Artists Take Control: Envisioning a New Era of Art Owned by the People Who Make It

Artists Take Control: Envisioning a New Era of Art Owned by the People Who Make It

The entertainment industry is fast-paced and ever-changing, built upon the creativity and passion of artists, musicians, actors, and designers. However, the current model often exploits these creative souls, extracting profits while denying fair compensation and ownership.

Recent years have seen rising interest in an alternative: worker cooperatives. These businesses are owned and managed democratically by their worker-owners. The cooperative model is people-focused, empowering workers and putting priorities like fair pay and reasonable working conditions first.

Across many industries, worker cooperatives are on the rise. In the creative sector, cooperatives allow artists and entertainers to have a voice along with fairer rewards for their work. Our entertainment cooperative aims to be part of this growing trend, exploring what a more just, equitable system could look like.

This article will examine the current challenges in entertainment, the cooperative alternative, and our vision for an industry owned by and operated for the benefit of creative workers. We'll look at unified, artist-driven planning and compensation models, and the potential for cooperatives to transform the entertainment world.

The Entertainment Industry Today

The entertainment industry today is dominated by a handful of major corporations who control the production and distribution of media like movies, music, books, and more. These corporations have built business models focused on maximizing profits often at the expense of artists and creatives.

A few massive conglomerates own the major film studios, record labels, publishing houses, and other entertainment properties. For example, companies like Live Nation Entertainment, Disney, Comcast, AT&T, Sony, and Viacom control over two-thirds of the U.S. media landscape. This consolidation means less competition in the marketplace, allowing these giants to dominate pricing, production, and distribution.

The treatment of artists and creatives under this corporate entertainment model leaves much to be desired. Record labels and movie studios aim to extract as much value as possible from the content creators. Musicians receive only a small fraction of revenues from their work. Hardly any authors can survive on book sales alone. Rather than empowering creative talent, these big corporations look at artists as replaceable commodities.

This lack of power for artists combined with a hyper focus on profits has created an entertainment industry optimized for corporate interests rather than serving society's need for creativity, art, and culture. Many artists struggle to make a living while corporations reap massive revenues from their work. There are few alternatives for artists seeking fair pay and creative control.

The Rise of Worker Cooperatives

A worker cooperative is a business model where the company is owned and managed by its workers. Unlike a traditional company, worker-owners jointly make decisions and share profits in proportion to the work contributed, not the capital invested.

Worker cooperatives operate under democratic principles, with each worker-owner having an equal vote in decisions. Leadership is elected by the workers, and all members actively participate in setting policies and objectives. This gives workers more control over their employment and economic security.

Worker cooperatives have many benefits for members:

  •  Increased wages - Profits are distributed among all workers rather than going to external shareholders. On average, worker-owners earn higher wages than their industry counterparts.

  •  Job stability - Studies show worker cooperatives are more resilient in economic downturns. Layoffs and closures are less common since workers own the company and are invested in its success.

  •  Wealth building - Worker-owners accumulate assets and equity through their labor. The company's growth directly translates to wealth for its members.

Globally, an estimated 15 million people work in cooperatives, generating $2.98 trillion in annual revenue. In the US alone, there are over 300 worker cooperatives in operation today.

The entertainment industry is starting to adopt the cooperative model as well. Artists and creatives are forming cooperatives to gain more control over the direction of their careers and industries. These cooperatives provide resources, funding, mentorship and help members capture more value from their work.

As people seek employment that is meaningful, supportive and empowering, worker cooperatives are poised for massive growth. The cooperative movement has the potential to transform industries by putting economic power back in the hands of workers.

Challenges Facing Artists and Creatives

The entertainment industry presents many challenges for individual artists and creative professionals trying to make a living. Some of the biggest obstacles include:

  • Difficulty getting fair compensation - Major studios, record labels, and other big entertainment companies often pressure creatives into one-sided deals that see the companies take an outsized portion of the profits. Artists have little leverage or bargaining power when negotiating these deals that lock them into unfair contracts. This exploitation severely limits how much artists get paid for their work.

  • Lack of creative control - Entertainment companies frequently constrain artists' creative freedom and vision. Companies limit what types of projects creatives can take on and heavily shape the final products based on commercial interests. This stifles artists' ability to fully express their talents and make the art they envisage.

