Price of a gift: lives and work of professional musicians in St. John's, Newfoundland

Chafe, David Bruce (2017) Price of a gift: lives and work of professional musicians in St. John's, Newfoundland. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Musicians’ work has been generally omitted from sociological literature on work and occupations because it is difficult to trace. Musicians are usually self-employed on short-term contracts that are often verbal and paid in cash that is usually quickly expended on ongoing costs. Furthermore, their work in music is commonly obscured by portfolio employment within and outside of music to supplement income and cover costs. Portfolio employment is characterized by concurrent multiplicity of sources of employment and income from outside of one’s primary skills. In order to illuminate the true experiences of local professional musicians and to lend some definition to music-making as an occupation, this study traces and examines the complete career trajectories of 54 wage-earning rock, traditional and classical musicians based in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In so doing, it is possible to reveal a network of support essential to their commitment to the music profession. The network usually develops from early childhood and includes family, friends, educational institutions, funding institutions, fellow musicians, other industry professionals, and audiences. The weakening or disappearance of any support can compromise the career and cast doubt onto its viability. Music work stands in contrast to other occupations in at least three key ways. First, participation in music is not restricted by license, age, or experience. Professional and amateur musicians often co-exist in the same events or settings, performing music as a community activity, clouding distinctions between amateurs and wage-dependent professionals. Second, musicians in St. John’s tend to be highly educated yet with a tradition of adapting to and accepting portfolio employment as the norm and, for some, as a measure of employment security. Musicians’ familiarity with balancing personal life and portfolio employment can inform the literature on work and occupations as a longstanding example of adaptability to employment and income instability. Portfolio employment may result in a sense of either employment precarity or employment satisfaction, depending on individual circumstances and career goals. Third, competition among musicians is carefully managed so that their work can continue unimpeded and they can present publicly as a unified collective group with a common cause. Furthermore, there are numerous bureaucratic and educational organizations and ensembles that purport to serve musicians’ interests but that might also obscure some harsh realities of attempts to establish music careers. Underlying these characteristics of the music occupation is the interrelationship between cultural, social, symbolic and economic capitals. Economic capital is not by itself the determinant of career commitment in music. All of these forms of capital intermesh, are influenced by one another, and contribute to artistic commitment at different career stages. Given the dearth of representation of the work of income-dependent musicians in work and occupations literature, my research —which confirms the co-existence of these forms of capital, the significance of understanding music professions in the context of relational sociology, the importance of family, and the ways in which musicians adapt to portfolio and precarious employment — may serve as a basis for additional future research that might include other genres and other locales so as to provide increasingly meaningful realities of musicians’ work.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 12576
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 391-421).
Keywords: Musicians, Artists, Work, St. John's, Portfolio
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Sociology
Date: February 2017
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Musicians -- Employment -- Newfoundland and Labrador -- St. Johns (N.L.); Musicians -- Workload -- Newfoundland and Labrador -- St. Johns (N.L.); Musicians -- Social network -- Newfoundland and Labrador -- St. Johns (N.L.); Work measurement -- Newfoundland and Labrador -- St. Johns (N.L.)

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