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Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association

Volume 10, Number 1 (2010)

Navigating Proximities: The Creative Identity of the Hired Musician

Alan Williams
University of Massachusetts Lowell


Popular music supports a celebrity system centered on highly visible and easily identifiable individuals. Yet much popular music is in fact made by unknown, unidentified musicians, hired collaborators who work out of the public eye in the recording studio or in the shadows of the concert stage. These musicians are prized for their unique musical and social personalities, not merely for their instrumental skill; their individual, even idiosyncratic contributions are highly valued by their employers. Though they may not be commonly identified with the work, these musicians view their contributions as forms of creative expression and have a considerable emotional investment in the projects in which they participate.

This article is derived in part from an ongoing ethnographic study of musicians working in studio environments. Interviewee responses indicate a significant degree of investment in the projects they participate in, beyond considerations of their monetary compensation or career profile. Author examines the economic structures within which these musicians operate, but always maintain a focus on creative identity rather than workplace conditions, access to employment opportunities, or other aspects of professional musicians working ‘for hire.’    

Keywords: session musicians, creative identity, popular music recording, music business, studio musicians, touring musicians, musician salary, musician employment, sideman, professional musician

Williams, Alan. “Navigating Proximities: The Creative Identity of the Hired Musician.” Journal of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association 10, no. 1 (2010): 59-76. https://doi.org/10.25101/10.3

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