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Transformations in Music Booking

Analysing Professional and Subfield Autonomy Together
Les transformations de la programmation musicale. Analyser ensemble autonomie professionnelle et autonomie d’un sous-champ
Las transformaciones de la programación musical. Analizar conjuntamente autonomía profesional y autonomía de un sub-campo
Myrtille Picaud
Traduction de Daniela Ginsburg
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les transformations de la programmation musicale [fr]


Cet article examine les liens entre autonomie structurelle et autonomie professionnelle, en comparant les sous-champs des salles de musique à Paris et Berlin. Alors que la musique “vivante » connait de profondes mutations économiques, cet article éclaire comment les variations de l’autonomie d’un sous-champ influent sur la définition de l’activité des programmateurs et programmatrices dans les deux villes. L’hétéronomie croissante du sous-champ parisien, facilitée par le plus fort développement professionnel, menace l’autonomie des programmateurs, qui s’ajustent en redéfinissant leur territoire professionnel. La situation berlinoise éclaire quant à elle les conditions de possibilité de l’autonomie d’un sous-champ musical dont l’économie est moins développée, où l’autonomie professionnelle des programmateurs et programmatrices est limitée. Autonomie structurelle et autonomie professionnelle ne vont ainsi pas de pair, mais leur articulation doit être comprise à l’aune des rapports de force au sein du champ musical global.

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  • 1 Here I draw on the reflections proposed by Andrew Abbott and his concept of professional developmen (...)

1Autonomy has been analysed as one of the central features of certain professions in their competition with other groups (Freidson 1975). Here, autonomy is defined in terms of a group’s monopoly over a professional activity, the definition of that activity’s perimeter, and the meaning given to it, within the framework of struggles between different professional groups over the institutionalization of specialist work1. The book by the researchers Valérie Boussard, Didier Demazière and Philip Milburn (2010) on the injunction to professionalize examines how the pressure of market values affects professional autonomy and sheds light on variations in terms of context, the characteristics of the professional group, and its position within professional configurations. Distinguishing themselves from the logics of bureaucratization and of the market (Freidson 2001), professions position themselves in relation to other forms of occupational organization: for example, the “liberal professions” claim to be autonomous from the economic sphere, thus affirming their disinterestedness (Karpik 1995, Sapiro 2006).

2This article extends analysis of the relations between professional autonomy and market constraints based on a perspective in terms of field (Bourdieu 1996). While the notion of field is underpinned by a form of division of labour and the specialization of a social space, it also relies on a criterion of autonomy, which I will refer to as “structural autonomy.” The autonomization of a field is based on the creation of specific consecrating bodies, the development of a market for symbolic goods (Bourdieu 1985), and the proclaimed existence of a group of specialists. In the cultural fields, such groups are not always endowed with a legal status or specific protections that would grant them “institutional autonomy” (Boussard, Demazière, Milburn 2010), which is thus different from structural autonomy. However, the question posed here is not how professional groups contribute to the autonomization of a field, but rather how the structural autonomy of a field is connected to the autonomy of an existing professional group. Is one the condition of the other?

  • 2 See also Gisèle Sapiro’s reflections on transnational fields (2013).

3The question of autonomy in relation to the economic field is particularly salient within artistic fields (Bourdieu 1996). Moreover, if the artistic professions pose a challenge to the sociology of professions (Freidson 1986), studying their intermediaries is particularly heuristic for examining the connections between the economic and artistic fields since these intermediaries appear as double agents at the border of art and commerce (Lizé, Naudier, Roueff 2011; Negus 2002), or even as vectors of processes of heteronomy (Lizé & Naudier 2015). Studying music venues and their bookers makes it possible to analyse the interactions between structural and professional autonomy. The analysis will thus be shifted from the music field to the level of a subfield: that of music venues. Larissa Buchholz’s reflections (2016) on the transposition of the concept of field from a local or national to a global scale2 offer an interesting way of theorizing the links between these two levels. Focusing on the constitution of a global field of art and its connection to pre-existing national fields, she develops the notion of “vertical autonomy.” This notion differs from the horizontal autonomy between national fields, such as the artistic and economic fields. The term “vertical,” however, does not presuppose a hierarchy between the two levels, for relative autonomy can be analysed in either direction, in terms of the refraction of the stakes of a national field in a global field or vice versa.

  • 3 See, for example, Motti Regev’s analysis of “pop-rock” (2013).

