The composition of precarity: 'emerging' composers' experiences of opportunity culture in contemporary classical music

Neil Smith, Rachel Thwaites*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Web of Science)


This paper examines the precarious working lives of ‘emerging’ composers attempting to build a career in the world of new classical music in the UK. This topic is approached by considering the ‘composition opportunity’, success in which is seen as an important element in ‘making it’ in this sphere. We argue that such schemes in fact manifest a crucial tension in the nature of artistic labour, and are, at the very least, problematic in their function as conduits towards full professional identity. They may instead act to maintain the precarious working situation of composers in a neoliberal age. The working lives of artists are all too rarely illuminated, and new music composers are no exception; this survey of 47 emerging composers is the largest study of such individuals in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-609
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number2
Early online dateFeb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Composers
  • Contemporary Music
  • neoliberalism
  • precarity
  • professionalism
  • contemporary music
  • WORK

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