How did you two meet?
Berkers: “I’m involved in a major NWO-funded project, called POPLIVE. It mainly relates to the live music industry, because that’s how musicians earn their living. When conducting a study, one can look at the music industry in several different ways. We are using an ecology metaphor. That’s how we ended up with Frank.”
Kimenai: “I mainly look at musical ecosystems and the resilience of the music industry. Pauwke and I were both active in the field of music industry policy. We both talk to a lot of funding organisations, government agencies and organisations. I was introduced to Pauwke by someone else. At the time, he and his team were drafting a paper on music ecosystems, and I requested a copy of that. That is how we first connected.”
What is a music ecosystem?
Kimenai: “Essentially, an ecosystem is a collection of living and non-living factors in a particular area and how they relate to each other. A forest is an ecosystem, as is a lake. But you can also zoom out and look at the macro level. The Amazon river, too, is an ecosystem. In much the same way, we can discuss the European music ecosystem, or, at a more specific level, the Rotterdam music ecosystem. The most interesting thing about doing so is figuring out how people, companies and organisations relate to each other in such music ecosystems.”
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What exactly does your research focus on?
Kimenai: “First and foremost, we will focus on two things. One has a societal focus. In other words, how can a healthy music ecosystem contribute to social well-being? The other focus area relates more to the industry and is a little more technical. How can certain ecological principles contribute to a more resilient music industry? We will combine those two matters by arguing that a resilient music industry may contribute to greater social well-being.”
What prompted you to embark on this study?
Berkers: “The music industry, and the art industry in general, is an industry where there is a great disparity in income distribution. There is a winner-takes-all principle, meaning that a lot of people hardly earn anything at all, while a handful of people earn a fortune. The job market is insecure. Many musicians live below the poverty line. It only takes one bad event for the entire industry to collapse.”
Kimenai: “As we have experienced for ourselves in the last year.”
Berkers: “The debate on this was ongoing even before the coronavirus crisis, but it has now become even more topical. As far as that’s concerned, this is a good time to see if we can do a better job of organising the music industry in future.”
How is this study relevant?
Kimenai: “One of my main driving forces is the precarious situation in which many people active in the industry currently find themselves. I want to see if I can help them. I hardly think my study will cause major changes, but maybe I can give some people a nudge into a general direction for a solution. What we’re learning now isn’t news to anyone. It’s just that the coronavirus crisis is really showing up the issues at hand. Many people who work in the industry knew exactly what was going on. But it’s hard to find someone who will listen, and to make people understand.”
Berkers: “In addition, the coronavirus crisis is showing us how important music and culture are. People miss it. We can see that music helps bring people together – see the balcony concerts, for example. Music contributes to improved social well-being.”
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At present, what are the main problems in the music industry?
Kimenai: “Income inequality. What we’re seeing now is the disparity between the haves and have-nots. There’s a whole army of musicians out there who work their arses off to earn a minimum wage and who used to be able to make a meagre living by means of live gigs. Many musicians have now lost some 90 per cent of their income. And if you look at how incredibly rich the streaming services are, while the musicians who depend on those same services are poor, there’s a huge disparity there. The alarm was sounded for people working in the music industry two years ago. Several studies have shown that some 70 per cent of people working in the industry have health issues – both physical symptoms and mental health issues.”
Berkers: “The coronavirus crisis may prove to be a historical watershed, where we ask ourselves whether we should return to how things were before, or whether action must be taken right now. The coronavirus crisis may turn out to be a turning point for the music industry, in the positive sense of the phrase.”
What do you want the industry’s future to be like?
Kimenai: “We have only just got started, but I hope people will take a better look at the power dynamics in the industry, particularly between individual creators and major companies.”
Berkers: “The future of the industry is in the hands of the creators. This may sound like a truism, but it obviously isn’t.”