Labour market norms on the London and Paris jazz scenes

By Charles Umney (November 2015)

Musicians are highly vulnerable to poor working conditions. Practices such as playing for free, and even schemes such as ‘pay to play’ are widespread, and the desire of many musicians to perform can be exploited by clients who dress ‘exposure’ up as a valid substitute for payment. These problems were highlighted by the Musicians’ Union (MU) report “The Working Musician” (2012), which showed that the majority of British musicians earn less than £20000 per year, despite having higher than average levels of training and education. Previous research by TEMS team members, which draws on qualitative interviews with freelance musicians in London and Paris, has shown how the prevalence of precarious and poorly-remunerated work in music makes the profession inaccessible for many people.

How can musicians counter these problems? Trade unions such as the MU have sought to proliferate guideline minimum prices for engagements, and to raise awareness of the dangers of unpaid work through campaigns such as “Work not Play”. But since live music work is so often accessed via personal contact networks, a more important influence on the labour market in many circumstances may be the informal ideas and expectations musicians themselves collectively develop around what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable terms. Whenever they are offered work, musicians have to make individual decisions about what kind of prices they should ask for or accept, and this can sometimes be a complicated question, especially when there are lots of other motivations to take work that aren’t related to the money (e.g. potential for exposure, potential to build networks, potential to develop artistic projects). Musicians are conscious of these issues and do discuss them: our research in London, for instance, showed that people who started offering or accepting work for excessively low fees could be ostracised.

Widely-accepted norms around prices are important for individuals because they help musicians address knowledge gaps. Often, when musicians are offered work, potential clients or agents will ask them to name a price without offering much contextual information (e.g. size of budget, their expectations, or how many other quotes are being solicited). Strong collective expectations are important in helping musicians address these kinds of non-transparent ‘spot market’ situations. Many have a strong instinctive idea of what the ‘going rate’ should be in various contexts just from interacting and discussing with other musicians, completely independent of official MU guidelines. But, this is an instinctive knowledge which is rarely adapted to context. For instance, our research uncovered cases where bands would reflexively quote £150 per performer, whether the engagement in question was a small local function for friends or a large banking industry event in a distant city where astronomically expensive bottles of champagne are flowing.

The addition of French data to our study of musicians looked at similar issues but in a different context. In France, musicians can gain access to the intermittents du spectacle system, whereby they receive a guaranteed monthly income to compensate for periods where they have less work (or where they are doing work that would otherwise remain unpaid, like rehearsing or writing). But each individual musician has to undertake a certain amount of work in a given period (507 hours’ worth in 10.5 months, to be precise), and it can be difficult for them to meet these eligibility criteria. It is especially hard when clients and venue owners try to avoid taxes by hiring musicians on an informal, cash-in-hand basis (these don’t count usually towards the 507 hours musicians need to accrue).

As a result, for many French musicians, whether certain jobs will enable them to retain their status as an intermittent du spectacle, and hence continue receiving social insurance payments, overrides in importance the question of how much a client will pay. French musicians tended to be more reluctant to talk openly about price expectations with their peers than British counterparts. This shows how, when there are strict individual eligibility criteria to access important social support systems, more informal collective ways of regulating prices on freelancer labour markets are weakened. Moreover, anarchistic ideological currents are also influential in some sections of French jazz, leading to the stigmatisation of State-mandated social welfare systems.

My recent article (available here: is therefore somewhat pessimistic about the prospects for unions alone to significantly regulate working conditions on freelancer labour markets. Efforts by them to do so are welcome, but they will only be effective if musicians themselves are more ‘class conscious’, about establishing what kinds of fees are and aren’t acceptable in different circumstances.

