First conference of the year! In August I’ll be presenting a paper at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, at the panel entitled Labour and Leisure: Changing Geographies of the Workplace.
One of my main frustrations/fascinations in the dissertation is the apparent neglect by most creative industries research of the service aspect of creative work. It’s partly due to the problematic division that scholars make between performance and composition/content-generation when trying to make sense of musical production (and the tendency to privilege the latter over the former). However, have a conversation with any working musician and you’ll quickly see that the service-oriented aspect of making music–playing to, and pleasing, an audience–is prominent.
In Musicking (1998), Christopher Small cites an interesting bit of trivia: the tuxedo attire worn by Western orchestral musicians today harks back to their original position in the 17th and 18th centuries as part of the liveried service staff in royal/aristocratic households. Music entertainers in leisure venues highlight, in stark relief, this inseparability of the creative work of entertainment from the labour dimension of “serving” someone through music–even if it means playing to nobody. The notion of workplace geographies simplifies and strengthens the argument I want to make about creative work being essentially embodied and affective, and therefore inevitably structured by the differential hierarchies of race, gender, age, migrant status, etc. It shifts the terms through which we try to understand music–away from what music means and towards where it takes place and how it works. Both sociocultural issues are important, but the latter, more contextual approach might be more useful in more sharply defining creative workers’ real experiences (especially of inequality and precarity).
Creative Labour as Service Work: Live Music Entertainment in Leisure Venues
This paper considers the labour of leisure through the workplace geographies of live music entertainment in Asia. Though music is a primary sector of the creative industries, research is limited by an implicit bias towards musicians who make “original” or “authentic” content. This perpetuates a narrow (mis)understanding of creative labour as solely high-skilled, i.e. mental, work. In contrast I show that, situated in particular workplaces, creative labour inevitably assumes the modality of embodied service work. The case of music entertainers in hotels, theme parks, and cruise ships illustrates this, as they labour through musical performance and social interaction to enliven affective atmospheres of belonging, diversion, and enjoyment. The extent to which they produce in audiences the experiential shift from indifferent customer to special guest hinges upon their own performance of enjoyment whilst complying with the multiple demands of employers, colleagues, managers, and guests. Drawing from interviews with and observations of Filipino entertainers at work in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia from 2012-2013, I make a second contention that, particularly in Asia, live music entertainment relies on a racialised migrant labour pool amenable to its highly precarious and unequal conditions of contractual, short-term work. That it is flexibility, rather than authenticity or originality, that shapes the worth and work of music performance underscores the necessity of workplace geographies in critically assessing the ways by which we make sense of the changing nature of life in labour.