Following the tragic suicide of Avicii (Tim Bergling) in 2018, many in the popular media, and reportedly the musician’s own family, were seen to question the ethics of decisions taken by his manager (
- music management
- mental health
- music industries
The relationship between a musician and their manager is one of the most central and crucial aspects in their careers. Music managers We use the terminology ‘music manager’ in this article drawing on the phrasing employed by the Music Manager’s Forum (MMF) and the European Music Managers Alliance (EMMA). As UK Music (2019) state, “
We use the terminology ‘music manager’ in this article drawing on the phrasing employed by the Music Manager’s Forum (MMF) and the European Music Managers Alliance (EMMA). As UK Music (2019) state, “
At the same time, the role of the music manager is one that has been widely stereotyped and negatively depicted in the media (Anderton et al., 2013). Dannen (1991) almost 30 years ago described the music business as an industry (in)famous for unethical and abusive practices. Indeed, the exploitative aspects of some managerial contracts are still widely recollected in the profession (Williamson, 2016), although some have tried to challenge this image (Rogan, 1988; Morrow, 2006). Following the tragic death of Avicii (real name Tim Bergling) in 2018, many in the popular media, and indeed reportedly Avicii’s own family, were seen to ask questions vis-à-vis the role and responsibilities of music managers to protect the mental and physical health of musicians (Williams, 2018; Ralston, 2018) This idea of what kind of ‘duty of care’ music managers have (or should have) has echoed debates from years earlier around the duty of care record companies have (or should have) following the death of Amy Winehouse (Lindvall, 2011).
This idea of what kind of ‘duty of care’ music managers have (or should have) has echoed debates from years earlier around the duty of care record companies have (or should have) following the death of Amy Winehouse (Lindvall, 2011).
There is a small body of academic literature interrogating the regulation of music management from a legal perspective (Hertz, 1988; Gilenson, 1990; O’Brien, 1992), but rather less considering this from an ethical or moral perspective. The work of Morrow (2013, 2018) has been a notable exception in this field, exploring what he has described, drawing on the work of Gino and Ariely (2012), as ‘
Music managers of course do not always behave dishonestly. Many are highly professional, dedicated to their artists, passionate about their work and heavily invested both emotionally and financially in their artists’ careers. There are many books written about ‘how to be’ a music manager (Allen, 2018; Weiss and Gaffney, 2012); however, there are a few academic studies that have sought to interrogate how and why music managers make the decisions that they do taking moral or ethical decision-making as their central focus (see the work of Hughes et.al (2014) on ‘duty of care’ for one of the few examples). In the wake of the death of Avicii, and in the context of the debates engendered by the literature outlined above on the nature of the musician–manager relationship, this article will seek to ask what constitutes ethical decision-making for music managers and what ethical guidelines or structures do they use when making their decisions? For instance, how do music managers weigh economic concerns of profitability (which for Fassin (2005) can drive non-ethical behaviour), against concerns for emotional and physical well-being? This was a tension viscerally illustrated following the death of Avicii, for example, when it was seen that his manager had facilitated bookings of more than 200 shows per year, playing several times a week, sometimes in two different cities on the same night (Ralston, 2018). With Bergling’s annual earnings exceeding $20 million (£15 m), what constituted a moral or ethical choice here, and indeed ethical for whom? By engaging with these questions, it is hoped that this study can contribute towards the literature examining the musician–manager relationship as well as encourage debate within the professional music industries about best practices for managers, notably in the aforementioned context of what has been described as ‘the mental health crisis’ (Dhillon, 2018) in the music industry among musicians.
