Conference Proceedings Social Reletions in Turbulent times, ESA Conference 8-11 September 2011, Geneva University Looking at music scenes
as creative industries: the independent live music sector of Milan
Silvia Tarassi PhD student Catholic University, Milan The paper will present the first findings from the qualitative research I conducted during 6 months fieldwork from January to July 2011, in which I interviewed around 45 people differently involved in the independent live music sector of Milan (musicians, DJs, bookings agents, music venue managers, artistic directors of festivals); besides some of the people working outside of the sector but strongly influencing it, such as people working in the local state (e.g. music consultants and politicians) or people involved in the corporate music industry were interviewed. The selection of the interviewees was made by choosing at the beginning some gatekeepers who served as a good entry point into the field suggesting their ideas about what they meant for independent music in Milan, and for the main venues, festivals and key actors and by using a snowball technique, new interviewees were selected. In the interviews, the life story approach (Bertaux, 1998) has been applied in order to get a clear description of life trajectories and music careers. In order to enable the interviewees to give a selfdescription of their network of interactions, a visual help has been used as an input in order to help the interviewees to figure out their relations by drawing and discussing their relations. Finally around 20 participant observations during music events, parties and meetings have been conducted in order to grasp the networking and gathering moments taking place. In this way it was possible to point out which venues and events serve as important hub for people to meet up. This case study will enable to discuss the explanatory relevance of the term music scene to analyze music practices of production and consumption and to point out the need of popular music studies of combining the theoretical perspective of scene with the debate around the creative industries. Within popular music studies, the term ‘music scene’ (e.g. Shank, 1994; Straw, 1991) has been used to refer to music collectivises sharing music practices of production and consumption of music, taking place in urban contexts (e.g. Finnegan, 1989; Cohen, 1991). The music scene has been regarded as being alternative and independent from the music industry, and as being constituted by small music collectives adopting a DIY (Do it yourself) approach.
What I will point out here is that there has been a tendency in this literature in distinguishing the
studies of the production taking place in the music industry with studies analyzing grassroots and authentic production of music taking place in local music scenes. free lancers which are often interacting with the corporate music industry. 1997 quoted in
Bennett & Peterson. artist need to be protected.” (ARTISTIC DIRECTOR. 1979). being involved in network of licensing. These interactions need in any case to be understood by looking at
. they all have a deal with a booking agent now.g. most of the established independent music bands. as opposed to a mainstream culture(e. Besides. On the contrary as my case study and other research suggest (e. are often signing record deals with major labels. When you enter in the commercial dynamics you find a world that doesn’t fit with us but we are forced to interact with them. financing and distribution deals. because we can’t go anymore directly to the artists as before. my fieldwork depicts rich networks of micro SMEs . 2007). musicians and critics as polar opposites. music production and performance at a local level has become a more professionalized and entrepreneurial activity. We had to demonstrate to them that we were not four inexperienced guys. no-profit organizations. p.g. especially as regards licensing and distribution deals.That's because it served to analyze the punk attitude.176)
In my case study. (Hesmondalgh. emphasizing the alternative and underground dimension. Hebdige. in truth they were often linked in licensing. Smith & Maugan. with the ‘commercial’ side. LEONCAVALLO SQUATTED CULTURAL CENTRE)
In this case for example the interaction existing between a professional music agency and a squatted cultural centre forced the latter to professionalize the activity of the artist director in order to be able to compete in the market with professional music venues. I suggest here that these ties existing between more spontaneous music collectives and the more structured and organized music industry are actually favouring process of professionalization of the live music sector. small and large companies are often interindependent. as Hesmondalgh (2007) emphasizes. as this quotation emphasizes:
“LEONCAVALLO squatted cultural centre was very ‘old style’ then we started to collaborate with booking agencies. in which interactions between music collectives and the music industry are often happening. publishing and distribution:
Even in an era in the recording industry when major and independents were seen by fans. even though they tend to defend their DIY punk aesthetic. cultural associations. As a matter of fact. 2007.
La Tempesta. as in this case with the band manager:
“We have always played gigs in our own town. and in personal attachments existing with particular people. livehoods and labour markets. the rich networks of music production and performance existing in Milan are constituted by informal ties which imply skills of networking and of selling the self as this quotation suggests:
“An artist has to be good at all levels not only from the point of view of artistic quality. but once we came to Milan to play and it was full of record producers and managers. namely the need for entrepreneurial and business skills and the issues of free and exploited labour. who was working at Aspirine record label. As I already pointed out. while economic rewards come from distribution and publishing deals signed with major labels. 1999. then he went to EMI. Then he went to SONY BMG RICORDI and we followed him there. Artistic quality is not enough!” (ARTISTIC DIRECTOR ARCI TAMBOURINE)
. but even having communication and PR skills. I suggest instead here that creative industries debate and especially the debate going on around creative labour (Hesmondhalgh & Baker. In this situation. 2010) will enable to highlight some common features I had from my fieldwork. TRE ALLEGRI RAGAZZI MORTI)
As the quotation suggests. it happens often that these bands have their own record label. far apart from the real world of making a living (McRobbie.
