and Difference.

What component groups of SEM can I join?

Members of SEM may join a wide range of Sections and Special Interest Groups (SIGs) dedicated to the music of various regions of the world or to particular topics such as applied ethnomusicology, education, popular music, and medical ethnomusicology. They can also join SEM’s ten Regional Chapters, which cover the entire United States and parts of Canada. Chapters hold their annual conferences between January and May. More information.

How can I make a charitable donation to SEM?

When you purchase or renew an SEM membership, you can add a donation to your online or paper form. You may also donate online at any time or send a check to the Society for Ethnomusicology, 800 E. Third St., Bloomington, IN 47405. All donations are tax-deductible. SEM receives many donations every year. Thank you for your support!

Where can I study ethnomusicology?

There are many academic programs throughout the world for the study of ethnomusicology. Be sure to also visit the websites of individual programs for the most current information. Every program in ethnomusicology has its unique objectives, strengths, and resources. Contact individuals at several programs to determine which ones would be best for you.

What kinds of jobs are available in ethnomusicology?

Ethnomusicologists work in a wide range of jobs, both in colleges and universities and in other types of organizations. Within colleges and universities, most ethnomusicologists have positions in departments or schools of music, though some are employed in anthropology, folklore, ethnic and area studies, gender studies, or other departments and programs. Ethnomusicologists also work in archives, libraries, museums, state and local folk arts agencies, arts presenting organizations, elementary and secondary schools, and publishing and media firms. In addition, some individuals with degrees in ethnomusicology have applied their research, critical thinking, communication, organizational, community engagement, and problem-solving skills to a variety of other types of work in government agencies and the private sector.

Some sources of information on jobs include the Career Center in the Resources area of the SEM website, announcements of the American Musicological Society, the Career Center of the American Folklore Society, the Publore Listserv, and the Career Center of the American Anthropological Association. SEM Student News also provides valuable information on careers in ethnomusicology.

How does SEM promote ethnomusicology as a field and profession?

SEM promotes ethnomusicology through three major national organizations: the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Humanities Alliance, and the National Association of Schools of Music. The distribution of the Society’s journal, Ethnomusicology, to approximately 800 libraries worldwide and many more institutions through JSTOR is also a major force in expanding awareness and understanding of the field. In addition, the Society offers a variety of professional development workshops during its Annual Meeting and features career resources on its website.


Whom should I contact if I have a question about SEM?

Please contact the Program Specialist at sem@indiana.edu or the Executive Director at semexec@indiana.edu. They will either answer your question or forward it to someone who can help you. SEM welcomes communications from its members and the general public.

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Governance FAQs

What is the SEM Board of Directors and what does it do?

The SEM Board of Directors is an elected body charged with the overall governance of the Society. It sets policies for the organization, oversees its programs and finances, and addresses issues of concern to the membership via the solicitation of advice from the Council, committees, and individual members. It prioritizes goals and initiatives for the Society in accordance with a Strategic Plan. The Board meets twice a year, once in conjunction with the SEM Annual Meeting and once during the spring. The Board also conducts business electronically throughout the year. In addition, individual members of the Board carry out work throughout the year in accordance with their portfolio of duties.

Members of the Board include the President; President Elect/Past President; Secretary; Treasurer; 1st Vice President (publications); 2nd Vice President (publicity and outreach); Member-at-Large, Prizes; and Member-at-Large, Groups & Professional Development. Board terms last two years, with the exception of the President whose effective term is four years (one year as President-Elect, two years as President, and one year as Past President). Board office terms are staggered so that three or four individuals rotate off in any given year. Information on current Board officers and officer duties.

How is the Board elected?

Each year the Board Nominating Committee prepares a slate of candidates for Board offices that will become vacant that year. To be eligible for a Board office, an individual must have served on the SEM Council (see below). Any SEM member may recommend names to the Board Nominating Committee for consideration. In addition, members who have served on the Council may recommend themselves to the Board Nominating Committee for consideration. In May the SEM membership votes for candidates through an online election. The results of the election are announced at the General Membership Meeting during SEM’s Annual Meeting in October or November. Terms of service begin following the General Membership Meeting. Information on the Board Nominating Committee.

What is the SEM Council and what does it do?

The SEM Council is an elected body that provides advice to the Board of Directors. It addresses the long-range plans of the Society and also communicates the general concerns of the membership to the Board in the form of recommendations. The Council meets each year in conjunction with the SEM Annual Meeting and conducts business electronically at other times of the year. The Council consists of 42 members who serve three-year terms. Terms are staggered so that 12 regular members and 2 student members are elected each year. Every two years, the members of the Council elect a Chairperson and Secretary to coordinate their activities. Information on current Council members.

How is the Council elected?

Each year the Council Nominating Committee prepares a slate of candidates for 12 regular and 2 student position vacancies on the Council. Any SEM member may recommend names to the Council Nominating Committee for consideration. In addition, members may recommend themselves to the Council Nominating Committee for consideration. In May the SEM membership votes for candidates through an online election. The results of the election are announced at the General Membership Meeting during SEM’s Annual Meeting in October or November. Terms of service begin following the General Membership Meeting. Information on the Council Nominating Committee.