  • Pressure from labels/studios - Large incumbent studios and record labels apply immense pressure on creatives to produce specific commercially-driven content on restrictive timelines. The companies often force artists down set career paths without regard for their interests or preferences. This pressure creates burn out, which acts as a net drain on the potential of the projects.

The current structure of the entertainment industry thoroughly disempowers artists. Lack of bargaining power, one-sided deals, limited creative freedom, and intense commercial pressures prevent creatives from thriving and achieving their full potential. New models that give artists more control and compensation are sorely needed.

How Our Cooperative Helps Artists

Our cooperative provides a new model that empowers artists and creatives rather than exploiting their labor-value. Labor-value is the amount of value you generate with your "socially necessary" labor.  For any business enterprise to be sustained, a percent of the worker's labor-value must be spent on upkeep, assets, and pay. What is left over is considered "profit." The difference in the traditional enterprise structure and the cooperative model predominantly boils down to who has control over that remaining profit and how much of the surplus is spent on upkeep, assets, and wages.  In a traditional system, it is usually a single or small group of owners controlling the profit and making business decisions.  Whereas cooperative systems see the value as belonging to the workers, as it was their labor that generated the value in the first place.  Because of this perpetuation of exploitation, many artists struggle financially and lack healthcare, fair pay, and creative freedom in the current industry structure.

Our cooperative is structured as a worker-owned business that provides equal ownership and democratic governance for every member. Artists who join the cooperative become worker-owners and have an equal vote in major business decisions as well as director leadership for our worker subcommittees. This gives artists real control over their work and career.

The cooperative business model allows us to focus first and foremost on fair pay and creative freedom for artists. Members receive fair wages and revenue shares that reflect the true value of their work. We have transparent pay structures negotiated collectively by members. Importantly, artists maintain full creative control and ownership over their work.

Our cooperative values our members over profits. We are able to operate with significantly reduced income inequality. No member earns exponentially more than others, and any profits get distributed equitably. This allows for a reasonable and humane pay scale.

By joining together in a cooperative, artists gain strength in numbers. The cooperative structure maximizes collective bargaining power when negotiating with distributors, promoters, and vendors. Members have resources and support to launch projects and distribute work on their own terms, retaining rights. We harness the combined skills and resources of our members to mutually promote and aid each other's careers, because we know that a rising tide lifts all ships.

In a member-owned cooperative, every artist has an equal say and vote on major decisions that affect the business. There is no enforced top-down management dictating what happens, as each of our committees are democratic, and committee administrative duties are delegated via election to a committee director. Members democratically govern their committees together, with elected leadership.  Each committee works together to fulfill the roles necessary to form the  This empowering structure enables members to get involved and guide the cooperative to benefit artists horizontally.

Unified Planning in a Cooperative Model

A central tenet of our entertainment cooperative is unified planning to maximize efficiency, innovation, and collaboration across the industry. Rather than having our artists and projects compete against each other in a free-for-all market, we bring stakeholders together under a democratically agreed upon plan.

This allows us to coordinate major releases, events, and initiatives to avoid duplicative work and wasted resources. For example, instead of 10 major artists releasing albums on the same day, our council plans release schedules cooperatively. We identify peak times across the year and allocate artist releases and marketing budgets accordingly. Central planning also enables extensive resource sharing. 

Ultimately, unified planning empowers artists to work together instead of competing needlessly. And fans win when we maximize creative output and minimize inefficiency. Democratizing the planning process lets our community collectively shape the future of entertainment.

Transitioning the Music Industry

The music industry today is dominated by large corporate record labels that prioritize profits over artistry. This has led to declining pay and support for most musicians, while concentrating wealth and influence into the hands of a few executives and stars.

Our entertainment cooperative aims to transition the music industry to a more equitable and artist-focused model through unified planning and action. As an organization owned and operated by music industry workers, we have a shared interest in and are incentivized to ensure fair pay, good working conditions, creative freedom, and sustainability for all of our members.

By bringing together performers, producers, engineers, distributors, promoters, and more into a democratically-run cooperative, we gain the power to negotiate as a unified bloc. Instead of competing against each other for scarce opportunities while executives reap the profits, we can work together to claim a greater share of the value we generate.

With our combined resources and solidarity, we are building a new music industry centered on mutual aid and cooperation rather than exploitation. Key goals include:

  •  Establishing industry-wide pay standards to ensure all musicians and music workers can make a decent living. No more unpaid gigs or roles!