4Here, I will study the subfields of music venues in two European capitals, Paris and Berlin. These subfields include the venues and systems of intermediation (Jeanpierre & Roueff 2014) connected to live music, but not artists. These subfields, which enjoy relative autonomy in the music field, circumscribe a specific space of competition for the production of live music. Geographical delimitation creates a relational space in which agents, though they do not always interact directly, are situated in relation to each other. They are positioned in this relational space according to the distribution of different kinds of capital, and compete or cooperate to accumulate symbolic capital. As for the music field, it is made up of different categories of agent (artists, intermediaries) and can be considered transnational. Indeed, the creation and recognition of music value is based on processes that transcend national boundaries. The various ways in which genres circulate transnationally3 remind us that artists and intermediaries often refer to dominant centres, bend to the rules that govern music for them, or try to influence them.

  • 4 Global music industry turnover has grown from $25.1 billion in 2002 to $16.1 billion in 2016. Sourc (...)

5Today, the balance of power within the transnational music field is being altered by changes in the live music sector. Indeed, with the collapse of profits in the record industry,4 this sector, long considered secondary, has been reinvigorated as revenues increased beginning in the mid-2000s. Some economists refer to the autonomization of the live music market with respect to that of recorded music (Holt 2010; Krueger 2005: 26). The rise of music festivals exemplifies the renewed economic and social importance of music events (Frith 2007). Central actors in the transnational music field (“majors”) buy companies specializing in event organization while other actors, such as the company Live Nation, emerge and compete with them. This economic concentration, which allows for forms of vertical integration (controlling music production from recording to touring) contributes to the rise of economic interests. Increasing investment in live events by agents from the economic field (pension funds, etc.) also testifies to this.

6The stakes of these transformations are unevenly refracted within the subfields of the music venues in Paris and Berlin that will be the focus of this article. In this context, I will examine their structural autonomy—particularly in relation to the economic field—as well as how these changes affect the professional autonomy of live music bookers. The study shows that structural and professional autonomy do not necessarily go hand in hand. First, I will present the music venue subfields in Paris and Berlin, focusing on different forms of professional development for bookers and variations in local economic and political circumstances. In Paris, the growing heteronomy of the music subfield is facilitated by the strong professional development of bookers. However, in return, this heteronomy seems to threaten bookers’ autonomy, pushing them to redefine their activity, as will be shown in the second section. The article concludes by examining the situation in Berlin, which sheds light on the conditions of possibility of autonomy for a subfield of live music with a less developed economy, where bookers’ autonomy appears to be limited by weaker professional development.


Note on Methodology

The empirical material presented here was gathered over the course of fifty-six interviews conducted in Paris and Berlin between 2012 and 2016 with bookers at music venues of all types (amphitheatres, music bars, cabarets, opera houses, nightclubs, etc.). The interviews focused on the history and organization of venues, programming work, and the career trajectories of the interviewees. At the request of most respondents, pseudonyms have been used. The interviews are complemented by about 220 observations of concerts in both cities. For both cities, I ensured that the diversity of venues was represented in the interviews by drawing on my knowledge of the music space and two databases in which I exhaustively list the city’s venues (on Paris, see Picaud 2015). The comparability of the data between the two music subfields was also verified, taking into account their structural differences. This article focuses on private venues, which are the most common type of venue in Paris and Berlin, even though some of them receive occasional public subsidies. In view of the issue in question, the public/private distinction appears to be more significant than the opposition between so-called “highbrow” music and “lowbrow” or “popular” music, since private classical music halls are also affected by the changes occurring in live music.

Of the bookers I met in Paris and Berlin, about half work in venues that were opened after 1996. Older venues (those that opened before 1980) represent one-tenth and one-fifth of those surveyed respectively. This distribution is consistent with that of all venues in both cities. Smaller venues are more numerous in both capitals, and were studied more (about half of the bookers interviewed work in venues with 300 seats or less) than larger ones (around a quarter of the respondents work for venues with capacity for 1,000 or more), which include both large nightclubs and venues such as the Mercedes Benz Arena. The respondents work mainly in private venues, which dominate the study (eighteen in Berlin and sixteen in Paris), and have various statuses; there are fewer public venues in Berlin than in Paris (two in Berlin and four in Paris), in contrast to private, non-profit venues (nine in Berlin versus five in Paris). Finally, a little less than one third of the venues surveyed (nine in each city) host “highbrow” music (classical, lyrical, or contemporary music), from which I distinguish jazz (two venues in Berlin and four in Paris) and “popular” music, which includes all the other genres observed (twenty-six in Berlin and twenty-one in Paris); some venues straddle these categories.

1. Professional Development for Booking in Two Contrasting Subfields of Music Venues

8Before examining the conditions of autonomy in each subfield of music venues and the implications this has for bookers’ professional autonomy, it is important to highlight the differences between the two capital cities. Professional development of bookers is different in Paris and in Berlin (Picaud 2017), as is the position this role holds in the system of intermediation. These differences are also related to the history and economy of each city.