The literature on corporate ethics from organisational and management studies has produced some of the most valuable models of ethical decision-making. This literature has also been helpful in providing key definitions, which will be adopted in this article. First, this article will adopt the definition of a ‘moral issue’ by Velasquez and Rostankowski (1985) cited in Jones (1991: 367):
In seeking to ascertain this, Rest (1986) proposed a four-stage model whereby agents must do the following: first, they recognise the existence of a moral issue that requires their deliberation; second, the reaching of a moral judgement following that period of deliberation; third, deciding upon the most appropriate course of action (what is called ‘moral intent’) and finally, implementing the decided upon moral behaviour. In response to this, and building on a range of ethical decision-making models from the field of marketing (including Ferrell and Gresham, 1985; Hunt and Vittell, 1986; Trevino, 1986 and Dubinsky and Loken, 1989), work on ‘Moral Intensity’ by Jones (1991) suggested that the first stage of Rest’s model—the recognition of the moral issue—was central. People must first recognise a moral issue before anything else takes place. Drawing on arguments from moral philosophy regarding moral responsibility based on proportionality (Wirtenberger, 1962), Jones’ model focussed on how moral agents make sense of moral issues, as opposed to earlier models which focussed only on the agents themselves, to suggest that
The intention of this model was to identify components of ethical decision-making and behaviour, and that further empirical research was required to specify the relationship between the moral intensity constructs and adopted behaviours. Consequently, over the following decades, researchers have employed this model as the basis of ethical decision-making (Robin, Reidenbach and Forrest, 1996; Singhapakdi, Vitell and Kraft, 1996; Chia and Mee, 2000; Karacaer, et al., 2009). However, despite the increase in interest in corporate ethics and the application of ethical decision-making models in many industries, with reference to the music industries, ethical matters have tended to focus on issues of legal representation (Krasilovsky and Meloni, 1990), conflicts of interest vis-à-vis contractual relationships (Gilenson, 1990) or the ethics of music piracy (Shang, Chen and Chen, 2008; Coyle et al., 2009). No empirical investigation has been conducted concerning ethical decision-making processes employed by music managers in their daily professional lives, and certainly not one employing the moral intensity framework. In the wake of the death of Avicii, it is crucial that this question is confronted. Therefore, this article will employ Jones’ (1991) methodological approach to engage with the following research question: How do music managers identify ethical issues and make moral choices?
Data were collected through a scenario-based questionnaire—an approach commonly used as a research instrument in business ethics studies focussed on examining ethical judgements and intentions (Singhapakdi and Vitell, 1990; Banerjee, Cronan and Jones, 1998). According to Alexander and Becker (1978), the use of scenarios helps to standardise social stimulation across participants, making the decision-making situation more ‘real’. Three scenarios were developed, and an action was proposed. Scenario C was included as a ‘neutral’ premise to determine whether participants would differentiate moral intensity across the scenarios.
These scenarios and actions were presented to six music managers based in London (UK) drawn from our professional network and through introductions generously made by a former senior figure of a music managers’ organisation. After considering the scenarios, participants completed a questionnaire of eight statements with Likert-type scales for responses adapted from prior research by Singhapakdi, Vitell and Kraft (1996). Statements 1 and 2 were devised to measure ethical perception and ethical intention, respectively, while statements 3–8 were devised to measure dimensions of moral intensity (Jones, 1991) where a single statement was adapted to measure each component as per earlier research by Singer (1996). These statements were:
‘The situation above involves an ethical problem’. High scores would indicate relatively high levels of moral recognition and ethical perception. ‘I would act in the same manner as the manager did in the above scenario’. Agreement with the manager’s depicted action indicates less ethical intention than disagreement does, meaning that respondents’ ethical intentions are ‘less ethical’ when they agree. ‘The overall harm (if any) done as a result of the manager’s action would be very small’—to measure Magnitude of Consequences (Jones, 1991) ‘Most people would agree that the manager’s action is wrong’—to measure Social Consensus (ibid) ‘There is a very small likelihood that the manager’s action will actually cause any harm’—to measure Probability of Effect (ibid) ‘The manager’s actions will not cause any harm in the immediate future’—to measure temporal immediacy (ibid) ‘If the artist is a personal friend of the manager, the action is wrong’—to measure proximity (ibid) ‘The manager’s actions will harm very few people (if any)’—to measure Concentration of Effect (ibid). Higher scores on questions 3–8 would imply a scenario that was understood to be more ‘morally intense’ than the others.
‘The situation above involves an ethical problem’. High scores would indicate relatively high levels of moral recognition and ethical perception.
