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‘Running a studio's a silly business’: work and employment in the contemporary recording studio sector

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Abstract

This paper is concerned with work and employment in the recording studio sector of the contemporary musical economy. More specifically, it aims to begin to address the lack of attention paid to the issue of individual subjectivity in the cultural workplace, through an empirically informed account of how the changing economic conditions in the recording studio sector are impacting on work as seen from the perspective of those working in the sector. The sector is one marked by a continued move towards more temporary and flexible forms of project working, as seen in the comparatively recent development of a freelance project-based model for recording. For record producers and studio engineers, these developments have impacted negatively on employment relations, working conditions and job security. Recent developments in digital technologies, which have resulted in a crisis of reproduction in the musical economy, have further heightened the importance of these issues. Drawing on qualitative interviews with record producers and engineers working in recording studios in London, the paper highlights how the rise of freelance work has resulted in a precarious work environment that has shifted the pressure of obtaining work, and the financial risk of not doing so, on to individual producers and engineers, and at the same time resulted in exhausting yet bulimic work regimes. Both for new and experienced producers and engineers, the sector is revealed as an increasingly difficult one in which to find and maintain gainful employment; for many, it is an increasingly exploitive one. Yet, the individuality afforded to producers and engineers by digital technologies, and the potential symbolic and financial rewards on offer to those who can successfully follow a career in music production, means that it remains an attractive and much sought-after career.

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