The Work Realities of Professional Studio Musicians in the German Popular Music Recording Industry

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Among the professional roles in the recording industry, studio musicians have perhaps received least academic attention. They are still one of the best kept secrets of popular music, a business centred around celebrity figures and recognisable characters (Williams 2010) in which the “interchangeable labourers” (Faulkner 1971) and “musical mercenaries” (MacLeod 1993) have no visible place.
The present study explored the work realities of professional studio musicians in Germany, one of the largest music industries worldwide, based on interviews with six pop musicians; guitarists, bassists, keyboarders and drummers aged between 27 and 66 years. The findings show how the changes in the recording industry, most notably the dwindling budgets, the rise of project studios and virtual collaboration, have affected working practices, skill requirements and business models. Twenty years ago, Skrepek (1994: 388) predicted the decline of the profession of studio musicians, “The job (…) has become obsolete, everything is computerised. (…) We are heading towards a future where machines are entertaining us”. The findings indicate that in Germany it is hardly possible anymore to live from studio work as a professional musician, even for the leading session players. Additional occupation becomes necessary and the few jobs available are fiercely contested. Sinking fees and the lack of access to royalties pose a problem, one not tackled due to the fierce competition and the risk of damaging one’s reputation.
Period6 Jun 2018
Held atLeeds Beckett University, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionRegional