Precarious Labor in COVID Times: The Case of Musicians

David M. Arditi


The coronavirus pandemic changed the way we think about work, the economy, and our everyday lives as governments shutdown all but the most essential public spaces. Workers who earn a living through precarious employment have faced unique barriers to securing wages. The impact of the pandemic shutdown was especially devastating on musicians' lives and many supporting workers in the entertainment industry. The structural insecurity of gig work became amplified as venues were forced to stop performances for a year or more. In this paper, I argue the current phase of capitalism that depends on precarious labor and unending consumption destroys workers’ means to meet their basic and social needs. While this affected workers through the economy, I explore the impact the COVID music closures had on musicians in particular. How did the closure of the live music industry amplify the precariousness of musicians’ working situations? First, I develop a trace the current mode of capitalism. Second, I discuss musicians as precarious workers by exploring the way record contracts establish inequity in the recording industry. Finally, I argue the COVID crisis for musicians was largely an effect of their precarious employment situation.


COVID-19; COVID; Pandemic; Musicians; Labor; Workers; Small Venues; Music Venues; Live Nation; Jobs; Precarity; Value

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