Accepted Paper:

Musicians’ debts in the South African recording industry  

Author:

Tuulikki Pietilä (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines what it describes as patronage practices between musicians and producers and record labels in South Africa. By showing how these practices often work alongside contracts and create situations of indebtedness by the musicians to the record producers, the paper discusses and adds to the theories of debt, gifts, money and moral economy.

Paper long abstract:

The paper examines certain long-terms features in the South African recording industry whereby some musicians become indebted to producers and record labels. It views these situations as cases of patronage relationships in which the producer or the label acts as the patron and the musician is the client. Nowadays patronage practices often take place in –and work alongside– contractual relationships. This raises the question of why such practices are cultivated. While there are several reasons for this –such as the lack of knowledge and/ or resources on the part of the producer or the label to handle musicians’ rewards according to the contracts– an important reason is the fact that a patronage relationship ties the musician to the record producer in a way that a contract and a monetary reward cannot do.

Whereas a contractual relationship clearly demarcates the rights, duties and rewards of the involved parties, a patronage relationship blurs the limits of the parties and their rights and rewards, forming a multifaceted and moral bind between them. The paper discusses the categories of musicians that tend to become such clients and the ensuing repercussions for them. A central outcome is the reality and the feelings of indebtedness by the musicians to their labels or producers. The paper discusses these practices by employing and adding to the debates on debt (Graeber 2011; James 2015), gifts and commodities (including money) (Mauss 1925; Gregory 1982; Guyer 2004), personhood and value (Comaroff 1985; Strathern 1991) and moral economy (Scott 1990; Glassman 1995).

Panel P083
Debt: a critical reflection based on people's debts