A Work of Art in the Age of Technological Disruption: The Future of Work in the Music Industry

By Young, Shawn David | MEIEA Journal, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

A Work of Art in the Age of Technological Disruption: The Future of Work in the Music Industry


Young, Shawn David, MEIEA Journal


Methodology and Research Design

The methodology and research design for this study involved four phases. First, the author reviewed the top online sources for job statistics, including LinkedIn.com, Indeed.com, Monster.com, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Second, the author researched scholarly journals and books on the topic of employment trends, disruptive technologies, and theoretical positions on culture, economics, and technology. Third, the author reviewed a series of educational videos from various professional and education sources. Fourth, the author interviewed various scholars and industry professionals.

Introduction

Technological innovation. Democracy. Pluralism. Capitalism. Globalization. These are the pressing points to which those who dream of music business careers look and puzzle. Who hasn't nursed dreams of being a rock star, or at least of working around them in some capacity? But the reality is this: while the music industry has always been difficult to "break into," (depending on what you want to do), modern technology has made access much easier, while also making it increasingly difficult for musicians to get noticed. The democratization of the creative economy (Saintilan and Schreiber 2018) has opened the floodgates for would-be music entrepreneurs while, in the absence of tastemakers and gatekeepers, simultaneously drenching the market with digitized commodities. As I often tell my students, it's like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.

With the economic downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010s the job market floundered, only exacerbated by emerging disruptive technologies that promised quick results for limited cost. A number of industries felt the sting, and music was no exception. Already reeling from the disruption caused by Napster in 1999, recorded music remained on life support. While publishers prayed for licensing deals, the concert industry upped its game and record companies flirted with 360 deals. Then, prophets of doom signaled the decline of the music industry, while internet service providers seemed to prosper. It was a musical apocalypse that created both utopian and dystopian realities, depending on one's position within the new digital economy. Now, the culture industry continues to deal with the fallout of this new economy, and its impact on jobs and paychecks remains uncertain.

A Brief History

Before the Romantic era, the prospect of doing music for a living was somewhat rare. Until this point in Western history, composers worked exclusively for the Church or the State, until wealthy patrons entered the story, offering more flexibility and freedom to composers. As a new middle class developed during the nineteenth century, novice music-makers emerged from domestic parlors, banging away at newly-purchased pianos as they sang hymns and pop tunes for the family. Music publishing expanded as economic and technological development created a new market.

The piano industry and the publishing industry offered novice musicians the ability to entertain at home with quick, accessible novelty songs and religious works. The emerging difference between "physical and nonphysical mediums,"1 (Heideggerian "thingyness") did not discourage the culture industry's ability to equally monetize both tangible and intangible products. With the expansion of public entertainment, a new professional class of performer arose amid the cross-sections of industrial manufacturing and marketing, a broad appeal becoming a kind of popular music that David Suisman has referred to as a "national phenomenon," with sounds that "accompanied a broad cultural shift in American society." This development did more than change culture, it altered our collective perception of the way the arts (and more broadly, intellectual property) could be translated into a professional endeavor. He continues:

At the end of the nineteenth century many styles of music rang out across America. …

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