Markets, exploitation and employment in the music industry

A workshop at the University of Leeds
The TEMS team is organising a workshop on music labour markets, to be held at the University of Leeds on 10th December, 10:30-3:00pm. The workshop will be titled “Markets, exploitation and employment in the music industry”, and will feature four speakers, presenting an in-depth look at the way labour and product markets work in music. Particular themes of interest are the role of intermediaries such as agents, managers, welfare providers and unions in regulating the musicians’ labour market and establishing prices and practices. There will also be discussion of the ways in which new developments in the recorded music industry has led to recording companies loading more financial risk onto performers.
Confirmed speakers are Wenceslas Lizé (University of Poitiers), Leslie Meier (University of Leeds), Martin Cloonan (University of Glasgow) and Charles Umney (University of Leeds).
Attendance is free- if you are interested in coming contact

Workshop in Greenwich: Austerity versus Social Europe

Austerity versus Social Europe: Neoliberal labor market reforms on the Mediterranean

11 December 2015, Hamilton House, University of Greenwich.


12:00 Lunch and welcome

12:45 Elisa Pannini, London School of Economics. Neoliberalism Conquering Europe: Labour Market Reforms in Italy, Spain and Greece and their consequences

The European Social Model is offers in theory a high levels of social protection, social dialogue, and public services, with an aim of ‘social cohesion’. However, the picture emerging from labour market reforms in Southern European countries casts a shadow on this idea and raises the prospect of neoliberal convergence. This paper explores changes in labour market regulations, in Italy, Spain and Greece, with special attention to the role of European institutions in shaping national policies and pushing governments towards ‘ideal’ levels of flexibility and employment protection legislation. This review aims to contribute to the debate about the continuity of the distinctive characteristics of the European Social Model: can they survive to the progressive deregulation of labour markets and commodification of labour itself? Are European institutions actually pushing member states away from that model?

2:15 Alexandre Afonso, Leiden University. Institutional Change in South European Labour Market Regimes After the Crisis

This paper seeks to map and compare change in labour markets regimes in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece in the aftermath of the financial crisis. While the extent of austerity policies in terms of fiscal retrenchment in these countries has been the subject of much interest, we still lack an overall picture of change in the areas of employment protection, income compensation, minimum wages, education and collective bargaining, and how reforms pushed by international financial institutions have reshaped institutional complementarities. Contradicting arguments supporting the idea that markets adapt more quickly than top-down political control, we show how greater state intervention prior to the crisis fostered swifter change in the face of private sector resistance, even on the side of employers. Hence, the greater reliance of Mediterranean economies on the state to compensate for the weak coordination capacity of economic actors made them particularly vulnerable to change in the context of the crisis of state finances.

3.45 Lefteris Kretsos, University of Greenwich. Governing Greece. The experience of SYRIZA

This paper adresses questions regarding the governance of austerity experience in Greece under the memorandum agreements signed between the Greek government and the so-called Troika. First, the bail-out packages and the austerity measures that accompanied them are considered as reflections of the global financial markets’ deregulation, as well as the fundamental assumptions of the Eurozone project’s architecture. Second, the historical evolution of the crisis experience in Greece is examined; a special focus is placed on the ways consecutive governments responded to the austerity challenge, as well as the societal reactions to it. The impact of the electoral shift that occurred in January 2015, with the rise of left-wing party SYRIZA to power, is evaluated. Finally, the paper addresses the impact of the crisis on specific social, political and economic institutions, in an effort to provide an in-depth understanding of how the crisis altered the socio-political landscape of Greece.

This workshop is free of charge, part of the research project ‘the Effects of Marktization on Societies: The Case of Europe (TEMS)’ funded by the European Research Council (313613).

The venue will be Hamilton House, 15 Park Vista, Greenwich, London SE10 9LZ; for more information on getting to the venue, see

To register and for more information, please contact Ian Greer (

Ljubljana conference

Precarity and the shrinking welfare state / Prekarnost in krčenje države blaginje

  1. September 2015, Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Work, Topniška ulica 31,
    1000 Ljubljana, room 4

Organisers of the conference:  WERU and Faculty of Social work (University of Ljubljana)

Please follow this link to view detailed description and program of the conference and presentation’s abstracts. To book your place please email ( until 8th of September 2015.

Prosim sledite tej povezavi za podrobnejši opis in program posveta ter povzetke prestavitev. Prosimo vas, da svojo udeležbo potrdite najkasneje do 8. septembra 2015 na tej povezavi.

Management and marketization: two new papers

Two new articles have been published by members of the marketization in Europe team, both looking at private-sector management and market change.

The first is by Nick Krachler and Ian Greer and examines the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which sought to privatize health services in England through increased marketization built into commissioning. Drawing on 32 qualitative interviews carried out shortly after the Act, the authors ask when does marketization lead to privatization? They find that the new market structure continues to restrict private sector involvement by, in various ways, frustrating private providers’ attempts to make profits. It has been accepted at Social Science and Medicine.

