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Sound Work: Music as Labor and the 1940s Recording Bans of the American Federation of Musicians

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 86, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 791-823 | 10.1353/anq.2013.0040



Twice in the 1940s, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) banned recording by its members. According to the union, the use of records on radio and in jukeboxes was replacing live performers, thus eliminating work for musicians. In an era of shifting federal policies and changing modalities of labor, the bans put sound at the center of a struggle between labor and corporate interests. The bans provide a case through which to explore the significance and multidimensionality of music as labor. As a case that is integral to, yet distinct from, histories of audio technology and intellectual property, the bans are an important yet overlooked moment in the formation of current configurations of sonic value.

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