9In Paris, professional development is high for bookers, whose monopoly over artist selection is relatively stable. Although the boundaries of the professional group are not well formalized, strong ties between intermediaries allow the group to control access to jobs, as is the case in other music sectors (Coulangeon 1999). Most concert venue bookers are professionals, except in music bars, where bar managers often schedule music acts. With the exception of the latter, who own their bars, the vast majority are employed by the venue while a minority are independent contractors. Seventy-three per cent of the venues are private, and another ten per cent have private though non-profit status. Eight per cent of Parisian venues have public status. In Berlin, the professional group of bookers is less structured and more heterogeneous. Networks between professionals are less dense and their statuses are variable: they are often independent contractors, more rarely salaried employees, and may work under the table. In addition, a significant proportion of well-respected venues are booked by volunteers. Private venues represent seventy-six per cent of the total, plus fifteen per cent non-profit venues. Public venues represent only four per cent of the sample and seven per cent have unknown status (versus six per cent in Paris).

10Non-remuneration of booking, an activity that is nevertheless considered someone’s primary form of work is particularly common in the German capital. Although in Paris a significant proportion of the thirty or so bookers surveyed reported a professional activity carried out in parallel (apart from making music themselves), this is less a matter of material necessity than a professional standard—it is expected that people working in the live music field will hold multiple jobs related to music (Lizé 2014; Bureau, Perrenoud, Shapiro 2009). This allows them to accumulate the benefits connected to different positions in the cultural fields and to increase their social capital. On the contrary, in Berlin, having multiple jobs outside the music field often allows bookers to meet their material needs. Whereas in the French capital, only three of the twenty-six people interviewed do not live off their booking work, more than a third of the thirty interviewed in Berlin do not, regardless of age category—it is not simply an issue of young people having a hard time entering the job market.

11It is not uncommon for the Berlin venues to be programmed by collectives of varying sizes, which allows members to pursue paid work alongside booking. This type of organization, which is found in a third of the venues surveyed, usually gives rise to a temporal division of labour; that is, division by event, rather than by task, since the members of the collectives may participate in programming and also work the ticket office, the bar, etc. In Paris, the division of labour is more stable, although programming may be divided on the basis of music genre or combined with public relations and/or production work in small venues. In Berlin, collective organization contributes to broadening the social recruitment of individuals to the booking profession, a fact reflected in the diversity of their social and academic trajectories. Only one-fifth have studied management or cultural management, whereas in Paris, half of those surveyed came from business schools or management studies and a quarter have backgrounds in cultural management. More generally, the booker group in Berlin is less closed, because entry cost to the field is lower (Mauger 2007). It is easier to open a venue in Berlin, even if the chosen location is neither intended for that purpose nor adapted to security, sound, and public access requirements, etc. Verification of compliance with standards is less frequent than in Paris, as demonstrated by the spectacular closures, after several years of activity, of venues that had completely deviated from regulatory provisions (the Stattbad Wedding cultural complex, for example).

12In Berlin, the low price of real estate facilitates the opening of venues in places not dedicated to music, while in Paris new ownership or change of management of venues already occupied is more common. For example, in Paris, the price per square metre for a private rental ranges between 20 and 30 euros on average depending on the district, versus 5 to 10 euros in the German capital. This contrast is part of a more general difference between the economies of the two cities, which is reflected in the standards of living of their residents. Whereas in 2012, GDP per capita in Paris was 64% above the national average, Berlin is one of the few European capitals where it is lower than the national average (16%). Similarly, the GDP per capita volume index is effectively 141.5 billion purchasing power standards (PPS) in Berlin, versus 555.3 billion in Paris (Koceva et al. 2016: 98). This difference in standards of living has implications for each music subfield, by favouring, or not, the development of a market for live music. While in Paris, ticket prices tend to be relatively high in concert halls, tickets are cheaper for equivalent venues in Berlin and, even excluding music bars, it is not uncommon for entry to be free or flexible (patrons pay as much or as little as they like). Similarly, artists are usually paid less in the German capital, leading some of them to avoid performing there, according to several of my interviewees. For example, a renowned artist of American noise music was paid almost three times more at Point éphémère (a popular music venue that receives support from the City of Paris) than at Urban Spree, an equivalent venue in Berlin that does not receive public support.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Opened in 2012, the Urban Spree Gallery and Hall is located in a building whose architecture and aesthetics are typical of the alternative imaginary associated with Berlin.

Source: Myrtille Picaud.

  • 5 Senatsverwaltung für Wirtschaft, Energie und Betriebe, Kurzinfo, Musikwirtschaft in Berlin, p. 2. [ (...)
  • 6 Data available online on the Berlin Senate website. [Online] [accessed on 5 December 2016].

