(IN)VISIBLE ENTREPRENEURS: HOW YOUNG PEOPLE USE THE URBAN MUSIC ECONOMY TO CREATE WORK AND GENERATE WEALTH
INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR FELLOW: MAY 2015 – APRIL 2016
Joy received her PhD from the University of Greenwich in 2014.
Her forthcoming research monograph, (In)visible Entrepreneurs: How Young People Use the Urban Music Economy to Create Work and Generate Wealth, is based on her doctoral research on enterprise in the urban music economy.
My thesis contends that the NEET category obscures the significant impact of the accomplishments of those who operate in the informal creative economy. Grime music, a black Atlantic creative expression, is used as a lens through which to explore and analyse the nature of entrepreneurship within this sector. East London, a site of poverty, movement and migration is the geographical starting point for the project.
Over a five-year period from 2007 – 2012, ethnographic field research was carried out in London and Ayia Napa, Cyprus. Forty semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants in the sector. In addition, participant observation was undertaken in various settings including pirate radio stations, nightclubs and music video shoots.
The global reach of those who operate within the urban music sector has a significant socioeconomic impact. Practitioners utilise advances in technology as well as innovative business practice to create opportunities for self-employment on a local, national and international scale. Grime music and its related enterprise culture is a mechanism for social and economic mobility particularly for those from ethnically stigmatised communities.
My original contribution to knowledge is an ethnographic critique of the concept of the NEET using case studies of Grime music and it offers a way to explore the education, employment and training that people in this NEET category are engaged in.
The findings disrupt existing strategies to deal with youth unemployment and argues for a reworking of existing policy initiatives for tackling youth unemployment, and the NEET issue, to take into account actual activity, rather than imagined inactivity.
The Research Idea
I would like to prepare a monograph for publication based on the five year ethnographic research project that I have completed. Details of this are outlined in the abstract.
My research is concerned with the invisible entrepreneurs participating in the informal creative economy in east London. Invisible because, to borrow a phrase from Loic Wacquant, they belong to a stigmatised community, in this case, they are young, black and poor (Wacquant 2007). Furthermore, poor young people are often categorised as NEET, that is aged between 16 and 24 and Not in Education, Employment, or Training (Chandler & Barrett 2013).
The NEET category disguises and obscures the significance of the diverse range of activities, achievements and accomplishments of those who operate in the informal creative economy. The inherent contradictions and questions that emerge from an exploration of the Grime music scene, in particular, allows for a more complex reading of the socio-economic significance of urban music. In this research project I take more than a hurried glance at constructions of entrepreneurship in a sector that traditionally has had little attention from the academy (Wacquant 2007). I negotiate the woven complexities of how this economy operates and examine the ecology that enables a certain mobility and reinvention of the practitioners to take place. This transformative aspect of participation in the urban music economy is also an underexplored area within the academy.
In the United Kingdom almost one million young adults are unemployed and tackling the NEET problem has remained a key youth policy since 1997 (MacDonald 2011, p.430). The global recession that began 2008 and continued until 2009 combined with the subsequent economic slowdown contributed to unemployment in the UK rising to levels that had not been experienced since the early 1980s.
However, young people from impoverished backgrounds moving between unemployment and low paid, poor quality work or training schemes, is not a novel situation. It comes out of a long term pattern that has been the lived experience for previous generations of older workers from poor areas (Shildrick et al. 2010). What has changed now is that the low paid, therefore, lesser quality work that is still available requires increasing levels of qualification.
Therefore, those that do not acquire the necessary standard of qualification are more likely to be excluded from the world of work. For the young this means that they are less likely to make the transition into adulthood. Reducing the numbers of those who are classified as NEET therefore has been a key youth policy for successive governments during the last fifteen years (Shildrick et al. 2010; LSN 2009; Lee & Wright 2011; A. Cunningham 2012). Youth unemployment, while it had been a matter of concern in the UK since the last instance of mass unemployment in the 1980s, became a more pressing political issue with the global financial crisis in 2008.
