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Working on a Dream: Careers of Pop Musicians in the Netherlands

By A.J. Zwaan


The studies presented in this dissertation are concerned with the question why a musician’s career can become a failure or a success. The central research question within this thesis is: What are the determinants of career success for Dutch pop musicians? The first study presents findings from a qualitative study among artist and repertoire (A&R) managers working in the Dutch music industry study that focuses on the career entry of musicians. These A&R managers are employed by record companies and form important intermediaries that can help progress musicians in their careers, as they are the ‘gatekeeper’ of the record company. As I will argue in this chapter, signing a deal with a record company is an important step in a musician’s career. Ten semi-structured, in-depth interviews form the basis of this study and the main research questions posed in this study include: 1) What factors influence the career success of musicians? 2) How do A&R managers go about in selecting new artists and what selection criteria do they apply? The respondents provided me with insights from their professional experience and this resulted in a list of characteristics that were said to be important factors in the careers of pop musicians. Although this study only focuses on the practices of the A&R manager, this kind of ‘creative manager’ is an example of the different intermediaries that can play a role in a musician’s career. The second study deals with a different kind of career entry, or perhaps a different kind of musical career. In this study the findings from a study on participants in the Idols talent competition are discussed. The successful television show Idols is set up around a talent competition where a large number of contestants compete to become the nation’s next Pop Idol. Contestants are selected by expert judges and audience voting determines the competition’s outcome. This study focuses on the question whether the contestants’ characteristics influence the outcome of the show. A sample of audition contestants (n = 369) and contestants who entered the final rounds (n = 27) completed a survey including questions on their background, personality and professional context. These two groups were compared in order to see if the group of finalists differed significantly from the group of audition contestants. In the third chapter findings from a cross-sectional study among a group of aspiring professional pop musicians (N = 340) are reported. These musicians responded to online questionnaires. The main objective of this study is to explore whether findings from earlier research in the field of career psychology as well as findings from studies on popular musicians and development of musical skills are applicable to the study of career success of popular musicians. A number of background and demographic variables, intrapersonal variables, and contextual variables are included in this study and using a hierarchical multiple regression I will discuss which of these variables can best explain the differences in career success within the group of musicians. The fourth study focuses on a longitudinal analysis of the careers of this group of pop musicians over a three-year period. In this study I distinguish between four groups of musicians with different career patterns: Upward careers, downward careers, stable unsuccessful careers and stable successful careers. Based on earlier research findings the influence of social support, professional attitude and professional network on the longitudinal career development of these four groups is studied. The study aims to find out how these groups differ from one another and what this tells us about the career development of popular musicians

Publisher: Utrecht University
Year: 2009
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