The widespread perception of singers and musicians as free individuals doing enjoyable and fulfilling work obscures the realities of their occupation. In Unfree Masters Matt Stahl examines recording artists' labour in the music industry as a form of creative work. In Part 1, Stahl examines the television show American Idol and the 2004 rockumentary Dig!, tracing the ways popular music making is narrativized in contemporary America and showing how such narratives highlight musicians' negotiations of the limits of freedom and autonomy in creative cultural-industrial work. In Part 2, Stahl's study of struggles between recording artists and record companies over laws that govern their working and contractual relationships reveals further tensions and contradictions in this form of work. Stahl argues that media narratives of music making as well as contract and copyright disputes between musicians and music industry executives both contribute to American socio-economic discourse and expose a foundational tension between democratic principles of individual autonomy and responsibility and employers' legal power to control labor and appropriate its products. Stahl asserts that the labor issues that he discloses in music can stimulate insights about the political-economic and imaginative challenges currently facing working people of all kinds.
"Unfree Masters is an informative, intellectually engaging book. What really impressed me is how much I learned about copyright law, recording contracts, and music industry labor practices - subjects I thought I already knew a great deal about." Kembrew McLeod, co-author of Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling "What makes Unfree Masters so significant is the fact that public struggles between musicians and the recording industry play out in less visible ways across all fields of employment. This is not simply a work of popular music studies. It is a major critique of the dominant relations between labor and capital in a postindustrial economy." Barry Shank, co-editor of The Popular Music Studies Reader "Here is a book that does several things at once. It explains the current status of recording artists, both as subordinated employees and as free entrepreneurs who license rights to intellectual property, namely their music compositions and recordings. It also shows how, from the standpoint of labour politics, these cultural workers are not so different from other workers in a neoliberal political economy: competing individually while dreaming of autonomy, and contractually tied to a record company that snaps up their creative output for exploitation and keeps them indebted while offering little security... Unfree Masters extends its focus beyond US recording artists to a detailed critique of the neoliberalisation of the workplace, arguing that financialisation causes high unemployment, in turn enhancing individualisation and casualisation at work, which allows employers to demand more and give less. Stahl shows that "the marginal status of present-day popular musicians enables them to serve as a lens through which we may perceive otherwise obscure truths about our own economic and cultural systems", in which the notion of liberal democracy seems like an oxymoron."--Hillegonda Rietveld, Times Higher Education, February 7th 2013
Series: Refiguring American Music
Number Of Pages: 312
Published: 21st November 2012
Publisher: Duke University Press
Dimensions (cm): 24.0 x 16.1 x 2.3
Weight (kg): 0.58