In January of 1999, as part of its effort to organize recording musicians, Local 802 commissioned a study of the “independent” recording companies doing business within the union’s jurisdiction. We had been encouraged in this initiative by the Noise Action Coalition, a group of musicians active in the “downtown” scene.
Assistant Supervisor of Recording Jay Schaffner knew of NAC’s interest in such a project and had spoken about it with Stanley Aronowitz, Director of the Center for Cultural Studies at CUNY’s Graduate School and University Center. Aronowitz, one of the most active and respected academics in the field of labor studies, was interested immediately. He ultimately assigned it as a postgraduate project to one of his students, Michael Roberts. The study they co-authored, entitled “The Irony of the Indies,” has now been completed and is scheduled for presentation to the Executive Board on Sept. 21.
The study presents a daunting challenge to the union that cannot be met without the complete understanding and cooperation of all musicians. For that reason, we are reprinting substantial excerpts of its most pertinent sections on these pages. The complete study – including a comprehensive listing of the independent labels operating in New York City, a breakdown of the distribution networks and charts outlining the current financial status of the industry – will be available after Oct. 1, upon advance notice, from my office.
The study employs two terms – “post-Fordist” and “post-industrial” – to define the historical patterns of employment in the recording industry. These terms are used together and interchangeably, and refer to employment practices that emphasize a “flexible,” decentralized labor policy most clearly demonstrated by the “outsourcing” or “subcontracting” of specific elements of production. This is in contrast to the patterns that developed from the industrial revolution, best illustrated by the large, centralized complexes organized around assembly-lines that Henry Ford created in the automobile industry.
Throughout the labor movement, unions are grappling with the way changes in technology, outsourcing, and increasingly global production processes have transformed their specific industries. This report provides a huge quantity of information about changes in the recording industry, and. a basis for developing strategies to meet the challenges it outlines. Further discussion of the study will appear in my report next month.