The second is by Ian Greer and Marco Hauptmeier and examines the ways in which managers in the European auto industry stage competition between plants in order to extract labor concessions. Drawing on interviews and documents covering a 25-year period at three multinationals, the authors identify four different kinds of management whipsawing. They explain variation and change through differing whipsawing capacity built into production systems and overall corporate labor relations strategies. It has been accepted at Industrial and Labor Relations Review.

Charles Umney on BBC Radio 4

Research by members of the TEMS team into the labour market conditions facing freelance musicians has been featured on the most recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed, broadcast on the 29th October 2014. Dr Charles Umney was invited into the studio to talk about his paper entitled “Creative labour and collective interaction: the working lives of young jazz musicians in London” (written with Dr Lefteris Kretsos). The paper, which is published in the current issue of the journal Work, Employment and Society, describes and categorises the various kinds of work settings encountered by young workers seeking to establish careers as jazz musicians. It examines the precarious nature of working conditions, and the trade-offs between creatively and materially rewarding jobs.

The show can be listened to using the BBC iPlayer at the following address:

New report on industrial relations in Europe’s public sector

A new report by Jane Lethbridge, Ian Greer, Lefteris Kretsos, Charles Umney, and Geoff White has been published by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Working and Living Conditions (EUROFOUND). In ‘Industrial relations in central public administration: Recent trends and features’, we provide a 27-country comparison of strains on industrial relations across Europe’s public sector. We find that austerity has not only put pressure on workers terms and conditions of employment but also produced a deterioration in the quality of social dialogue.

The report maps current developments in industrial relations systems in the central public administration sector in all EU Member States except Croatia. The report explores to what extent there is formal industrial relations processes within the sector, including the organisation of unions and employer representatives, and the role of collective bargaining and consultation. It also examines the specific features of the sector in terms of both industrial relations processes and worker outcomes and charts reforms that have been carried out since 2008: changes in collective bargaining and in the balance of negotiation versus unilateral imposition of change by the employer, and the responses of trade unions. Finally, the report addresses the role of the social partners regarding the outcomes for employees of the recent austerity measures on issues such as wages, job security, working time and pensions.

The full report can be found here.

Inside the ‘Black Box’: Ten theses on Employment Services in Britain

In a new report, Ian Greer, Lisa Schulte, and Graham Symon present initial findings on the UK from a project funded by the Hans-Boeckler-Foundation on the marketisation of employment services in the UK, Germany, and Denmark. They present findings from interviews with front-line staff, managers, claimants groups, and trade unionists, as well as publicly available statistics and reports. We convey what is distinctive about the UK by developing ten theses on the so-called ‘Black Box’, the UK’s highly centralised and privatized approach to organizing services.

The full paper can be found here.

More information on the project, the Marketization of Employment Services in European Comparison (MESEC) is here.

Kretsos & Umney new paper ‘That’s the experience’

The new paper ‘That’s the experience’  by Lefteris Kretsos and Charles Umney looks at jazz musicians in ’emerging adulthood’ and their ambivalence to precarious work. Precarious employment is an important consequence of structural changes in labour markets. Precarity has had profound effects on young workers in particular, often disrupting the process of ’emerging adulthood’. This paper looks at precarious employment in the creative sectors, specifically among jazz musicians. It explores their experiences of and attitudes towards precarity. It shows how participants sought to manage and sometimes embrace precarity as part of the life course, but also argues that this managed embrace was dependent on factors such as family background.

Click here for full paper

Greer Symon paper on workfare regimes

A new working paper by Ian Greer and Graham Symon examines the spread of punitive welfare reforms aimed at enforcing work and discouraging unemployment, what we call ‘workfarism’. While standard comparative theories predict that these policies should be confined to countries with ‘liberal’ political economies such as the US and UK, elements of workfarism have appeared in other countries with more generous welfare states, including Germany. We describe and compare workfarist policy shifts in Germany, Great Britain, and France.

Our comparison highlights two important but neglected factors: the use of markets in public administration and the central power of the state. We also highlight the importance of direct state intervention at the bottom of the UK labor market and call into question the standard characterization of it as a ‘liberal market economy’.

The full paper can be found here.