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Practices for Inducing and Coping with Uncertainty

How is Creativity Governed? An Illustration from the Music Industry

How is Creativity Governed? An Illustration from the Music Industry

Gregory Jackson/Tobias Theel, Berlin, March 23, 2017

How is creative collaboration in the music industry governed? Creativity is not merely an individual process of a lone genius, but often an outcome of socially embedded collaboration (e.g. Sawyer 2007; 2012). Yet the idea of organizing a creative process with all its inherent unpredictability seems paradoxical, if not impossible. In effort to understand how creative collaboration is organized, theories of governance may help us compare different ways of coordinating collective effects to achieve specific objectives (Benz et al. 2007; Jessop/Ngai-Ling 2006) and better understand their consequences for creativity.

Governance takes place through different ideal-typical modes such as market, hierarchy, network and community. These modes shape collaboration through different mechanisms, such as price in market relations or authority in hierarchical organizations. Of course, these modes of governance do not occur in isolation. Different governance modes often recombine into more complex compounds (Crouch 2005), shaping collaboration simultaneously, sequentially or in decoupled ways, just to name a few.

The idea of governance compounds can be illustrated by taking a look at a typical contemporary major label hip-hop production. Here diverse actors work together on a creative product: the rap artist, a beatmaker & producer, a recording engineer, the artists’ manager, the labels’ artist & repertoire as well as product management division, and external agencies responsible for artwork and video production.

First, the music production itself is often shaped through community and network modes of governance. Music genres are constituted by specific discourses centered on common social, cultural and aesthetic practices (Wicke 2004). As such, music genres both reflect and help constitute a specific community of practice (Wenger 1998), whose members interact and get to know each other in various local groups, scenes, or supra-local digital meeting places like online forums and social media platforms. Collaboration often builds on the common practices and understandings within a community, while also ‘framing’ creativity in relation to existing known facets of the genre. Creativity is often evaluated in relation to how music is both similar to and different from shared points of reference within the genre. From this community context, collaborations may emerge from social networks connecting different players in the music production: for example, beatmakers and artists meet in these contexts or are recommended by other community members to bring together instrumentals and rap performances. These community and network-in-community contexts support creativity since they provide ways to structure informal relationships, while allowing collaborations to be established and broken up easily until a constellation is found that “flows” for both partners.

Second, the collaboration between the artist and the major label is mainly governed by market. An artist willing to join a major labels roster will take the highest offer made by one of the three majors in the music industry. Likewise, a major label’s motivation for collaborating with an artist is driven by the expectation of commercialization and high sales numbers. This market relationship may typically allow greater division of labor – the artist may focus on the music, while the label focuses on the marketing and sales. Regarding musical production, the label may for example help an artist to sharpen her/his profile by enabling access to professional recording studios, creating opportunities to work with different musicians or producers, or screening rap lyrics for controversial content that could lead to problems with certain audience segments.

Third, collaboration regarding album artwork and video production are most commonly coordinated by the major label in project networks (Sydow/Windeler 2004) – a network nested within market governance. Photography, design and video production agencies are external to the major label and chosen by their skills to visualize a specific sound or musical idea at best. By not relying on in-house collaboration, the label is able to find the best designer for each individual project. Nonetheless, the collaborating partners are typically chosen from a pool of agencies the label has worked with before or were recommended by peers. This allows a certain degree of trust and therefore reduces uncertainty for the label.

Taken together, the creative process involved in producing recorded music spans across many types of collaboration, each of which may be organized via distinct modes of governance. The process may move from one context (community) to another (the market), draw upon hybrid forms such as network-in-community or network-in-market, and exhibit decoupling whereby different parts of the creative process are compartmentalized. All of these governance forms have an ambivalent potential – governance modes be used to reduce uncertainties in the creative process, but may thereby endanger the creative impulse within it. The community may become too rigid, the market too narrow in its expectations, or the network of collaborators an old boys/girls network. Consequently, organizing creativity also depends on the skillful use of these governance modes to induce uncertainty – whereby the community may buffer against the expectations of the market, or the market may project community-based ideas toward new audiences.

Our project is currently undertaking several different case studies based on extensive interviews to understand how these different modes and combinations of governance are used in the music industry and influence creative collaboration. More detailed results will be presented at “The Place of Music” conference at Loughborough University (UK) on the 28th of June 2017.


Benz, Arthur / Lütz, Susanne / Schimank, Uwe / Simonis, Georg (2007) (Hrsg.): Handbuch Governance. Theoretische Grundlagen und empirische Anwendungsfelder. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
Crouch, Colin (2005): Capitalist Diversity and Change. Recombinant Governance and Institutional Entrepreneurs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jessop, Bob / Ngai-Ling, Sum (2006): Beyond the Regulation Approach: Putting Capitalist Economies in their Place. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Sawyer, R. Keith (2007): Group Genius: The creative power of collaboration. New York: Basic Books.
Sawyer, R. Keith (2012), Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sydow, Jörg / Windeler, Arnold (2004) (Hrsg.): Organisation der Content-Produktion. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
Wenger, Etienne (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wicke, Peter (2004): Über die diskursive Formation musikalischer Praxis. Diskurs-Strategien auf dem Feld der populären Musik. In: Aderhold, Stephan (Hrsg.), Festschrift Prof. Dr. Rienäcker zum 65. Geburtstag, Berlin, S. 163-174. Online:

Zitation: Jackson, Gregory / Theel, Tobias Theel: How is Creativity Governed? An Illustration from the Music Industry, Berlin, 22.03.2017, URL:

Der Beitrag wurde am Donnerstag, den 23. März 2017 um 14:36 Uhr von Sebastian Stahn veröffentlicht und wurde unter Allgemein abgelegt. Sie können die Kommentare zu diesem Eintrag durch den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können einen Kommentar schreiben, oder einen Trackback auf Ihrer Seite einrichten.

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