Precarity in the Music Industry


The title of this thesis immediately raises two main questions. What is precarity exactly and how does it affect the music industry? Firstly, the methods of the qualitative research are explained, with an introduction of the seven interviewees (Lotte Leemans, Koen Lamberechts, Michael Bauwens, Linde Verjans, Jeroen Vanbever, Chantal Acda and Tom Kestens). Secondly, some important empirical and qualitative studies about the welfare and economic status of musicians will be discussed, with extra stress on ‘some’, since there aren’t that many studies about the music industry, let alone the well-being and job-insecurity of artists. Precarity is a condition of existence without predictability, stability or security. The term is used in a negative context as well as in a positive one, although the latter situation occurs less than the former. Ongoing critics and discussion in debates concerning the growing precarity is preceded by the explanation of derivations like precariat and precariousness.

After the theoretical part of the thesis, it’s time for the case studies where the research is illustrated by observations and conclusions alternated by quotes and paraphrases. Every professional musician has his own unique experience and perspective which, once compared and combined, makes for various mixed cocktails of contradictions and similarities. The analysis is structured around three main topics: the current situation of the artist in the music industry, the problems in this industry and the possible solutions for it. It is discovered that there is a chain of reactions, starting with the digitalization of the modern world. This digitalization causes an oversupply of unexperienced musicians, which causes in its turn uncertainty and forced flexibility among artists, who take everything they can get, even if it’s for free. The artist is the source of music and he should be put in the (digital) spotlights, instead of being manipulated by labels, agencies or online platforms. Luckily, besides listing causes of precarity, the interviewees came up with a variety of solutions for the precarity in the music industry. The musicians themselves, as well as the music industry, the society and the state can help to solve the precarity amongst artists. Musicians should fight for their rights instead of getting down on their knees and pray (figuratively). Society blindly follows the opinions of music experts (without stress on expert most of the time) and social media which is not ideal. The influence of the internet positively increases promo and publicity but people should be more critical. Organizations like Poppunt, Kunstenloket and GALM should keep striving for better conditions for the artist. SABAM helps the creating artists to be paid for the use of their songs. The state should rethink their strategies with regard to subsidies. The worst they can do is lower the subsidies for the arts even more to lower the state’s budget deficit. An interesting discussion about a basic income for everyone and whether or not this has a positive effect on the music industry is a last solution to precarity. While this still sounds utopic and unrealistic, it’s already being tested in some countries (Netherlands and Finland). It’s safe to say that all is not lost. The music industry is a precarious industry but this precarity can be decreased in several ways through the contribution of the state, the society’s perspective, the music industry and the musicians themselves.


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Universiteit of Hogeschool
KU Leuven
Thesis jaar
Professor Anneleen Masschelein