13Thus, the cultural economies of the two cities are different, although various policies of culture-based economic development have been implemented in the German capital, such as the disputed Media Spree project, which provides for the establishment of businesses belonging to the “creative industries” along the banks of the Spree River. While 11% of music companies in Germany are currently based in Berlin,5 Paris is home to 29.4% of French culture industry employees (Insee Première, 2017). The majority of music employment in Berlin is within its classical music institutions (orchestras and halls). These receive strong public support: in 2014, the Berlin Senate distributed 40 million euros to various music projects, plus 135.3 million to the Opera House Foundation of Berlin.6 The highbrow genres (classical, opera, etc.) receive the lion’s share of funding (nearly 99% if we include the subsidy for operas). In Paris, subsidies for so-called musiques actuelles (a category that broadly speaking is equivalent to that of popular music) are higher, both in total and as a percentage of the total budget earmarked for music by the City Hall. The city’s Bureau of Music spends about one-fifth of the 40 million euros on popular genres (French chanson, rock, pop, rap, etc.), with the rest going to highbrow music. However, if we take into account national subsidies from the ministry of culture and communication, the percentage dedicated to the latter drastically increases: in 2015, the ministry spent a little more than 90% of the 305 million allocated on the highbrow genres. Thus, in both capitals, classical music receives more support from the public authorities, even if the imbalance is less marked in Paris than in Berlin.

14These elements make it possible to better understand the local history and specificities of the two subfields of music venues. As we shall see, they also shed light on the social conditions of structural autonomy within these subfields and the way in which this influences the autonomy of bookers, depending on local specifics in the division of labour.

2. Paris: Is the Professional Autonomy of Booking Threatened by the Rise of Economic Interests?

15Three main criteria (Bourdieu 2000; Buchholz 2016: 35) will be used to investigate the autonomy of the two music subfields: the existence of institutions specific to the field; a logic or a principle of vision particular to the space; and principles of categorization as well as hierarchies. I will first look at the structural autonomy of the Parisian subfield and then turn to how variations within it affect bookers’ autonomy.

16The ongoing struggles in the transnational music field are relatively visible in the Parisian music subfield: we can observe significant economic concentration and vertical integration, as in other cities (Chatterton & Hollands 2003). Music venues are operated by national and international event producers, record companies, and even multinational corporations, which use them to diversify their business portfolios. The investment of economic players in the subfield of music venues can be seen in their partnerships with venues—i.e. “branding,” when companies give their name to venues (for example, the Paris-Bercy Palais Omnisports is now called the AccorHotels Arena). It is also evident in the growing presence of companies such as Fimalac and Lagardère, both of which are listed on the stock exchange, among the operators of Parisian venues. Fimalac manages the Salle Pleyel (a large hall now dedicated to popular music), makes capital investments in concert production and management companies (Auguri), and has created a subsidiary dedicated to concert production and venue management (3S). This company, with turnover of about 166 million euros, has also invested in various ticketing services. Lagardère Unlimited Live Entertainment is a live events subsidiary that organizes tours of successful artists and musicals. It owns the Folies bergères, the Casino de Paris, 20% of the Zenith and 70% of the Bataclan—venues with average to large capacity that host popular music. The remaining 30% of the Bataclan is owned by a few smaller operators (Astérios and Alias), who also manage several other venues (Bouffes du Nord, Trois Baudets, etc.), while the Olympia is owned by Vivendi.

17These venues provide examples of institutions within the music subfield that are owned or operated by agents from the economic field. Some of these venues belong to the commercial pole of the Parisian subfield, while others operate according to a logic of peer recognition, which is more characteristic of the pole of small-scale production. These changes seem to have led to a growing similarity in their modes of operation. For artist management, promoters, and touring companies, operating several venues of varying sizes that are spread out geographically facilitates the circulation of musicians and the organization of profitable tours. Laurent X., a booker at a venue owned by one of the companies mentioned above, mentions this phenomenon:

In popular music, in France today, [in the category] of big touring agents, I believe there are only five who are not affiliated with a pension fund, a foreign multinational, or a record company […]. Now, when a Warner artist comes out, he’s not going to go to Asterios or Auguri, or to so-and-so, he’ll go to the promoters that are connected to the label. And these companies also own venues, so the aspect of looking for new acts, [the booker saying] “I would like to do such and such,” is a little biased, because now there are predetermined paths, where an artist enters the circuit and when they sign, it’s: “this will be your label, this will be your booker, and you will play these venues.” So, inevitably, faced with that—and it also affects venues—the independent side, that becomes a bit harder. (Laurent X., booker in several concert venues in France, including a mid-sized private rock, pop, electronic music, etc. venue in Paris, around 40 years old, business school training, parents are teachers, interview conducted in Paris on 09 September 2015).