In east London, the informal creative economy is a repository for young people who are categorised as NEET. Grime music is a cornerstone of the urban music economy and it has broken free of its east London origins to have a global presence. The organising framework for this project is Paul Gilroy’s concept of the black Atlantic, particularly as it relates to the transnational and borderless flow of black creative expression such as Grime (Gilroy 1996). Grime music, a black Atlantic creative expression, is used as a lens through which to explore and analyse the nature of entrepreneurship within this sector. East London, a site of poverty, movement and migration is the geographical starting point for the study.
The national and global reach of those who operate within the urban music sector has a significant socio-economic impact. Practitioners utilise advances in technology as well as innovative business practice to create opportunities for self-employment on a local, national and international scale. Grime music and its related enterprise culture is a mechanism for social and economic mobility particularly for those from ethnically stigmatised communities. I contend that the activities of these individuals disrupts the accepted interpretation of NEET as a category of deficit and proposes a reconfiguration of current definitions regarding who is an entrepreneur and what constitutes entrepreneurship.
Theory & Evidence Base
Far from being a highly localised, niche creative practice, the act of creating Grime music propels its practitioners out into the world and away from ‘the ends’ or impoverished urban areas. How the informal creative economy co-exists with, and is embedded within, the formal sector and how practitioners apply their informal learning in practice is explored by using Ayia Napa as a case study. How music and its by-products have enabled markets to be created and developed and primary and secondary business activities to take place is examined in detail with particular reference to those categorised as NEET.
From the fieldwork undertaken in London and Cyprus, entrepreneurial activity in evidence included; an online TV channel, music video production, clothing lines, a SIM card for a mobile phone network, record labels, event promotion and an internet radio station. The perceived split between formal and informal economy is empirically examined within the context of the urban music economy. The significance (or otherwise) of formal learning and educational attainment of those within the sector are examined.
By highlighting the types of business activities that are in evidence and the significance, if any, of educational attainment, this project challenges notions of entrepreneurship by foregrounding a sector that traditionally has had little attention from the academy. It negotiates the woven complexities of how this economy operates and examines the ecology that enables a certain mobility and transformation of the practitioners to take place.
My research project had three key objectives; firstly, to identify existing formal qualifications, secondly, to explore the learning choices of those within the sector and the learning opportunities within the urban music economy and finally to identify ways to harness the skills, talents and energy of these participants and translate that into formal qualifications and legitimate business pursuits.
The research question therefore lent itself to an ethnographic approach as it is primarily concerned with the experience of being in and participating in a particular social world – in this case the informal urban music economy. Key examples of ethnographic practice informed the research design and sampling strategy.
The methodology used consisted of a literature review, internet research, semi structured interviews, participant observation and the collection and archiving of selected merchandise and promotional material. As well as a library of photographs, I also have ‘behind the scenes’ film footage of a model shoot, a pirate radio station as well as two music videos. I have created a forty minute film documenting the urban music scene in Ayia Napa, Cyprus – ‘Making it Funky’ (White 2013b). Forty interviews were carried out over a five year period with respondents who are involved in the most common aspects of the urban music industry: artists/performers, event promoters, sound engineers, music producers, models and filmmakers.
Specific aspects of the research project in terms of entrepreneurship, mobility and identity have been disseminated through presentations at the following conferences:
2014 University of Antwerp 3rd International Research Conference on the Cultural and Creative Industries ‘(In)visible entrepreneurs: Creative enterprise in the urban music economy’. Publication details are listed below
2013 Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey – CREATE, ACT, CHANGE 5th International Digital Storytelling Conference ‘Moving With The Times: A Digital Story of Identity, Reinvention and Exit’
2011 Stanford University – Forum for African Studies ‘From Rhythm and Blues to Grime: Black Atlantic Exchanges and the Performance of Identity’
2010 University of Greenwich – School of Humanities and Social Sciences Postgraduate conference ‘Making it Funky: How the formal music economy is embedded with and shaped by informal enterprise and activity’
2009 University of Reading – Journey Across Media ‘Reppin’ Black Masculinities: Channel U, YouTube and the Alternative Creative Economy’
2008 University of Greenwich – School of Humanities and Social Sciences Postgraduate conference ‘The Informal Creative Economy: Mapping the Grime Scene in East London.’
