My Ph.D. thesis was written in Swedish and published as a book of 630 pages in August 2012. Information about the thesis, including an abstract in English, is available at Lund University. The book contains a longer English summary, which follows here:
Legislation, sound media and the defence of live music, 1925–2000
This thesis concerns the changing preconditions for the commodification of music during the 20th century. In particular, it explores how and why musicians (but also record companies) were granted certain legal rights regarding the use of recorded music, internationally standardized in the Rome Convention (1961), and how this legislation led to the subsequent development of new institutions for economic redistribution in Sweden. Investigating the motives behind these regulations, the thesis discusses the interplay between aesthetic and economic concerns, between cultural politics and trade union strategies, and between different sound media.
Empirically, this thesis draws on a wide range of sources covering the whole period of 1925–2000: governmental investigations, publications from the Swedish Musicians’ Union and other organizations, and archival material which has not been used before in historical research, including documents from Sami (Sweden’s collecting society for performers’ rights).
In the early 1930s, organizations for musicians and record companies in Europe raised separate demands for different kinds of protective legislation. This was motivated by the use of new sound media based on electronic amplification (i.e. radio broadcasting and loudspeaker equipment).
The coming of sound film, in the years around 1930, was a formative experience for musicians’ unions in Sweden and abroad. The unions began referring to the development of electronic sound media in terms of an ongoing ”mechanization of music”. For the unions this development was seen as alarming, as its logical trajectory would eliminate the labour force of professional musicians.
It was around 1930, and not before, that ”live music” (levande musik) became a concept, suggesting a kind of “aura” in the common presence of musicians and audience. After that, “live music” and “mechanical music” would be treated as polar opposites for at least half a century (1930–1980) – not only by the Swedish Musicians’ Union but also by governmental investigations. The relationship between man and machine was usually conceived as rival, which meant that the proliferation of ”mechanical music” could only occur at the expense of ”live music”. More loudspeaker music in commercial use would be tantamount to fewer professional musicians in society.
The Swedish Musicians’ Union called for legislation that would institute a kind of tax, aiming to redistribute money from the various businesses using music in loudspeakers without employing musicians, to a special fund which would support professional musicians by engaging them to perform in public. That aim of such a model would not be to give retroactive compensation to individual musicians for the use of their own recordings, but to maintain a labour market which could support a large number of performing musicians.
One dilemma has been recurrent in legislation for and administration of musicians’ rights: Should the remuneration for musicians be provided as royalty or as wage? Legislators tended to conceive the profession as consisting of two sub-groups. On the one hand the minority of soloists, who enjoyed a larger degree of artistic freedom and therefore could be made economically dependent on an individual right, just like composers. On the other hand the majority of musicians playing in ensembles and orchestras, who according to their union should rather enjoy the relative security guaranteed by the wage relation. This fundamental ambiguity was acknowledged but not solved by legislators. Instead, the dilemma was delegated to the new collecting society, Sami. The law was designed so that Sami would work out a compromise, remunerating musicians as rights-holders and as wage-earners.
After its founding in 1962, Sami has split its money in two parts, one being distributed as individual remuneration, another being reserved for measures that would promote the collective interests of the profession. The same dilemma had to be handled in creating a system for individual remunerations, where Sami first tried to calculate these partly on the basis of the studio earnings that every musician had earned. However, this calculation was soon deemed impossible. Sami chose instead to institute a system where every musician’s performance in every recording was ranked with a certain number of points, more points being given to soloists than to ordinary musicians. The definitions of these different roles might seem vague, but the system has been in effect to this day, having a great influence on the distribution of money to musicians in Sweden.
The law did not specify any amount of money that the Swedish radio monopoly should pay to musicians and record companies for its use of recorded music, neither did it specify the divisions between these two stakeholders. The first issue was settled by court during the 1960s. The second was settled by an agreement between the two collecting societies, Sami (musicians) and Ifpi (record companies), stating that revenues would be split evenly. This was something of a defeat for Sami and the Swedish Musicians’ Union, as these had always insisted that musicians must be entitled to more remuneration than record companies. However, record companies had more money, they were better organized and the law was designed so that their right was primary while the musicians’ right was secondary.
The empirical study presented in chapters 3–5 highlights the contingency of the prolonged process leading to Sweden’s first law about musicians’ rights in 1960, regarding remuneration for the use of records in broadcasting. It also points at the key role played by Fascist Italy in successfully promoting the interests of the record industry in opposition to the different kind of legislation which was proposed by musicians’ unions and the ILO. Not only was Mussolini’s regime ideologically opposed to the ILO, but it also wanted to demonstrate for the world the superiority of Fascism in crisis management and in shaping new policies for new media.
Chapters 6–8 concerns developments after 1960. In the 1960s, at the height of the post-war boom, the aura of ”live music” seems to have weakened considerably in Sweden. According to the musical avant-garde, the notion of “live” was reactionary and metaphysical: the music of the future was to be electronic, created exclusively by composers, without any need for performers. At the same time, governmental experts who developed guidelines for cultural policy tended to advocate a kind of rationalism where music was considered as a product to be distributed: electronic media was just a more efficient way of reaching out with high-quality culture to the masses.
However, the trend changed drastically during the 1970s. The leftist-radical music movement of Sweden, usually known as progg, emerged as a movement for live music, which was associated with participation and authenticity and opposed to the mass-media and the culture industry. During the latter half of the 1970s, this movement began to decline, while a few of the involved musicians continued to enjoy success on disc and on radio. However, the ideas associated with progg was to a striking extent absorbed by governmental agencies and by social democratic labour movement, which included the Swedish Musicians’ Union.
