Hungarian Music Industry Workers and the State During the Pandemic Crisis

Dr Emília Barna

Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology and Communication of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary.

 

Acts of spontaneous and bottom-up solidarity among industry workers have also been present, and bands, including the larger team around bands, seem to function as an important social and economic unit for informal redistribution, as well as care and mental support.

As elsewhere in the world, in Hungary, lockdown measures have temporarily put an end to live music shows, leaving musicians, technicians, promoters, managers, and other music industry workers temporarily out of work.  This segment of Hungarian workers has been left highly vulnerable to the measures related to the pandemic due to a number of combined factors. These include live music being the primary source of income for music industry workers in the country, a general precarity due to the high proportion of freelance or self-employed workers and those working for micro-enterprises (Antal, 2015: 93), and the prevailing project-based nature and seasonality of the music industries. The last of these contributes to an unevenness and unpredictability of income, and a high economic inequality (Virágh and Főző, 2017: 17).

The total ban on live events of the 2020 spring lockdown period was not accompanied by any industry-wide support measures by the government. The National Cultural Fund, Artisjus — the copyright collecting society — and the Performer’s Rights Protection Association Office (EJI) each supported a selection of artists on a grants basis, but the “background workers” of the industry — technicians, roadies, managers, photographers — were excluded from the pool of potential recipients. In the summer, restrictions were partially lifted and events with less than 500 participants could be held. Ultimately, a government music industry support scheme, namely the 15 million-euro (5.3 billion HUF) “Warehouse Gigs” [Raktárkoncertek] programme, was announced on 5 August. The programme sidestepped industry bodies as well as the state funding programme for popular music (Hangfoglaló Programme) in favour of the Hungarian Tourist Agency as organiser, and a state company, Antenna Hungária, as the commissioned stage technology firm (Sajó, 2020). The programme enabled 300 acts, selected from three main genre categories, to perform at a “warehouse” venue without an audience. The performances are recorded and archived, and the musicians receive an increased performance fee. This solution has been highly divisive within as well as outside of the industry. While many participating artists have openly embraced it as an opportunity, both the means of selection and the perceived corruption involved have been criticised. Some artists publicly announced the solidarity-based redistribution of the support they would be receiving among their broader team. The popular act Wellhello, for instance, announced that the two members of the band would not keep the amount received, but rather distribute it among their thirty team members (Hvg.hu 2020), who include musicians, technicians, as well as managers. Other recipients donated the fee to different bands judged to be in greater need of support or to a fund set up for background workers (the Fabian Juli Memorial Foundation).

Dürer Kert, Budapest. Photograph by Lajos Somogyi / Bands Through The Lens

The pandemic and the restrictions interrupted the main data collection phase of our research on labour in the Hungarian music industries,1 and we decided to adapt our methods scheduled for this period — interviews and sociodrama — to the circumstances of the lockdown. Following two sociodrama groups with industry workers (promoters, managers, musicians, technicians) conducted offline, we continued with six online groups, two during the spring lockdown, and four over the summer period. For the sociodrama, one of our research questions concerned the perceived role of the state in the music industries from the perspective of labour. Our first result was that the state and the government received not only more emphasis, but were also attributed more agency in the online drama events in relation to the two pre-pandemic occasions. Secondly, negative attitudes towards the state emphasised bureaucracy, the impersonality of power, the state “taking but not giving” at a time of crisis. The positive scenario outlined by participants accepted what we identified as a welfare state model, which would involve the state protecting the music industries and its workers. In the desired model, this protection would operate without a selective principle that would (further) divide workers. Moreover, the protective measures would impose state influence only to an extent that the workers and institutions could function with the help of such provisions of resources in a relatively autonomous and independent manner, most importantly in a cultural sense.

The reliance of the Hungarian music industry and its workers on live music is combined with an inequality and vulnerability that the pandemic situation has heightened. This vulnerability has created a space for the post-2010 regime of capital accumulation (Éber et al., 2019) to extend its hegemony and incorporation of the cultural field through the acquisition of positions and resources in the popular music field, including the Warehouse Gigs programme. At the same time, the government still leaves the majority of artists and music industry workers without support and, in neoliberal fashion, lets workers absorb the costs of the crisis. Workers have relied on “day jobs” — existing or new ones — their savings, and informal household support — through their spouses or other family members – for survival. Acts of spontaneous and bottom-up solidarity among industry workers have also been present, and bands, including the larger team around bands, seem to function as an important social and economic unit for informal redistribution, as well as care and mental support. The greater attention to the role of the state and the government during the pandemic could theoretically also open a possible route towards politicisation and collective organising. At the same time, there was a clear lack of perceived agency on the part of the workers, which may hinder this process. Moreover, we also encountered an apparent lack of concern for the wellbeing of the audience or society in general, even a reluctance on the part of the groups to perceive themselves as part of a society — solidarity was typically imagined within the confines of the industry.

Notes:

  1. “Creative Labour in the Hungarian Music Industry” (2018–2022), supported by the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office under Grant FK-128669. The sociodrama events were led by Ágnes Blaskó (Budapest University of Technology and Economics) and Krisztina Galgóczi. The analysis of sociodrama data was conducted by Ágnes Blaskó and myself.

References:

Antal, D. (2015) 2015 ProArt Zeneipari Jelentés [2015 ProArt Music Industry Report]. Available at https://zeneipar.info/2015/

Éber, M., Á. Gagyi, T. Gerőcs and Cs. Jelinek (2019) 2008–2018: Válság és hegemónia Magyarországon [2008–2018: Crisis and hegemony in Hungary]. Fordulat, 26: 28–75.

Hvg.hu (2020). A Wellhello tagjai még gondolkodnak, hogy részt vegyenek-e kormányzati raktárkoncerten [Members of Wellhello still undecided about participating in the government Warehouse Gigs], 7 August, Available at https://hvg.hu/elet/20200807_A_Wellhello_tagjai_meg_gondolkodnak_hogy_reszt_vegyeneke_kormanyzati_raktarkoncerten

Sajó, D. (2020) A nagy raktárkoncerttrükk: segítségbe csomagolt NER-nyomulás [The great Warehouse Gig trick: The System of National Cooperation pressing on disguised as aid]. Telex.hu, 16 October, Available at https://telex.hu/belfold/2020/10/16/raktarkoncert-antenna-hungaria-konnyuzene-tamogatas

Virágh, E. and Zs. Főző (2017) ProArt Zeneipari Jelentés 2018 [ProArt Music Industry Report 2018]. Available at https://zeneipar.info/2017



Cite this blog post
karmy (2021, February 8). Hungarian Music Industry Workers and the State During the Pandemic Crisis. Working in Music. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/varz

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