Online platforms and worker representation in live music
Challenges and opportunities for working musicians
Our research examined how the digitalization is affecting employment relations in the live music industry in Germany and Britain. Live music is an important and under-explored subject. It is growing in economic importance as revenues in recorded music decline. It is also important for wider policy reasons, since live music is frequently perceived by political actors as central to the regeneration and ‘rebranding’ of post-industrial economies. Moreover, live music is at the vanguard of technological change, particularly with the streaming of concerts, and in changing methods of selling tickets. The effects of the internet, however, have been neglected by researchers on live music.
We focused on intermediaries that connect musicians with their customers. Traditionally these included agents and newspaper want ads. Today they include a diverse range of websites that customers can quickly identify using a search engine.
We started by asking how these online platforms are affecting employment relations in live music. How do they influence pay-setting? How do they affect the ways that working musicians traditionally participated in their own working conditions? How are musicians themselves using online platforms to re-assert control? How do these effects differ between Germany and Britain?
Over the course of looking at digital intermediaries we changed our questions. As we noticed that few of these websites had the functionality of platforms like Uber, we began to ask what the limits of platformization were. As we noticed the difficulty of studying their consequences for musicians, we focused on the question of how they affect competition and exchange on live music markets. As we failed to find evidence of unions or collectives developing platforms of their own we began to ask why this might be the case.
Firstly, we completed our background research on the context to find out the key issues in the regulation of live music and web-based platforms.
Secondly, we carried out a systematic desk-based research to compile an exhaustive list of active online platforms in the British and German live music scenes. Our list included 168 entries, with roughly equal numbers in the two countries.
Third, we conducted interviews with representatives from these platforms as well as trade unionists, musicians, and more traditional intermediaries.
Fourth, we attempted to identify a critical case in each country of a platform that is particularly effective in giving musicians more control over their working conditions. This was unsuccessful, but we did interview the organizers of Fair Trade Music Seattle, a leading example of online organizing of musicians in the US.
4. Darstellung der Ergebnisse
We found that online platforms were not dominating this market. We did observe considerable digitalization of market intermediaries, ranging from traditional agents with websites to platforms connecting musicians and clients directly. But significant portions of the transaction were taking place offline and platforms proper occupied small market niches.
The live music market frustrates online platforms for three reasons. Assessments of value are qualitative, frustrating quick comparisons of offers in terms of price and quality. The task is highly contingent, which requires ongoing negotiation off-platform, often on the day of the performance. The organizational field is fragmented, limiting platforms' ability to benefit from economies of scale.
Digitalization has varying effects on the organization of work and exchange relationships between musicians, intermediaries and clients. We found that, as the degree of digitalization increases, matching services tend to work less as a workers’ representative - which is traditionally the case for live music agents – and more as a force of marketization that disciplines workers by orchestrating price-based competition.
Dr. Stefan Lücking