In Unfree Masters, Matt Stahl examines recording artists' labor in the music industry as a form of creative work. He argues that the widespread perception of singers and musicians as free individuals doing enjoyable and fulfilling work obscures the realities of their occupation. Stahl begins by considering the television show American Idol and the rockumentary Dig! (2004), tracing how narratives of popular music making in contemporary America highlight musicians' negotiations of the limits of autonomy and mobility in creative cultural-industrial work.
Turning to struggles between recording artists and record companies over the laws that govern their contractual relationships, Stahl reveals other tensions and contradictions in this form of work. He contends that contract and copyright disputes between musicians and music industry executives, as well as media narratives of music making, contribute to American socioeconomic discourse and expose basic tensions between the democratic principles of individual autonomy and responsibility and the power of employers to control labor and appropriate its products. Stahl maintains that attention to the labor and property issues that he discloses in relation to musicians and the music industry can stimulate insights about the political, economic, and imaginative challenges currently facing all working people.
"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