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Musicians and music industry workers in the platform economy

Leeds University Business School

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Prof David Hesmondhalgh , Dr Charles Umney No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Leeds United Kingdom Digital Media Music Music Technology Economics Sociology Socio Economics

About the Project

Musicians and music industry workers in the platform economy

This PhD scholarship is located in the ESRC Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit), Leeds University Business School, and the School of Media and Communication. The student would undertake research on how the working conditions of musicians, and other workers involved in the production and distribution of music, are being affected by developments in music platforms.

The aim is to understand how various digital platforms, including but not only music streaming platforms, might be affecting these conditions. There has been considerable controversy over the amount of money that comes to music creators from these music streaming platforms. But music streaming is just one way in which musicians can earn income. The scholarship offers the opportunity to undertake sustained research on how musicians combine income from various sources and how their opportunities may or may not be affected by the presence of music streaming platforms. Drawing on research in the sociology of work and employment, media studies, music studies, and science and technology studies, the research will explore how musicians make use of different platforms; the possibilities and constraints associated with these platforms; how conditions might differ between different countries and different genres.

Full description

The scholarship will allow for detailed examination of how musicians’ working conditions are being transformed by the presence of digital and social media, including music streaming platforms. This will involve extensive review of secondary sources, as well as further collection of data related to musical labour. Analysis would ideally be complemented by a programme of comparative research across a number of countries, to be selected by the student in collaboration with the supervisory team. This will involve interviews with musicians and other key players in the music industries. The expectation is that the student will have a good social science background.

A key aim of the scholarship is to provide the successful applicant with high quality research training and professional development opportunities. The scholarship will be based in the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit) in Leeds University Business School (LUBS) and the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. Digit was launched in January 2020, funded by a £6.5 million award from the ESRC, and is co-directed from the University of Leeds (Professor Mark Stuart) and the University of Sussex (Professor Jackie O’Reilly), in partnership with the Universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge, Manchester and Monash.

The project will sit within the core research programme of Digit, specifically Themes 3 and 4.

Theme 3 focuses on ‘Employers' and employees' experiences of digital work across sectors’, including changing management processes and practices, and workers' experiences of digital transformation. One of the four key sectors examined is the cultural and creative industries – and the music industries potentially serve as a particularly revealing and interesting example of this sector.

Theme 4 focuses on ‘Reconnecting the disconnected: new channels of voice and representation’. A key aim of this theme of work is to understand how ‘disconnected’ workers can become connected to labour markets, new forms of platform work and employee organisations. Digital technologies offer new possibilities for income generation and may stimulate new forms of employment and self-employment, including via platforms, but we still know very little about how workers navigate such forms of employment or how they are able to represent their own interests.

How to apply

Stage 1

Apply for research degree study in the Leeds University Business School (LUBS) by following the instructions provided here, paying close attention to the eligibility requirements. Please state clearly in the research information section that the research degree you wish to be considered for is the ‘Musicians and music industry workers in the platform economy’ project as well naming as Professor David Hesmondhalgh and Dr Charles Umney as your proposed supervisors. In place of the standard research proposal, please submit a project statement to convey your motivation and enthusiasm for this project, and to demonstrate your suitability for your intended studies at the University of Leeds. It should include examples that draw on relevant work, voluntary or study experiences and illustrate the transferable skills you will use.

Stage 2

Apply to the Leeds University Business School for the ESRC Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit) scholarship by completing the following application form. 

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University's minimum English language requirements (below).

We welcome applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

Entry requirements

Applicants to Leeds University Business School PhD programmes should normally hold (or be expecting to obtain) a Masters degree or an equivalent professional qualification, with a minimum average score of 60 percent (or equivalent) in an appropriate academic discipline. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the graduate school prior to making an application.

English language requirements

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate study in Leeds University Business School is an IELTS of 7.0 overall with at least 6.0 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid.

Funding on offer

The award will cover fees at standard University of Leeds rates.

Fees may rise during the course of your candidature: this will be by no more than the rate of inflation, calculated according to the Retail Price Index.

A maintenance grant (£15,285 in Session 2020/21 for full-time study, part-time will be pro-rata at 60%). This amount increases per annum in line with the Research Council UK rate (announced on this website).

Contact details

For further information please contact the LUBS Graduate School Office


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