The “Creative” Artist

The “arrival” of the creative industries provoked a reappraisal of the situation of the “creatives” in large and small creative enterprises. A new "creative class” (Florida, 2002) recognised the individual and social qualities of such work, evident in the growth of technical and higher education courses teaching generic and industry-specific skills (Flew, 2012, pp. 100-101) as attractive career choices. This was complemented by examining wider networks of creativity that privilege practical teamwork and divisions of knowledge and skills. This was important in moving beyond emphases upon stardom and celebrity:

Creativity in the commercial creative industries is represented through the branding and packaging of individual talent and the personality cult fostered around stars and celebrities. Yet behind the scenes, a more realistic unit of analysis for creative processes and product is the team or partnership ... Creative thinking ... depends upon a union of contrasting abilities and styles of thinking.

(Bilton, 2007, p. 19)

The different kinds of personal (and non-economic) investments in creative work for creators mark these industries differently to the rest of the economy in terms of risk (Caves, 2000). The ‘“nobody knows’ characteristic that encapsulates the radical uncertainty regarding the likely market success of a cultural product”

(Throsby, 2015, p. 61) equally applies to the music industries where a relatively small cache of superstars subsidises artist failures.

This has obvious consequences for the individual musician/artist in production contexts, especially when viewed through contemporary notions of entrepreneurship. The glamour associated with song-writing, performing and related media tasks is mitigated by the sometimes hidden costs of entrepreneurial labour: Unpaid labour (undertaken within discourses of “I love being an artist”), long hours, umeliable/seasonal wages (e.g. McRobbie, 2005; Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011) and other risks associated with self-employment or contracted employment (Neilsen and Rossiter, 2005).

Reporting from 2015, an Australia Council study of Australian artists across a range of creative fields reinforces the realities for working in the music industries. Contrasting different survey periods, the mean creative income for musicians in 1986-1987 was $22,200; by 2015 it was $15,600 (Throsby and Peteskaya, 2017, p. 177). While the study encompassed all music work (including classical and art musics), the income figures reflect anecdotal evidence within the popular music industries, where (for example) live performance wages at pubs have remained static for a quarter of a century (e.g. Newton and Coyle-Hayward, 2018). In relation to the multiple tasks artists are now expected to perform (who do not have access to professional teamwork), 77% of musicians in the survey reported that they were responsible for the promotion of their work (Throsby and Peteskaya, 2017, p. 229). Asked about the most important factor inhibiting their professional development, the highest responses for musicians were “lack of economic return” (28%) and “lack of time to do creative work due to other pressures and responsibilities” (24%) (ibid., p. 197).

A United Nations report reflects the global nature of personal careers and returns, entwining issues of structural frameworks and individual agency:

The music industiy faces a difficult paradox: while more and more music is being consumed worldwide, particularly by youth, the earnings received by songwriters, producers and performers have been declining. This situation reflects two key issues: (a) the lacunae in the current regimes of IPRs, and (b) the need for songwriters and the singers [sic] to retain greater control over their music and make better use of all ICT tools for accessing global markets.

(UNCTAD, 2010, p. 143)

Mindful of these domestic contexts, we look in particular at the circumstances of Australian artists strategising to maintain national/regional careers and an international presence. In the first decades of rock and roll and pop, few Australian artists (Rolf Harris, The Seekers, Olivia Newton-John) managed to gain visibility in overseas markets. The subsequent international successes of acts such as INXS and Midnight Oil into the 1980s coincided with—and reinforced—emerging strands of interest and support from national governments about the potential fox- popular music to forge some forms of consistent cultural and economic returns. Beyond attempting to make their mark in key markets that were foundational to these genres, Australian managers and artists have been acutely aware of the added financial and time burdens in seeking European, Asian or North American success. Music economies of similar or smaller size, such as New Zealand and Canada, have long realised the limitations of domestic markets to career longevity; as discussed in Chapter 7, a 2016 Canadian report revealed that six out of ten music companies regarded export activities as crucial for long-term survival: “It’s not just domestic deals - it’s global deals or nothing” (Canadian Independent Music Association’s Stuart Johnston cited in O’Kane, 2016).

This raises a much larger set of career questions for artists, including moral and economic control of their work in overseas contexts; the sets of expertise to be acquired to minimise the “nobody knows” characteristics of creative work, magnified in relation to new markets; and the extent of time and effort to be expended on international markets. In the following sections, we briefly introduce further contexts, macro and micro, influencing artist and company decisions to expoxt, and the changing ways in which international audiences might be sought.

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