How many times can someone serve on the Board or Council?

There are no limits on how many times an individual can serve on the Board or Council. However, the Board President, Board Vice Presidents, and Council members cannot be nominated to succeed themselves. A goal of both the Board Nominating Committee and the Council Nominating Committee is to recruit new candidates for service on the Board and Council.

What is the SEM Business Office and who works there?

The SEM Business Office is responsible for both the day-to-day operations and long-term advancement of the Society. Since 1988 the Business Office has been located at Indiana University, which provides in-kind support to the Society. A full-time Executive Director executes the policies of the Board of Directors; manages the finances, programs, and special projects of the Society; and collaborates with the Board and with committees on the long-range planning and development of the Society. A full-time Program Specialist is responsible for SEM’s membership services and bookkeeping, and assists with other operations of the Society. Graduate students at Indiana University also assist the Business Office on a part-time basis. Contact information for the Business Office.

What are SEM Committees and who serves on them?

SEM has several Standing Committees that carry out Society activities, such as nominating officers and assisting with the Annual Meeting, or that address issues of ongoing importance to the Society, such publications, ethics, and diversity. Occasionally, SEM establishes an Ad-Hoc Committee to work on a specific project. In addition, SEM has numerous Prize Committees that are responsible for the review of submissions for Society prizes and for the selection of prize winners. Information on Committees.

The Board President appoints committee members, in consultation with other members of the Board. Members who are interested in joining a committee should select the committee as a service interest in their member profile in the SEM member directory.

Members of the Ethics Committee are elected by the SEM membership during the annual election. The Ethics Committee and the Board Nominating Committee nominate candidates for the ballot.

How are Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and Sections formed?

SEM members with a shared geographic or topical interest can form a SIG through their own initiative. When a SIG becomes larger and wants to collect dues for special projects, it can become a Section. SIGs and Sections may hold meetings and sponsor panels at the SEM Annual Meeting. The establishment of a SIG or a Section requires the submission of an application form to the SEM Board. For more information, consult with the Board Member-at-Large, Groups and Professional Development.

Who determined the procedures for the governance of SEM?

The procedures for the governance of SEM are stated in the Society’s Constitution and By-Laws. The founding members of SEM drafted the original Constitution in 1955. Since then, the SEM membership has voted to amend the Constitution on several occasions.

How can I learn more about the governance and administration of SEM? 

Members are strongly encouraged to attend the General Membership Meeting, which is held on the Saturday afternoon of the SEM Annual Meeting. During this meeting, the President delivers an oral report, the Secretary announces the results of the year’s election, and a booklet is distributed with reports from the Treasurer, Secretary, Executive Director, Council Chair, Chapter Coordinator, publication editors, and leaders of Sections, Special Interest Groups, and Ancillary Organizations. In addition, reports booklets from 2010 to the present are available in the Members’ Area of the website, under “SEM Documents.” The Members’ Area also includes the SEM Newsletter, which features articles on current issues and projects within the Society. To access this material, log in to the website and select “Members’ Area” from the menu on the left.

Where does SEM’s money come from and how is it spent?

SEM’s primary sources of revenue include member dues, journal subscriptions, Annual Meeting registration fees, donations from members, and income from its endowment. The endowment, currently managed by TIAA, has been built over the years through the investment of member donations. The Society’s primary expenses include staff salaries and benefits, Annual Meeting operations, publication of the journal Ethnomusicology, and prizes and awards. A statement of income, expenses, and assets for each fiscal year (July-June) is published in the Treasurer’s report, included in the annual reports booklet. In addition, SEM receives an external audit each year. Reports booklets and audited financial statements from 2010 to the present are available in the Members area of the website.

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Annual Meeting FAQs

What is the SEM Annual Meeting?

The SEM Annual Meeting is held every October or November in a different city in the United States, or occasionally in another country. With an attendance of over 900 participants, the meeting features scholarly presentations and discussions, films, workshops, concerts, and the award of prizes for outstanding work in ethnomusicology. More information.

How are sites selected for the Annual Meeting?

The Board of Directors selects sites based on suggestions and proposals from the Society membership. Among the criteria for selection are: 1) a university that is willing to serve as the host institution for the meeting; 2) a hotel or other facility with sufficient meeting and guest rooms; and 3) a location with a good airport, restaurants, and attractions of interest to SEM members.

Convention hotels with the capacity to handle 900+ attendees and 10+ concurrent program sessions are expensive. The Society prefers to meet in larger cities with multiple hotel options so that it can negotiate a competitive contract. Attendees are strongly encouraged to stay in the conference hotel, since the Society must contractually guarantee a minimum number of guest room sales. Attendees who seek other lodging are, in effect, subsidized by those who stay at the hotel.

