Classical music making in artistic precarity

Activity: Talk or presentationConference PresentationsResearch

Volker Kirchberg - Speaker

Alenka Barber-Kersovan - Speaker

Tobias Lutze - Speaker

The professional practice of classical music ("European art music") is undergoing serious changes. On the one hand, there is a decline in cultural funding, a wave of mergers and closures of orchestras and, as a consequence, a decreasing number of permanently employed musicians. On the other hand, the number of graduates from music academies and universities who want to earn their living with classical music is increasing rapidly. Since the demand for permanent jobs far exceeds the supply, the number of professionally trained insecurely or unemployed musicians is also increasing. As a result, there are ambiguous life choices for these young musicians, and not only in terms of their professional careers. The extremely contingent musical life is exemplary for a post-industrial working world characterized by individualization and neoliberalization, as already described by Beck (1986) and Sennett (1998), among others, and later also by Boltanski & Chiapello (2006) or Crouch (2019). Cultural work is at the forefront of this general flexibilization of work; there are now also studies on this for the labor market of musicians, e.g., by Coulson (2010), Moore (2016), or Gembris et al. (2020). Reinforcing conditions are the COVID pandemic, changing forms of music reception, and the digitization of musical performances, the latter with an economic reassessment of musical services. Because of these structural changes in cultural work, many young musicians in the classical field have to work freelance and therefore pursue a portfolio career consisting of various music-related and non-music-related activities. Further, they place a lot of emphasis on networking with musicians and/or with projects that might commission work to them, at least in the short term.
The presentation is a preliminary study for an empirical research study examining the comprehensive strategies on young musicians’ networks and portfolio careers in the classical music sector. In this context, classical music making in the artistic precariat is not only exemplary for post-industrial life structures but also "exemplary" for the late capitalist world. Macro-social and micro-sociological consequences in this context are uncertainties in career planning, structurally caused inequalities and discrimination, health consequences, status inconsistencies, contradictory expressions of capital and uncertainties in life decisions. The analysis of these framework conditions of musical work spans an arc between value-rational identity constructions of professional musicians as an integrative controlling instance, occupational diseases, gender-related inequalities and the subjective legitimation of one’s own precarious work in a purpose-rational (i.e. economically valorized) world.


ESA Midterm Conference of the European Sociological Association Research Network Sociology of the Arts 2022: Arts in Movement


Lund, Sweden

Event: Conference