The Artist-as-Intermediary: Musician Labour in the Digitally Networked Era
The advent of digital distribution platforms has removed middlemen from the musical supply chain — better known within the industry as the process of “disintermediation.” Often celebrated, disintermediation is understood to have lowered the barrier to entry into the music industry, following the sudden rise in access to marketplace and distribution platforms. However, this increased access to the means of distribution comes with increased responsibilities; musicians not only write, record and produce their own music, in the digital era, they are charged with the added responsibility of promoting, circulating and distributing their music. To understand this disruption, this essay presents the conceptual framework of the artist-as-intermediary. Suturing the artist to the intermediary, the artist-as- intermediary articulates the ways in which the responsibilities formerly held by music label executives — promoters, managers, A&R representatives — have not disappeared with disintermediation but have instead been downloaded onto the musician. To more fully illustrate this phenomenon, this essay proffers a brief case study of marketplace and distribution platform Bandcamp and indie musician Car Seat Headrest.