A university that is interested in submitting a proposal to host an Annual Meeting should contact the SEM Executive Director at semexec@indiana.edu. SEM plans its Annual Meetings at least three years in advance. Information on past and future Annual Meeting sites.

How are dates selected for the Annual Meeting?

SEM traditionally meets on a Thursday to Sunday, during late October or November. There are limited available dates during this period, given Thanksgiving weekend, events specific to a host institution, and the fact that October and November are among the busiest months for all types of conventions. Though the Society works to avoid conflicts with the meetings of the American Anthropological Association, American Folklore Society, American Musicological Society, College Music Society, and African Studies Association, it is sometimes not possible to find a viable hotel option that is free of all date conflicts.

What is the Local Arrangements Committee and how is it selected?

The LAC consists of individuals from the Annual Meeting host institution and other nearby institutions. The LAC organizes special events (such as concerts and tours), assists with the opening night reception, and contributes to meeting publicity and promotion. The SEM Board President appoints the LAC and its Chair, based on a proposal from a host institution and in consultation with the Board.

What is the Program Committee and how is it selected?

The PC is responsible for the content of the Annual Meeting’s official daytime sessions, including paper presentations, panels, roundtables, film screenings, lecture-demonstrations, and workshops. The PC reviews all abstracts submitted for the conference, accepts and rejects abstracts, and arranges accepted presentations into a four-day program. The SEM Board President appoints the PC and its Chair, in consultation with the Board. Generally, the Chair has served on a previous PC.

Who else is involved in the management of the Annual Meeting?

SEM contracts Indiana University Conferences, a professional meeting planning service, to assist with Annual Meeting logistics, including site selection, hotel contract negotiation, registration, production of program and abstract books, AV service, book exhibits, and food service. SEM Business Office staff work on current and future Annual Meetings throughout the year and coordinate the activities of the Local Arrangements Committee, Program Committee, and Indiana University Conferences.

How can I participate in the Annual Meeting?

A Call for Proposals is posted in the Current Conference section of the website in mid-December and distributed to members and other academic societies. This document provides detailed instructions on how to submit an abstract for different types of presentations. Abstracts are submitted online, with a due date of mid-February. However, it is not necessary to deliver a presentation to participate in the Annual Meeting. Anyone may register for the conference and attend all of its sessions.

How are presentations selected for the Annual Meeting?

The Program Committee reviews all abstracts submitted for the Annual Meeting through a blind, peer-review process and is responsible for all selections. To increase the chances of the acceptance of your abstract, give careful attention to all of the instructions in the Call for Proposals. Abstracts submitted as part of a panel or other organized session generally have a higher acceptance rate than those submitted individually. In 2019, for example, the acceptance rate was 55% for individual abstracts and 76% for organized session abstracts.

Due to the large volume of abstracts received and the limited availability of presentation slots in the program, many strong abstracts are not accepted each year. If your abstract is not accepted, you are strongly encouraged to submit it again the following year.

Does the Program Committee give extra weight to proposals for Annual Meeting sessions sponsored by component groups of SEM?

The Program Committee does not give extra weight to organized session proposals sponsored by SEM Sections, Special Interest Groups, Committees, or other component groups. However, the likelihood of these proposals being accepted is increased by the time that groups devote to identifying the best work of their members and reviewing proposals in advance. More information on group sponsorship.

Why is there a registration fee for the Annual Meeting and how is it determined?

The production of SEM’s Annual Meeting involves many expenses, such as contracted conference services, meeting room space, AV equipment and personnel, printing, and food service. Registration fees are based on projections of total expenses, attendance, and supplementary income. Individuals who pay the regular registration fee help to subsidize the heavily discounted student registration fee.

Why do I have to be an SEM member to present at the Annual Meeting?

SEM believes that membership in the Society facilitates and enhances communication within the field of ethnomusicology. Through membership, an individual receives the Society’s journal and newsletter and is encouraged to participate in the Society’s component groups, governance, and special initiatives. This wider engagement with the Society strengthens the quality of presentations at the Annual Meeting.

How does SEM increase access to the Annual Meeting?

SEM works to improve access to its Annual Meeting on an ongoing basis. Each year the Society disseminates accessibility information on the meeting hotel/city and guidelines on how presenters can communicate more effectively with audience members with different visual and aural abilities. The Society also increases meeting access through discounted registration fees for students, travel awards, and outreach to members of the local community, such as K-12 teachers and students. Since 2011 the Society has offered live videostreams of selected program sessions and has archived these on its website.

What is the best way to meet people at the Annual Meeting?

SEM holds a Welcome Reception for all attendees on the Thursday evening of the Annual Meeting. A First-Time Attendees and New Members Reception, hosted by long-term SEM members, is held in conjunction with the main reception. You can sign up for this event as either a first-time attendee/new member or as a host when you register for the Annual Meeting.

SEM component group meetings are also open to all conference attendees and offer a good opportunity to meet people with similar interests. In addition, do not hesitate to approach other attendees individually during the conference. You will find the Annual Meeting to be a very collegial gathering!

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