‘I would act in the same manner as the manager did in the above scenario’. Agreement with the manager’s depicted action indicates less ethical intention than disagreement does, meaning that respondents’ ethical intentions are ‘less ethical’ when they agree.
‘The overall harm (if any) done as a result of the manager’s action would be very small’—to measure Magnitude of Consequences (Jones, 1991)
‘Most people would agree that the manager’s action is wrong’—to measure Social Consensus (ibid)
‘There is a very small likelihood that the manager’s action will actually cause any harm’—to measure Probability of Effect (ibid)
‘The manager’s actions will not cause any harm in the immediate future’—to measure temporal immediacy (ibid)
‘If the artist is a personal friend of the manager, the action is wrong’—to measure proximity (ibid)
‘The manager’s actions will harm very few people (if any)’—to measure Concentration of Effect (ibid). Higher scores on questions 3–8 would imply a scenario that was understood to be more ‘morally intense’ than the others.
Following this, in the second section of the task, managers were asked a series of open questions regarding the scenarios as well as about their thoughts and feelings during the decision-making process. To maintain consistency among participants, the same questions were asked of all respondents but room for space and flexibility in a semi-structured construct was afforded—an approach consistent with the Moral Judgement Interview procedure (Elm and Weber, 1994). These interviews were then coded for keywords to inform analysis using grounded theory to produce a series of qualitative findings.
Of the six music managers who participated the mean age was 32 years old, ranging from 25 to 48 years old. Four identified as male, one as female, and one as non-binary. The average years of experience were 8.9 years, where the mean education level was a postgraduate degree. Half of the respondents suggested their main genre was rock music. Figure 1 above outlines the profile of the participants.
Each of the three moral intensity scenarios is explored in the following sections in turn and the analysis for each scenario is split into two components. The first quantitatively assesses the manager’s scores in the moral intensity test. The findings suggest that music managers display ethical intention and therefore acknowledge and are aware of the ethical nature of their decision-making and seek to make ethical decisions. The second component is a qualitative examination of the findings from the interview section of the task. The findings suggest that music managers use two key devices—open and honest face-to-face conversations and an awareness of relationships—which act as the prisms through which they negotiate a series of moral and ethical tensions specific to the scenario in question.
In the first scenario, a moral environment was devised whereby the ethical decision concerned the care of the musician. In this case, the music manager needed to weigh the consequences of accepting (or not) an offer from an agent about an important opportunity to continue a tour for a few more weeks, with the possibility that the extension might affect the mental and/or physical health of his or her artist. This scenario was, at least in part, informed by debates regarding a music manager’s ‘duty of care’ implicit in media discussions following the death of Avicii.
The results of the questionnaire to explore ethical perception, ethical intention and the six components of moral intensity for the first scenario are given in Figure 2. For ‘Ethical Perception’, a higher mean indicates that the scenario is perceived to present a greater ethical problem. In this case, the ‘Ethical Perception’ mean (
The questions surrounding moral intensity help us to better understand the specific factors which inform music manager’s decision-making. In this scenario, ‘Proximity’ (
Five out of six of the managers interviewed made reference to the central role that ‘a conversation’ would play. Keywords coded here included
These two devices—open and honest conversations and an understanding of relationships—were the methods by which managers suggested that they would negotiate a series of key ethical and moral tensions. The first of these concerned the impact of their decision on what they referred to as ‘quality’. Here, managers expressed their concern about the quality of the artist’s performance if the tour were to continue without interruption. Even though interviewees understood that this was an important opportunity financially on the one hand, they expressed an awareness that if the artist needed a break but continued with the tour anyway there was a possibility that the quality of the performance might be impaired, on the other hand. This might lead both to possible damage to the artist’s image and to the fan experience. This impact on quality was balanced against what the interviewees felt could be the impact on money. Here, the potential profit earned from the booking was weighed against the potential for a loss of earnings in the future if the artist struggled and was unable to perform live. Finally, two of the six interviewees suggested that they would use conversations and relationships to evaluate the tension between the career development of the musician weighed against the potential impact of the decision on the musician’s mental health. This was framed by one manager in the context of ‘sacrifice’ and was not necessarily the most important concern among interviewees, but some respondents were certainly aware of it.