‘(In)visible entrepreneurs: Creative enterprise in the urban music economy’ in Beyond frames: dynamics between the creative industries, knowledge institutions and the urban context Annick Schramme, Rene Kooyman and Giep Hagoort (6 Jun 2014)
I have posted a video on YouTube as part of my ethnographic method. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kmm-jZy2Bbg
‘(In)visible entrepreneurs: Creative enterprise in the urban music economy’ and ‘From Rhythm and Blues to Grime: Black Atlantic Exchanges and the Performance of Identity’ are available on www.academia.edu
The NEET category is the latest in a long line of classifications that is used to position young people from ethnically stigmatised communities at the margins of society. It is a designator of deficit in that it classifies people by what they are not doing or taking part in; education, employment or training. Therefore what they are doing is rarely recorded. Yet within proximate view, these maligned urban environments are a locus for an abundance of entrepreneurial activity and spirit (Sköld & Rehn 2007). The very narrow debate regarding gang related and knife crime among inner city youth ignores the complex layers of activity carried out by young people in these geographical locations (Sergeant 2009a; Bennett & Holloway 2004; De Castella 2007).
It is clear from the research that the urban music industry in these locations is on the ground and highly visible. From my detailed ethnographic study, it is evident that entrepreneurship and self-employment provides new jobs, business start-up and economic movement for young people operating in the urban music economy. This micro-entrepreneurship can offer a bottom-up method for generating an income, self-reliance and a new, innovative path to earning a living (Schoof 2006). This research project provides evidence that will support interdisciplinary perspectives on tackling youth unemployment.
What I Hoped to Do
I wanted to prepare a monograph for publication based on the five-year ethnographic research project that I completed for my PhD.
What I Did
Prior to writing the book, I approached several publishers and Routledge agreed to publish it. The title of the book changed from the original idea. It is now entitled: Urban Music and Entrepreneurship: Beats, Rhymes and Young People’s Enterprise. The informal support that I received from Paul Gilroy during the writing process was invaluable.
Book Launch: Urban Music and Entrepreneurship: Beats, Rhymes and Young People's Enterprise
19th October 2016
On 18th October, Routledge published my book Urban Music and Entrepreneurship: Beats, Rhymes and Young People’s Enterprise – the first book to foreground and develop a complex reading of the socio-economic significance of urban music with particular reference to grime. This book is the culmination of five years of fieldwork – including interviews and ‘behind the scenes’ observation in the UK and in Cyprus.
While there is no obvious link between Dame Judi Dench and the grime music scene, the key lies in the entrepreneurial, DIY spirit of the urban music economy. It is this DIY character that Skepta alluded to when he won the Mercury Music prize last month. He stated: “With no record label we just travelled the world.”
The book launch, featuring a live set from acclaimed grime pioneer DJ MakTen, took place on 19th October. The launch was made possible by a grant from the ISRF. This meant that I could host a drinks reception at The Nunnery, a perfect location because it is in Bow – east London, the accepted birthplace of grime. It also provided an opportunity to show my field documentary “Making it Funky”, for the first time. Bandit, a veteran DJ and MC in the urban music economy, proved to be a fine host. Bandit facilitated a lively discussion with the author and a very diverse audience that included, musicians, academic, undergraduate students, PhD candidates, actors and youth workers. I wanted to show the urban music economy in action and the £500 from the ISRF fund enabled me to put together a launch that was in keeping with the themes of the book and the original research.
Photographs from Marcus Hessenberg expertly captured the ‘vibe’ of the evening:
Joy was the first recipient of a grant from the ISRF Book Launch Fund, which offers existing or previous ISRF Fellows one grant of up to £500 towards the cost of holding an event at which their book is launched.
Monograph: Urban Music and Entrepreneurship
Beats, Rhymes and Young People’s Enterprise
Published: October 2016 | © 2016 – Routledge
Youth unemployment in the UK remains around the one million mark, with many young people from impoverished backgrounds becoming and remaining NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). However, the NEET categorisation covertly disguises and obscures the significance of the diverse range of activities, achievements and accomplishments of those who operate in the informal creative economy.
