Behind the music: How labor changed for musicians through the subscription economy




Music industry, Digital media, Cultural Industry, Creative Labor


Subscription services for users with low or no cost access to vast libraries of music has initiated a decrease in revenue for musicians. The growing evidence of exploitation of creative workers in the subscription economy and the sparse scientific coverage of the artist perspective motivated this paper. Through in-depth interviews with musicians, it examines how labor changed for artists in the music industry through the rise of streaming platforms, specifically in the context of Germany. The findings show that the non-creative process takes up more of the artist’s time. Artists perceive their music as less of an artistic product and more as a marketing tool for their own brand. To support the non-creative tasks, artists leverage on data that platforms provide. We witness a re-intermediation in the music market as well as an increase in competition. This paper pushes the conversation on labor and precarity in the music industry that is fast becoming platformized.

Author Biography

Payal Arora, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Payal Arora is a Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, a TEDx speaker, and an award-winning Author of several books, including ‘The Next Billion Users’ with Harvard Press. Forbes named her the “next billion champion” and the right kind of person to reform tech. She is based in Amsterdam.




How to Cite

Mühlbach, S., & Arora, P. (2020). Behind the music: How labor changed for musicians through the subscription economy. First Monday, 25(4).