  •  Providing funding and support for developing artists so they can focus on creativity rather than scrambling to pay bills.

  •  Enabling sustainable touring and events that don't sacrifice artistry for profits.

  •  Investing in green operations, from recording studios to merchandise production.

  •  Amplifying diverse voices and innovative genres, not just top hits.

By taking power back into our own hands, we aim to make the music industry more equitable, creative, resilient, and rewarding for all. Our cooperative model provides the unified structure to finally transition to an artist-driven music economy after decades of corporatization. Together, we can build an entertainment industry where artistry and livelihoods thrive in harmony.

Entertainment in a Cooperative Economy

A cooperative economy has the potential to unlock greater creativity and experimentation in entertainment. Without the profit pressures of large corporations, artists and creators can focus more on their craft and pursuing their artistic visions. By collectivizing our work into a mutually owned brand, we can more naturally increase our individual profits without them becoming the central focus of daily lives.  Through this platform collectivism, the cooperative model gives artists greater control and ownership over their work and careers.

The centralized planning enabled by an artist-owned cooperative can help coordinate resources and labor to spearhead more ambitious creative projects. Funding and support can be allocated based on artistic merit rather than just projected profits. This allows for risk-taking and investing in innovative and boundary-pushing entertainment that would be considered too unpredictable by traditional corporate structures.

With cooperatively-owned record labels, movie studios, gaming companies and other entertainment enterprises, profits can be distributed more fairly across the industry. Workers are rewarded based on their contributions rather than executives and wealthy shareholders reaping disproportionate benefits. There is potential for more equitable pay, improved working conditions, and transparency around finances and revenues.

The cooperative economy liberates artists and creators from some of the profit-driven constraints they face today, while enabling entertainment innovation, giving artists the freedom, control and resources to fully explore their creative visions. The result is entertainment that emphasizes art, experimentation and fairness over maximizing profits for wealthy middlemen.

Challenges and Counterarguments

Transitioning to a cooperative model for the entertainment industry would not come without difficulties and criticism. Here are some of the key challenges and counterarguments:

  • Transition difficulties: Shifting long-established industries like music and film to a cooperative structure would be complex. There are many entrenched interests and systems that would need to adapt. Building consensus and developing new organizational processes take time.

  • Funding challenges: Worker cooperatives often face hurdles raising funds from traditional venture capitalists, who expect high returns and control. While cooperatives are able to accept funding in exchange for a return on their investment, they are not able to accept investment at the expense of outside ownership.  Membership shares are typically tied to a flat number for purchase by the worker-owners, with each owner being able to only purchase one share.  This guarantees equal ownership among the member-owners, while allowing for outside investment through the sale of investment shares, as opposed to membership shares.

  • Power shifts: Moving to decentralized power and ownership means those who hold elite positions now would need to relinquish some control and hierarchy. This power shift will face resistance.  As long as traditional live entertainment models persist, they will try to outcompete other businesses to seize the market share.

Transition won't be fast or easy, but these challenges are surmountable. With worker solidarity, creativity, and commitment to values, a cooperative economy can transform the entertainment industry for the better.

The Future of Entertainment

Our vision going forward is one where entertainment is run by and for the workers. We aim to create a more collaborative and creative landscape where artists have greater control over their work.

In our cooperative model, creators will be empowered to produce art on their own terms, without compromising their values or artistic integrity. By banding together and pooling resources, we can challenge the profit-driven entertainment giants and foster an environment optimized for creativity rather than shareholder returns.

Central planning will allow us to allocate investments based on artistic merit rather than commercial appeal. Hits will still get made, but more experimental and meaningful work will also flourish. We foresee greater diversity in the stories being told and music being produced.

With living wages and good benefits, artists will have the freedom to focus on their craft. Worker-owners will democratically run their own studios, streamers, publishers, etc. both locally and within a broader federated network. Resources can be shared, creativity catalyzed.

By cutting out corporate middlemen, we can also help ensure artists are fairly compensated for their work. Our ethical alternative business models will value art while still being commercially viable.

The road ahead won't be without challenges. Entrenched interests will resist change. But as artists and fans continue embracing the cooperative vision, we believe a more inspiring, empowering era of entertainment lies ahead. One uplifted by solidarity, not greed.
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