18This concentration of the sector occurs through vertical integration and multiple ownership of venues, leading to “predetermined paths” that upset the traditional classificatory principles specific to the Parisian subfield of music venues. The latter is structured according to specific hierarchies that allocate acts to venues that are differentiated in terms of music selection, size, and age (Picaud 2015). Economic concentration and the practice of booking artists from the catalogue of the promoter who operates the venue call into question this distribution of artists according to venues’ symbolic capital. An economic principle competes with the specific logic of the subfield, marginalizing the task of booking in the selection of artists. Thus, the autonomy of bookers appears reduced.

  • 7 While music selection in Parisian venues is marked by the recurrence of certain artists or styles, (...)

19In rare cases—usually symbolically dominant and long-recognized venues that have only recently been purchased or changed operators—bookers manage to maintain greater professional autonomy. These are often intermediaries who have been part of the Parisian scene for many years, and most have acquired a strong reputation backed by their centrality in the professional networks in which they are key to controlling access to booking (Dutheil-Pessin & Ribac 2017). Profiting, in spite of everything, from the vertical integration that has come to dominate their profession, they are able to schedule artists whose fees have skyrocketed over the course of the 2010s. However, being in competition with the dominant market players leads some of them to focus on particular artists or music styles7 that are both recognized and profitable, thus contributing to the local homogenization of programming, in connection with the hierarchies of the transnational music field. This can be seen in the concentration of gigs of certain genres (rock, electronic music, pop) and on famous artists, often from the United States, the United Kingdom, or northern Europe and Germany. Thus, the increased structural heteronomy of the Parisian subfield of music venues is reflected in the convergence of music and economic criteria in assessing music value.

20Can we “therefore say that the pressure of market values contributes to diluting autonomy and professional expertise, or are these rather transformed when the group is subjected to exogenous forces?” (Boussard, Demazière, Milburn 2010: 65). Bookers define their work in terms of a monopoly on selection as well as control over the connection between artists and concert venues. Their work is not limited to that of gatekeepers (Shoemaker & Vos 2009), who are charged with allowing in or refusing what comes their way; they also play a role in producing music and defining its audience. In this respect, the autonomy of bookers seems threatened by economic concentration and vertical integration.

21Indeed, in venues operated by touring companies or event producers, artist selection can be decided by other intermediaries who work upstream of bookers. Bookers’ loss of monopoly over programming due to this division of labour as well as to increased managerial control (Champy 2009), evidenced by these selection criteria for artists, is likely to reduce their professional autonomy. Thus, some venues turn to renting their space to outside producers (Guibert & Sagot-Duvauroux 2014). In-house booking then tends to be reduced to looking for operators willing to rent the venue, organizing dates, etc. Such cases remind us that the institutionalization of programming work through the professional development of bookers is not straightforward. This form of institutionalization may in fact be in competition with the development of large-scale organizational systems; Andrew Abbott suggests that in such cases, specialist work is done by chains of non-professionals (1988: 324-326). In venues run by multinationals, these non-music professionals are usually called marketing or sales managers rather than bookers—a sign that they belong to another professional group. As in sectors where subcontracting is common, cascading directives between organizations (managers, bookers, local event producers, and sales managers) lead to a form of “controlled autonomy” (Appay 2005) on the part of venue sales managers. Since the rental system is based on the profitability of events, these intermediaries also belong to the least autonomous pole of the music venue subfield, where evaluation of music value is based on external demand rather than artistic criteria.

22The autonomy of the Parisian subfield is thus reduced, resulting in a transformation of the criteria by which music is evaluated and the increased presence of certain profitable styles and artists in the venues studied. The professional autonomy of bookers seems threatened by these phenomena, and the rise of economic interests is leading some of them to redefine their work and professional territory. Such redefinition may include adding management skills or participating in other segments of the intermediation system, such as concert promotion or tour organization. Jean M. asserts that

from my point of view, there is no legitimacy in [in-house booking] being a fully-fledged profession […] the artistic director who only does programming, for me that’s over, there is no future there, since you can’t separate booking from management. Because today you have to create your own resources with programming. (Jean M., booker, Parisian privately-owned average-sized classical music venue, 50 years old, masters in musicology and literature, father was an executive in a large car company, mother was a homemaker; interview conducted in Paris on 10 September 2014).

23The influence of economic criteria on the principles of vision and division of the Parisian subfield is reinforced, and its heteronomization also occurs through the subjective adaptation of bookers who monopolize managerial activities.