What I’m trying to point out is that the music scene perspective has often underestimated the importance of looking at music production as a more professionalized activity which needs both entrepreneurial skills and economic rewards in order to survive. Now we have our own record label. which serves as a way to ‘protect’ their DIY attitude and identity. the common binary structure existing in music scene debate between bands signing a record deal and therefore selling out and bands keeping their punk DIY real doesn’t anymore enable to describe the frequent tactics independent band tend to apply in order to make their music a living. here defined as a “music collective”. This point is perfectly summarized by Angela Mc Robbie:
The most politically relevant point is surely that music today is also a place of employment.” (BASSIST. This fact is obscured because being creative remains in our collective imaginations as a sort of dreams world or utopia. p. The day after they contacted us and we decided to follow Robert Trinci.the music careers of these bands. which is much more like a music collective because we gather friends-musicians playing.134). and now we have EMI Publishing.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MAGNOLIA)
The need of acquiring skills by working experience brings to another issue which is becoming highly dominant in the critical analysis of creative industries (e. skills are not given by higher education and are not transferable:
“You can learn this job only with the experience but there is a reason if there’s an institution called university. and when I started my internship in Metatron Agency I was the only one able to read a contract. and looking to music venues. I learn how to be a tour manager by looking at other tour managers coming here at Magnolia music venue. he introduced us to a method to have royalties in advance. which were more often acquired by personal experiences with other people with these informal networks. as in these two cases:
Eugenio Cervi of Venus distributions was important for us. She was anyway pointing out that she was one of the few people in the sector having a higher education degree which enable to give her some entrepreneurial skills. In this context. TRE ALLEGRI RAGAZZI MORTI) . I understood what’s good.Besides quite often these informal networks are made up by friends. what works in a venue and I replicate it here in Magnolia. helping them selling records during their concerts. I interact with many people who don’t have a professional formation. Hesmondhalgh & Baker.g. and who don’t know how to read a contract. and then I’ve been a tour manager in Italy. through them she got in touch with their management agency and started working with the agency and finally she became the manager of the band. fans and even relatives turned into entrepreneurs without having the entrepreneurial skills needed. but I have a lot in terms of human experience and I do it to learn something from the people I’m working with. 2010). He pretends to sell a thousand of records. I learned how to read a contract in my Economics degree. namely the issue of exploited and free labour. He was the first that when we started making records alone. such as reading a contract. And we still use this method now! (BASSIST. As this quotation from this manager suggests. and this says a lot about how this sector is structured “(MANAGER)
This manager is an interesting example to present: she started as groupie of a band. Then I earn money from live performances and from other projects. Therefore people are often working for free without getting any economic reward because they are even looking for cultural and social rewards:
Nobody pays me to play in their records. Most of the artists have relatives or friends as their manager. he gives us the money as if he had already sold them and with that money we do the record. (TOUR MANAGER. (MUSICIAN)
. periods of free labour and volunteering are absolutely needed as a way of developing personal contacts in the network and of acquiring professional skills.
A. Susan 2008. & Baker. Bennet & R. ‘Introducing Music Scenes’..From this point view. Popular Music in its Making. Hampshire and Burlington. Social interaction and creativity in London and Milan. D. The Hidden Musicians. Therefore the demarcation line existing between work and non work. To conclude I would say that the music scene debate hasn’t taken into account the issues of creative work of a sector which is underpinning a processes of professionalization and formalization which need to be considered in order to identify its attitudes and practices. S. it happens more often to find self-exploitation attitudes which are linked to people’s desire of broadening personal contacts in their network as response to a risky and flexible creative economy. S. 1991. A critical look at current concepts and practices (pp. A. Peterson. D. in Sonic Synergies: Music. Fashion and the city.. which understands the relevance of interacting with music industry. . Subculture: the Meaning of Style.Peterson. K. From this point of view. R. R. between personal and working experiences and contacts is blurring and can’t be reduced to the common music scene distinction between amateurs versus professionals. Cohen.). Why cultural entrepreneurs matter. Nashville 2004. people are involved at the same time in several paid or unpaid jobs which serve as a way to mark their position within their network. Brand-building: the creative city. London: Methuen. even though the DIY narratives are still playing a key role in defining people actions and interactions within these music networks. Finnegan. VT. 1979. Oxford: Backwell. ''Unalienated Labour' and Creative Industries: Situating MicroEntrepreneurial Dance Music Subcultures in the New Economy'. Ashgate. 2010. Rock Culture in Liverpool. The desire of making a living with music requires these people to be extremely multitasking and interconnected in a network based upon a strong system of reputation and trust where interactions play such a central role for future jobs and careers.. 2010. Vandervilt UP. Luckman.. d'Ovidio. J. 1989. Gerry Bloustien. M. Creative industries. Technology and Community. Margaret Peters and Susan Luckman eds. eds. to be a more structured sector. London: Routledge. With flexible working arrangements of freelance or short term contracts. In S. Leadbeater. C and Oakley. Creative Labour. A. It’s in the complex and contradictory interplay existing between process of professionalization and DIY aesthetic that the live music sector of Milan needs to be understood. Hesmondhalgh. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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