The second scenario concerned an ethical dilemma wherein the unethical action was being taken by the musician themselves—an allegation of domestic violence—before an important tour is about to start. Here, the manager must weigh the consequences of continuing the tour or not given an action taken by the musician, which is suggested to be affecting others, and which may have legal repercussions.
Again, a high mean score for ‘Ethical Perception’ (
As per the previous scenario, Proximity (
As per Scenario 1, the role of conversations and the strength of relationships were key tools for managers in negotiating ethical tensions, reflecting the findings from the questionnaire component of the study. Managers expressed that they would start a conversation either with the musician or with their wife to understand the situation, in which factors such as the recurrence of the act or the possibility for it to happen again would affect the decision of whether or not to continue with the tour. Some respondents suggested that the closeness of the relationship with the artist could be a complicating factor insofar as it might blur boundaries between being a ‘manager’ and being a ‘friend’, problematising issues of professionalism. It was suggested that decision-making would be different depending on the kind of relationship with the wife too, suggesting that if the manager did not know the wife particularly well they might be more likely to ‘let things pass’ until after the tour. If this were not the case, it was suggested that action would be immediate.
As per Scenario 1, precisely what the nature of the ‘moral action’ (Rest, 1986) would be was dependent upon the negotiation of a series of tensions. One of these has already been seen—the tension between being a manager and being a friend. A second key tension concerned what was described as ‘personal values’—in this case feeling strongly about domestic violence being morally wrong—clashing with a desire to keep working and further both the manager’s own career but also crucially to protect the musician too. Another key concern was the role that the press might play. This was expressed by four of the six interviewees. On the one hand, these music managers suggested that they would try to deal with the situation as far as possible away from the press and media to protect both their career and their artist even if the action was not morally ‘right’. On the other hand, the involvement of the media (or social media) was complicated by personal values held by the manager that the action was wrong.
A final tension explored by managers was the weighing up of whether the tour the artist was about to embark on was local and therefore less important or international and therefore crucial. Respondents weighed this against the illegality of the action. It was suggested that if the tour was extremely important to the musician’s career this could potentially override concerns held regarding the potential illegality of the accused action, supporting ideas from Morrow (2018) regarding ‘moral flexibility’ among music managers.
In this scenario, respondents were asked to confront a decision regarding whether or not to dismiss the drummer of a band that was not accomplishing the minimum standards, and therefore affecting the band’s live performance and future opportunities. This scenario was offered as a neutral scenario.
As anticipated, the result for ‘Ethical Perception’ in this third scenario (
Due to the nature of the decision contemplated in this scenario, and contrary to the previous two scenarios, ‘Social Consensus’ (
As per the two previous scenarios, it was suggested that conversations were crucial in decision-making. It was suggested that managers would adopt what they called a ‘Three Strikes Rule’. First, they would speak to the drummer to understand why he or she was not performing well and see if there was a way to help. Second, they would explain the consequences of his or her behaviour and warn them that if they do not improve, they might be dismissed. Third, the conversation would be with the band to discuss what to do with the drummer. They suggested that ultimately the music manager would not make the decision, but the band. Keywords coded were
This small-scale study represents an attempt to assess how music managers engage in ethical decision-making across three hypothetical scenarios. Three general conclusions stand out which will inform the discussion below.
First, music managers do acknowledge ethical problems evidenced in the mean scores for ‘Ethical Perception’ and seek to make ethical choices evidenced in the mean scores for ‘Ethical Intention’. This lends some degree of support to writers such as Rogan (1988) and Morrow (2006) who have sought to combat negative conceptualisations of music managers. However, the extent to which the managers who participated in this small study are necessarily representative of music managers more generally is debatable. Certainly, those who took part had a high level of educational qualification, were relatively young (the majority being under 40 years old) and did not represent a broad genre base.
