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Unfree Masters: Popular Music and the Politics of Work
     

Unfree Masters: Popular Music and the Politics of Work

by Matt Stahl
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education - Hillegonda Rietveld

“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.”
Labor - John Dougan

“An important addition to the field of popular music studies and labor studies, Unfree Masters lucidly and bracingly documents the imbricated, contested working relationship between artists and labels…[the book] offers the most detailed and exhaustively researched writing to date on the contractual relationships between artists and record labels and on the political stratagems designed to codify these relationships and change the nature of labor relationships between ‘workers’ and ‘bosses’.”
Reviews in Cultural Theory

“What Stahl’s fascinating study shows then, in sum, is that the creative labour of recording artists is like regular work in being conditioned by the inequality of the employment relation and by the spurious freedom of contract.”
Popular Music - Kenny Barr

“Matt Stahl provides an absorbing account of a pivotal period in the history of the recording industry in the United States….  [T]his text is sure to spark further debate and discourse and as such Unfree Masters is a valuable and timely contribution to the field of popular music studies.” 
International Journal of Communication - Rob Drew

Unfree Masters takes in an impressive range of materials and methods in shedding light on sites of ideological tension within recording industry work. It will be of interest not only to students of the music industry but also to those who seek a more general understanding of how neoliberal ideology plays out in everyday culture and politics."
Choice - R. J. Phillips

"After reading this book one will understand well why major record companies are in trouble today—and will probably not be very sympathetic with their plight. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
Popular Music History - Jason Toynbee

"Unfree Masters is an important book which ought to be widely read. It contributes not only to an enlightening turn towards cultural and musical labour in contemporary scholarship; it is also part of a renewal of radical critique in popular music studies."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780822395775
Publisher:
Duke University Press
Publication date:
11/26/2012
Series:
Refiguring American music
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
312
File size:
939 KB

Meet the Author

Matt Stahl is Assistant Professor of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario.

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