Last year, professional cretin Deborah Orr of the Guardian bravely defended zero-hours contracts, claiming that, “job security can be a kind of burden, a brake on the nurturing of hopes and the following of dreams.” This is part and parcel of the Thatcherite dream, that the casualisation of work contracts will bring with it a kind of cultural Renaissance of free agents and entrepreneurs.
But anyone who has tried working in music knows that this dream is a sham. Wages in real terms have fallen by 10.4% since 2007 (more than any other European country besides Greece). Moreover, self-employment has risen by 45% since 2001, with the average income of a self-employed person at around £12,500 per annum (about half the average national wage). The current Tory government proudly announce that employment has risen. It hasn’t - the unemployment is hidden within precarious work and zero hours contracts.
One sign of optimism came last year when music revenue increased for the first time since 1996. Sadly, however, this was almost entirely down to ‘product platforms’ like iTunes and Spotify exploding onto the market. You currently need 180,000 streams a month on Spotify to meet minimum wage in the US. The promised class of entrepreneurs aren’t so much following their dreams as counting their pennies.
Electronic music likes to present itself as a kind of liberatory refuge - a sanctum of socially conscious, progressive anti-authoritarians, keen to harness art’s emancipatory capacity to equalise hierarchies and strengthen communities. Yet, music work can be one of the most exploitative sectors in UK employment. You aren’t so much paid in money (God forbid) as paid in other currencies: ‘experience’ and ‘exposure’. Payment for labour is a privilege, not a right. Hey, it used to be about the music maaaan.
In this week’s show, we spoke to Ewa Justka and Manni Dee about work in music: working for free, working for fees, sponsorship and precarity. Listen below:
1) Akzidenz // Legacy Support [Unreleased]
2) Ewa Justka // Horny 4 [Fractal Meat Cuts]
3) Manni Dee // Insurrection Erection ft. Joke Lanz [Leyla]
4) Einstürzende Neubauten // Steh Auf Berlin [Zickzak]
5) RuPaul // Supermodel (You Better Work) [Union City Recording]