The managers in this study suggested that following the recognition of a moral issue, ethical decision-making was dependent upon the identification and negotiation of
As per the findings from the interview component of the study, music managers engage in a one-on-one conversation with their artist as a first step of the ethical decision-making process (what Rest (1986) would refer to as the deliberation of ‘moral intent’ and implementation of ‘moral behaviour’). This behaviour suggests that ethical decision-making relies almost entirely on the subjective interaction between parties outside the parameters of a conventional workplace. That is, conversations can be seen as the source of non-institutionalised decision-making. This engendered a discussion in interviews vis-à-vis what constitutes professionalism and who is deciding what is and is not professional. It was striking that even though some of the music managers who took part in this study worked in management companies, none of them turned to formal company guidelines to support their processes, and none of them acknowledged any kind of institution such as the Music Managers Forum (MMF) for this same purpose.
Informality in decision-making is not necessarily a bad thing. Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2011: 88) suggest the creative industries tend to attract people who “
The moral intensity test completed by the managers who participated in this study suggested that ethical decision-making processes were greatly informed by two key dimensions of Jones’ (1991) moral intensity framework. The first of these was ‘Proximity’ i.e., the nearness the person who makes a moral decision feels toward the target of the unethical act, and, crucially ‘Social Consensus’ i.e., the awareness of the acceptability or unacceptability of an act. The centrality of interpersonally mediated ethical negotiation i.e., the key role of conversations, and the high mean scores obtained for the ‘Proximity’ and ‘Social Consensus’ dimensions in the moral intensity test, are informing us that music manager’s decision-making processes are taken within a cultural, political and environmental context—a context that music managers are acutely and keenly aware of. That is, the finding that managers articulate their moral intention within, and based on an awareness of, a social and cultural context, suggests that processes of cultural change, as opposed to formalised regulatory change, are likely to be powerful agents in guiding music manager’s ethical choices.
What does this mean in practical terms vis-à-vis guiding managers and helping them make ethical choices? On an immediate level, ensuring that those of us who educate the next generation of music managers place issues, such as mental health and well-being, prominently within the design of our curriculum is a good starting point. This is particularly salient in the context of this paper as Chaparro was a student of Musgrave’s at the University of Westminster and is now a music manager himself in Latin America. However, not all managers come through formal educational training, and therefore concepts like moral leadership which have been powerfully adopted in educational settings (Sergiovanni, 1992; Greenfield, 2004) and in business ethics (Gini, 1997), might be a potent source of influence i.e., older managers and respected figures in the wider music industries guiding the decisions of younger managers by the public example they set. Finally, as per the work of the managers in this study, conversations are key. It is hugely encouraging to note that the professional music industries have, in recent years, taken seriously a number of key ethical and moral challenges likely to be faced by managers in their professional lives from sexual harassment at live events (Hill et.al, 2019), to the representation of women (Bain, 2019), the challenges of touring (Cizek et.al, 2016) and issues of mental health among musicians (Gross and Musgrave, 2020). Those of us working and researching in these fields must keep up this work to shape the workplace we all live and work within.
The findings of this article have suggested that the music managers in this study are ethically and morally aware—they are ‘moral agents’ in Rest’s (1986) terminology—but that their moral intent is negotiated in a noninstitutionalised framework free from an acknowledgement of formal guidelines. Within this, the key decision-making nexus takes place in the form of a conversation between parties whose status as either a ‘friend’ or a ‘professional colleague’ is extremely blurred. At the same time however, the music managers in this study were keenly aware of the social norms and context within which their decision-making took place as seen in their mean scores for Jones’ (1991) concept of ‘Social Consensus’. This suggests that perhaps what is required is not regulatory change (which would be difficult to articulate, problematic to enforce, and the findings here suggest likely to lack influence), but
This study acts as only an introductory sketch to allow us to think more critically about the musician–manager relationship from an ethical or moral perspective. However, the relative standardisation of the research methodology might provide a helpful basis for other researchers interested in this topic and could allow the research design to be employed in other contexts and with larger or different samples. As was illustrated following the suicide of Avicii, understanding the complex dynamic between musicians and their managers is a vital task, and one where the answers are rarely simple, the evidence rarely clear and the outcomes rarely subtle. It is hoped that this article might be a preliminary step in opening up this conversation.