This paper studies the autonomy of music bookers in regard of the structural independence of live music clubs and venues through the examples of Paris and Berlin. It was published in June 2019 in Symbolic Goods, a Social Science Journal on Arts, Culture and Ideas. It was written by Myrtille Picaud.
The growing monopoly of private music majors which produce music and buy music venues, and thus produce an economic concentration allows the control of music production from recording to touring and contributes to the rise of economic interest within the sub-sector of live music. A change took place in the live music sector: its economic aspect has been reinvigorated since the collapse of the record industry in the mid-2000s.
Do these transformations affect the professional independence of live music bookers?
Professional Development for Booking in Two Contrasting Subfields of Music Venues
There are differences in the conditions of independence in Paris and Berlin, as well as in professional development for bookers.
In Paris, professional development is high for bookers whose monopoly over artist selection is relatively stable. Most venues bookers are professionals, except in music bars. The vast majority are employed by the music venues while a minority are independent contractors. There are strong ties between the different intermediaries which allows the group of bookers to control access to jobs.
In Berlin, the professional group of bookers is less structured and more heterogeneous. Networks between professionals are less dense and their statuses are variable: often independent contractors, more rarely salaried employees that may work under the table. In addition, many bookers are volunteers.
Non-remuneration of booking is more common in the German capital city. Although many bookers in Paris carry out another professional activity, it is less because of material necessity than a professional standard – it is expected that people working in the live music field hold multiple jobs related to music, in order to increase their networks.
On the contrary, in Berlin, having multiple jobs outside the music field often allows bookers to meet their material needs. It is not uncommon for the Berlin venues to be programmed by collectives of varying sizes which allows members to pursue paid work alongside booking.
More bookers have studied management or cultural management in the French capital whereas it is less common for Berlin bookers to have pursued such studies.
There are also differences between the two cities in the amount of the rents, the ticket prices and the revenues of artists: all of them are higher in Paris. Regarding public subsidies, although they are a bit higher in Paris, in both capitals, classic music receives more public funds than popular music.
Paris: Is the Professional Autonomy of Booking Threatened by the Rise of Economic Interests?
In the Parisian music field, there is significant economic concentration and vertical integration. Music venues are often operated by national or international event producers, which use them to diversify their business portfolios. Some venues are owned or operated by agents from the economic field. Some of these venues belong to the commercial pole of the Parisian live music scene whereas others operate according to a logic of peer recognition, which is more characteristic of the pole of small-scale production.
This economic concentration predetermines the paths of artists: they record with one company, which then books them in the venues they own. In this regard, the autonomy of bookers appears reduced.
This leads to a change in the execution of the work of booker: many include management skills, concert promotion, or tour organization in order to match the economic interest of the Parisian live music venues. Yet, some bookers manage to counter this economic logic, notably by establishing links with other bookers in other countries, thus bypassing other intermediaries and book artists before their competitors.
Berlin: Is the Structural Autonomy Bolstered by the Weakness of the Local Music Economy?
Although various major groups have established themselves in the German capital, a lower level of economic development seems to have hindered concentration in Berlin. Nevertheless, these companies are less profitable and have less national influence than their Parisian counterparts have. They are threatened by Berlin’s low standard of living and by the fact that the fee to pay international artists is growing.
Moreover, bookers mention competition between the venues, especially the ones ran by volunteers, who operate under the table and whose buildings do not comply legal standards. Most venues in Berlin seem to be “non-profit” and refuse economic profit. Some bookers even refuse to be compensated for their work, as it would “corrupt” them.
According to these bookers, since there is no requirement for the venue to be profitable, the criterion of artistic evaluation is never subordinated to the economic criterion, which is highlighted by the fact that many bookers in Berlin work collectively. The corollary of this situation is low professional autonomy on the part of bookers.
Reference: Myrtille Picaud, « Transformations in Music Booking », Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods [Online], 4 | 2019, Online since 27 June 2019, connection on 16 July 2019. URL : https://revue.biens-symboliques.net/332
Disclaimer: The information and pictures used in this post are drawn from the article « Transformations in Music Booking » by Myrtille Picaud published in Symbolic Goods. This post intends to inform about the findings of the article.