24Some bookers manage to reintroduce some leeway in music selection by circumventing economic logic. Thus, one electronic music booker at a large private club establishes direct and personal links with the bookers of a well-known Berlin club, whom she regularly visits. By bypassing other intermediaries, she hopes to get the exclusive right to book their artists in Paris, before her competitors can “flash their cheque book,” with which she cannot compete. Another booker has created his own event promotion company and organizes a festival,

where we take risks in the choices we make, and support the aesthetics of the artists we support. In short, we will never go ahead on a project by an artist who we are not a hundred per cent convinced of artistically. (Édouard T., medium-sized subsidized venue with various aesthetics including pop, rock, electronic, rap, chanson; booker in his forties; father a dentist, mother a homemaker; one degree in social science from a university and another in cultural management from a private school; interview conducted in Paris on 29 October 2015).

25This type of small-scale vertical integration is intended to compete with the vertical integration that occurs in larger venues. The public authorities, in particular the Paris City Hall, occasionally subsidize these companies or fund venues dedicated to a certain genre (for example, La Place and Trois Baudets, which are dedicated to hip hop and French chanson respectively). However, such actions by the public authorities remain occasional. While such funding guarantees more professional autonomy for the intermediaries whose venues are subsidized, it fails to strengthen the structural autonomy of the Parisian music subfield.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Flyer for a party at the Malibv, a small club in the basement of a restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris.

Source: Emanuela De Luca.

3. Berlin: Is the Structural Autonomy Bolstered by the Weakness of the Local Music Economy?

26Various major groups such as Universal Music began establishing themselves in Berlin in the early 2000s. Their presence is evidenced by the ongoing construction of the Mercedes Benz Platz, which hosts an arena of the same name that is owned by the multinational Anschutz Entertainment Group as well as a second venue belonging to a major insurance company. In addition, the multinational CTS Eventim operates the Waldbühne, a 50,000-seat outdoor arena. CTS Eventim also tried to acquire the Berlin-based event promoter Four Artists, but the acquisition was blocked in 2017 by the German competition authority. Despite these examples and the strong concentration of the German music market, a lower level of economic development seems to have hindered concentration in Berlin. As in the real estate sector, this situation is gradually changing, due in particular to public policies seeking to boost the economy on the basis of the cultural and IT sectors (Colomb 2012). Small venues may be operated by a single company; for example, Lido, Astra, and Bi Nuu share the same management, as do Festsaal, Paloma, and Monarch. Nevertheless, these companies are less profitable and have less national influence than their Parisian counterparts. Their longevity is threatened by Berlin’s relatively low standard of living compared with other major cities, as well as the fact that the fees paid to artists who tour internationally are growing significantly. In addition, some salaried bookers mention competition from other, sometimes rather large venues, which play similar music styles but have lower costs because they are run by volunteers or operate under the table, and whose buildings do not comply to legal standards.

  • 8 In the 1990s, many venues opened in vacant sites whose ownership was unclear. Many illegal bars wer (...)

27These “alternative” venues are relatively diverse. Some have a very short lifespan and their gigs mainly include artists who live in Berlin and are paid little. Others are older (dating from the early 1990s) and have significant symbolic capital because of their history and music selections. Non-profit venues, which are more numerous in Berlin, often fit this model. Some are counterparts to medium-sized, well-known Parisian venues that do not employ volunteers. Many of these Berlin venues convey a particular vision, which structures the hierarchies specific to the Berlin subfield. They profess an ideology of economic disinterestedness, which gives precedence to the refusal of any economic profit. This is linked to a vocational conception of artistic activity, as well as to the history of the “rebirth” of Berlin’s music subfield after the fall of the wall.8 The symbolic capital of some members makes their discourse very present, even if they are in the minority. It is reflected in particular by a refusal to make the organization of concerts profitable, and even sometimes a refusal to be compensated. The words of Anna R. and Konstantin K. are representative of this discourse:

There is like, you know, officially, money coming in and out, paying the rent and a separate account and this sort of stuff, but it’s like totally non-profit, we never distribute any kind of money to ourselves or pay ourselves. Because the biggest rule here is that nobody who is involved here earns money, so you keep your mind free to really do the things that are important, and you really put your heart to […] because if you start to pay yourselves out, then you become corrupt. You say, “Ok I take on another party just so I can earn a few hundred euros.” (Anna R., booker at a small non-profit venue in Kreuzberg that presents experimental music, promoter at an independent agency; 30 years old; masters in cultural management; father engineer; mother anonymous buyer; interview conducted in Berlin on 16 October 2013).