With grime music and its related enterprise a key component of the urban music economy, this book employs the inherent contradictions and questions that emerge from an exploration of the grime music scene to build a complex reading of the socio-economic significance of urban music. Incorporating insightful dialogue with the participants in this economy, White challenges the prevailing wisdom on marginalised young people, whilst also confronting the assumption that the inertia and localisation of the grime culture results from its close links to NEET “members” and the informal sector.
Offering an ethnographic and timely critique of the NEET classification, this compelling book would be suitable for undergraduate and post-graduate students interested in urban studies, business, work and labour, education and employment, ethnography, music, and cultural studies.
Conference Paper: Crossing borders, moving on: the urban music economy as a transformative realm
“It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at”: International Hip Hop Studies Conference
University of Cambridge | 23rd – 24th June 2016
Grime music is an intrinsic component of the urban music economy. Operating in this sector provides opportunities for entry into creative work. Despite being a significant economic sector in the UK, the creative and cultural industries remain, for the most part, overwhelmingly white and middle class and therefore closed to young people from poor areas. It is within this context that the urban music economy is posited as a transformative realm where new identities can be created. As practitioners metamorphose into brands in order to pursue their creative dreams within a ‘common sense’ neoliberal framework, the apparently seamless connection between commerce and culture is discussed and explored.
Conference Paper: Crossing borders, moving on: the urban music economy as a transformative realm
New Urban Multicultures: Conviviality and Racism Conference
Goldsmiths, University of London | 17th May 2016
In the UK, social mobility is at its lowest for decades. At the same time, while the creative and cultural industries are of growing economic significance, the sector remains overwhelmingly white and middle class (CBI 2013; Neelands et al. 2015). An individualised, market approach to inequality informs policies aiming to raise the aspirations of young people from impoverished backgrounds. Yet, for some, rendered almost invisible by a discourse about aspiration that is both classed and racialised, the urban music economy offers a passage to social mobility.
With a specific focus on Grime music, this paper discusses how the urban music economy operates as a transformative realm. It considers how, for young people from multicultural areas, participation in the urban music economy allows for transformation, reinvention and mobility. The urban music economy exists as a convivial space – albeit one that is contingent and fluid. It is a cultural intermezzo where young people of Caribbean, African and English heritage work together; crossing borders and drawing on global and local influences to create music that has an international reach (Back 1996, p.4). An exploration of the cultural dynamics of the Grime music scene provides a partial view of the cultural dynamics of everyday life in a contemporary urban environment.
Conference Paper: Beats, Rhymes and Enterprise: The Global Market for UK Urban Music
Blackness in Britain Conference
Birmingham City University | 30-31 October 2015
The Blackness in Britain conference series is concerned with the past and future histories and narratives of Black populations in the UK and the wider African diaspora. In our second interdisciplinary conference we invite scholars, intellectuals and activists to examine how Black British intellectual life has been influenced by African American scholarship. Despite the absence of Black Studies programmes in British Universities, Black communities in the UK have a long history of community activism that has been deeply engaged with the scholarship of Black America. From as early as the Pan-African Congress 1945 to current day community and online activism, Black individuals and communities in Britain have created dynamic intellectual spaces outside of the academy to engage in debates and to organise political activity around the ideas of Black Feminism, Black Nationalism, Black theology, Black Psychology, Afrocentricity, Pan- Africanism and Garveyism in order to resist and strategize against, imperialism, colonialism and racialised forms of oppression.
Conference Paper: Controlling the Flow: How Urban Music Videos Allow Creative Scope and Permit Social Restriction
BSA Early Career Theorists’ Symposium
Goldsmiths, University of London | 30-31 October 2015
Early career sociologists present and discuss their work in relation to sociological theory. Steph Lawler (York), Manali Desai (Cambridge), and Les Back (Goldsmiths) will be discussants.
Conference Paper: "Just Type My Name in Google and See What Comes Up”: Creating an Online Persona in The Urban Music Industry
85th Annual Meeting – Eastern Sociological Society
NY Millennium Broadway Hotel | 26 February – 1 March 2015