The years 1977–82 marked a radicalization of the unionist resistance against ”mechanical music”, in particular as represented by discotheques and disc-jockeys. The Swedish Musicians’ Union demanded a drastic extension of musicians’ rights which would make it possible to put a prohibitive fee on the use of recorded music in discotheques, thus forcing entertainment venues to yet again employ live dance bands. At the same time, however, some of the disc-jockeys began to join the union and demanded to be recognized as a new kind of musicians.
During the 1980s, tensions between instrumentalists and disc-jockeys did cool down, only to be followed by another brief episode of alarm within the Swedish Musicians’ Unions – this time regarding the use of synthesizers which was understood as a threat to the profession. Already at the end of the 1980s, however, the union had largely abandoned the resistance against “mechanical music”. This might have to do with the extension of musicians’ rights, which from 1986 onwards also covered public performances, generating a significant increase in the turnover for Sami.
During the 1990s, Sami used part of the new money for speculative purposes, which ended in a crash which almost erased the organization. The thesis argues that this development can only be understood in the context of the fundamental ambiguity regarding the role of musicians which was instituted in Sami from the very beginning.
The right to remuneration for public performances of recorded music, established in 1986, was formally similar to the right to remuneration for broadcasting which had existed in Sweden since 1961. However, music was commodified in very different ways, which was a consequence of the material differences between the use of broadcasting and loudspeakers. In short, radio broadcasters could be supervised in detail in a way that the myriad of loudspeakers could not be. In radio, the single recording could therefore be commodified. This meant that the broadcaster could lower its costs for music licenses by broadcasting less music, or by choosing music which was not covered by these rights. It also meant that the rights-holder was given more money for a specific recording if it was used more. Neither was the case with the use of recorded music in loudspeakers at cafés, discotheques and other businesses. These businesses had to buy one license for all music, and the only way to lower costs would be to abstain altogether from using music covered by these rights. There could also not be any direct connection between use and remuneration. Instead, Sami had to guess what music was played in the licensed loudspeakers and distribute money to musicians based on this guess.
The empirical study finishes with chapter 9, which briefly discusses how ”music export” became a hype in Sweden during the 1990s. Organizations representing composers, musicians and record companies jointly founded a new organization, Export Music Sweden, which began a successful campaign, establishing the new idea that music could actually supersede traditional industry as Sweden’s core source of growth. This was clearly a variety of the ”new economy” hypothesis which at the same time fueled the dot.com-bubble. Paradoxically, “music” was in this discourse not presented as something immaterial but rather as a material product: the compact disc.
Finally, some words about the theoretical underpinning of the thesis, which is laid out in chapter one. ”The political economy of music” is defined as a process of mediation between an art-form and the market. It is argued that this process can be understood as a dialectic of industrialization and aestheticization. To put it very simple, the process includes the commodification of music and measures which assure that music can never be reduced to just a commodity. While there is a number of different shapes in which music can be sold as a commodity on the market, it is still regarded as an art form, which means that its origin can always be said to precede that of economic rationality. Composers, holding a social status as autonomous artists, have largely been kept outside of the wage-relation. Instead of selling their labour-power, which implies taking order from someone else about what is right and wrong in the production process, composers have been made rights-holder who can instead sell their finished product. Thus, the political economy of music is the process which creates the social conditions for maintaining ”music” as a form of art.
The thesis argues that “music” is to be understood as a real abstraction. This term, associated with critical theory, implies that ”music” is immanent to capitalist modernity. In earlier societies there existed no clear separation between music and media, between music and the body or between music and science. Beyond capitalist modernity, music as we know it does not exist. The understanding of capitalist modernity presented in the theory chapter is based on a reading of the critical theory of Karl Marx and Theodor W. Adorno, as developed by contemporary theorists like Moishe Postone and Robert Kurz.
The thesis also makes use of the materialist media theory associated with names like Friedrich Kittler, arguing for a broad notion of sound media (including musical instruments and the acquisition of musical skills), emphasizing the need to consider how every such medium has its specific limits in terms of storage, transmission and manipulation. The aim of this media theory is to promote an understanding of the various ways in which music can be commodified. Broadly, this can happen in three different ways: music as something audible (i.e. a performance); music as a material object (a specific media format which must be coupled with a specific media technology in order to become audible); music as an immaterial right (regulating the act of coupling media, including reproduction and performance).
Chapter one also provides room for discussions about the relevance and the limits of Walter Benjamin’s concept of aura, the Aristotelian distinction between poiesis and praxis, and the economic theory known as Baumol’s cost disease. It is argued that these, in combination, hints at a real tendency immanent in capitalist modernity. It appears that some human activities simply cannot be industrialized, as they cannot keep up with the generalized raise in productivity. One obvious example is musical performance (i.e. “live music”), another is the care of children which in capitalist modernity has tended to be assigned to women. There are, broadly speaking, three ways to safeguard such activites: patronage, amateurization and reification.
Looking back at the 20th century, “classical” music became heavily dependent on state patronage, the emergence of various kinds of “alternative” music was inseparable from tendencies to amateurization, and “commercial” music tended to reify itself in a reproducible end product. The political economy of music, as examined in this thesis, is a complex process where regulations may have one intention but produce the opposite result.