We always thought, or even though that is contested in the group, I must say, but in general, as a general rule, most of the people in the group, say or think, that it’s better to be volunteers and to like, work in a volunteer spirit with each other than sort of like, in a more corporate environment, where people get paid, and there’s a profit to be made. (Konstantin K., 45, booker at a very small, experimental, non-profit venue in Prenzlauer Berg, performs paid assignments in computer science; Abitur degree; father physicist and playwright, mother psychiatrist; interview conducted in Berlin on 18 November 2013).

28According to these bookers, since there is no requirement that the venue be profitable, the criterion of artistic evaluation is never subordinated to the economic criterion, or to that of external demand. The fact that booking is done by collectives whose members have a parallel paid activity allows for this repudiation of economic interest. The revenues generated pay the rent, and many artists perform there despite being paid little, since these venues have significant symbolic capital in Berlin. However, the corollary to this situation is low professional autonomy on the part of bookers. They have little room for manoeuvre with respect to their resources and the definition of their activity, which depends on the mobilization of collectives. Frequent turnover of collective members, which is also linked to the difficulty of making a living from this work, does not allow for a strong network of intermediaries. Weaker professional development in venue management also limits the diffusion of dominant criteria for assessing music value, which would allow for the economic rationalization of booking.

29The conditions of possibility of this structural autonomy are based on the weak economic constraints to which these venues are subjected, in particular with regard to the price of real estate. The few public subsidies that go to the freie Szene (independent scene) also allow venues whose music selection is recognized to survive in the medium term. These subsidies, which are very limited in amount, contribute little to the institutionalization of the independent scene, outside of classical music. The trajectories of intermediaries such as Konstantin K. are also part of the conditions of possibility of this structural autonomy. Aged 45, this booker lived in a squat in Prenzlauer Berg after the fall of the Wall. There, he was introduced to event organization and became familiar with experimental music, especially Berlin’s free jazz scene (Echtzeitszene), which continues to influence his vision of what a music venue should be. Individuals who entered the field in the late 2000s, even in alternative venues, have slightly different aspirations. Some promote disinterestedness as a guarantee of the music’s autonomy; this also corresponds to their difficulties finding music employment. Seeking to professionalize booking, they contest the principle of non-remuneration and the practices associated with it, fighting for greater professional autonomy. However, the weakness of the local music economy makes the careers of intermediaries difficult, and adopting the disinterested position allows them to make a virtue of necessity.

30In addition, these venues, operating on a collective model (one third of those surveyed), are not the only ones to base themselves on a logic that puts artistic before economic criteria. Such logic is also foregrounded by venues that are both renowned and economically profitable, even if it does not translate into a refusal to be remunerated. Florian F., booker at a well-known club in East Berlin, says:

What we do I think it’s not really, it’s kind of anti-music business. (45 years old; working-class parents; masters in music management; interview conducted in Berlin on 13 November 2013).

31This logic is embodied in institutions such as the Berlin Club Commission, which has around 200 members whose interests it promotes in different settings. While emphasizing the economic development of music activities, this commission defends a relatively exclusive view of “clubs”—not in terms of genre, but rather the non-commercial aspect of their activity. This vision structures the hierarchies of the music subfield and is proclaimed by these institutions as well as by different categories of venue.

32Weak professional development of booking has slowed down the generalization of economic criteria, thus contributing to the structural autonomy of the Berlin subfield. It has also limited the professional autonomy of a large percentage of bookers. Nevertheless, some of those working in well-known electronic music clubs have managed to stabilize their activity, by combining booking with managing labels and having “resident” artists. Some of them, such as the director of the iconic club Tresor, have participated in Berlin’s transnational exposure, creating music networks between cities and circulating artists who then become star performers. Their artists are sought after by bookers abroad and DJs want to play in their clubs, which the public flocks to. These venues are endowed with strong symbolic capital, which their collective efforts to highlight the “Berlin alternative sound” at the international level reinforce. The situation is similar in some classical music halls, whose symbolic capital is internationally re-convertible. The booker of one of the largest concert halls in Berlin explains that some foreign orchestras, with which connections have existed for decades, lower their fees in order to perform there. This allows him to maintain high quality programming that his budget would not otherwise allow for. Thus, as in Paris, the monopolization by some bookers of several segments of the intermediation system makes it possible to circumvent the economic constraints imposed by the international live music market. The link between structural autonomy and the professional autonomy of this specific group of bookers thus rests on Berlin’s dominant position in classical and electronic music in the transnational music field.


33We have seen that the professional autonomy of bookers and the structural autonomy of the field of music venues do not necessarily reinforce each other. The historical context of the formation of the subfield, local economic conditions, and professional configurations all affect how they are connected. In Paris, professional development has facilitated economic concentration within the music subfield. The investment of actors from the economic field transforms its logic, reinforcing the weight of economic criteria in selection, and thereby upsetting its hierarchies. While this relative loss of structural autonomy ultimately threatens the long-term existence of bookers, the most dominant of them temporarily preserve their professional autonomy thanks to the symbolic capital that the companies operating their venues can harness. In spite of this, the redefinition of their work through the addition of managerial activities or other intermediary work testifies to the rise of economic interests.

34In Berlin, the weaker professional development of booking, a lower cost of living, and a less developed cultural economy hamper the intervention of economic actors. The refusal to subordinate criteria of music evaluation to economic profitability, proclaimed by various groups of bookers, reinforces the structural autonomy of the music venue subfield. However, the survival of some of the venues depends on volunteer investment by individuals who make their living from other activities—something that is increasingly being challenged by the youngest intermediaries, who are trying to increase their professional autonomy. For now, this non-profit based form of operation has been maintained by the arrival of individuals attracted by the city’s international aura, who thus continue to compensate for the great weakness of public subsidies. In this context of a fragmented professional group, weaker professional autonomy seems to be one of the conditions of possibility for the structural autonomy of the Berlin subfield of music venues. The possibility of connecting structural and professional autonomy, as a minority of bookers have been able to do, is based on the city’s dominant position in the transnational music field for certain genres, such as electronic music.

35In both capitals, bookers trying to regain their professional autonomy without contributing to the rise of economic interests resort to monopolizing professional territories connected to the international circulation of artists. Thus, in analysing forms of professional autonomy as a function of the structural autonomy of a (sub)field, it seems necessary to include “vertical autonomy” in relation to the transnational field. This is particularly the case for highly internationalized objects such as music. The structural autonomy of the fields of live music in Paris and Berlin is thus linked to the interpenetration of the global music and economic fields. The position occupied by these two capital cities within the global music field, based on the symbolic capital accumulated by their venues and the mobilizations of their agents on a transnational scale, also influences the retranslation of issues at the local level.

36The heteronomy of the subfields of music venues plays out on two levels: in relation to the economic field and in relation to the overall field of music. The Berlin case is a striking example. The autonomy of its venues has contributed to the city’s international influence and to the spread of its emblematic architectural and music forms (techno, etc.). However, these symbols of autonomy have now been re-appropriated by economic actors in different cities, where industrial buildings and warehouses are exploited by event companies who implement high prices and represent a new pole of economic attractiveness. In turn, Berlin’s music subfield is undergoing profound changes. While these changes appear to announce its growing heteronomy with respect to the overall field of music, more broadly they highlight the repositioning within the economic field of a city that had been temporarily sidelined.

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1 Here I draw on the reflections proposed by Andrew Abbott and his concept of professional development (1988).

2 See also Gisèle Sapiro’s reflections on transnational fields (2013).

3 See, for example, Motti Regev’s analysis of “pop-rock” (2013).

4 Global music industry turnover has grown from $25.1 billion in 2002 to $16.1 billion in 2016. Source: Statista [online] [accessed on 30 August 2017].

5 Senatsverwaltung für Wirtschaft, Energie und Betriebe, Kurzinfo, Musikwirtschaft in Berlin, p. 2. [Online] [accessed on 6 November 2017].

6 Data available online on the Berlin Senate website. [Online] [accessed on 5 December 2016].

7 While music selection in Parisian venues is marked by the recurrence of certain artists or styles, according to Timothy Dowd, economic concentration of the music market does not necessarily lead to a decline in music diversity (expressed in terms of the proportion of new artists) if the organization of production is decentralized (2004). The transposition of his analysis to live music is, however, made more complex by the diversity of music genres, concert organization formats, and the restricted geographical scale, in which the audience pool is not infinitely extensible.

8 In the 1990s, many venues opened in vacant sites whose ownership was unclear. Many illegal bars were created by collectives of activists from far-left groups, who imported practices and values from the political field. This period remains central to the structure of the Berlin subfield today (Picaud 2017).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Légende Opened in 2012, the Urban Spree Gallery and Hall is located in a building whose architecture and aesthetics are typical of the alternative imaginary associated with Berlin.
Crédits Source: Myrtille Picaud.
Fichier image/jpeg, 559k
Titre Fig. 2
Légende Flyer for a party at the Malibv, a small club in the basement of a restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris.
Crédits Source: Emanuela De Luca.
Fichier image/jpeg, 381k
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Myrtille Picaud, « Transformations in Music Booking »Biens Symboliques / Symbolic Goods [En ligne], 4 | 2019, mis en ligne le 27 juin 2019, consulté le 07 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Myrtille Picaud

Sciences po/Centre d’études européennes (CEE)

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