Ephemeral income

Considering Covid-prompted loss of ephemerality in live music through the dichotomy between labour income and capital income


  • Josh Barlow RMIT
  • Guy Morrow The University of Melbourne




capital income, labour income, design culture, COVID-19, live music, livestreaming, copyright


There are two main types of income earned by musicians. The first is capital income, which is the type of income derived from owning the intellectual rights to music, either through record sales or leveraging moral rights. The second is labour income, which is generated from live performance and takes the form of performance fees. Historically, these two activities are considered separate with some ontological and economic interdependences, creating two different streams of income; however, we present a case which shows that the two merged when much ‘live’ music appeared online during the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of livestreams. These livestreams theoretically allow musicians to earn both capital income and labour income from the same activity. We use ‘design culture’, as a form of organizational culture, to describe how musicians can use the new livestreaming trend to realize better/fairer deals for themselves. This is especially prescient because in contemporary history, most musicians cannot earn a sustainable income from releasing recorded music, so have relied on live performance. Live performance has thus become less ephemeral, as has the income derived from it.

Author Biographies

Josh Barlow, RMIT

Josh Barlow is a PhD student in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT. His research is focused predominantly on the cultural value of music in local music scenes, with a view towards developing more effective cultural policy

Guy Morrow, The University of Melbourne

Dr Guy Morrow is a Senior Lecturer in Arts and Cultural Management at the University of Melbourne. His most recent book is Designing the Music Business: Design Culture, Music Video and Virtual Reality (Springer, 2020).


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Interview 1: Emily Ulman, Isol-Aid co-founder, Melbourne, 21 July 2020.

Interview 2: Nick O’Byrne, Artist manager, Melbourne, 21 July 2020.



How to Cite

Barlow, J. ., & Morrow, G. . (2021). Ephemeral income: Considering Covid-prompted loss of ephemerality in live music through the dichotomy between labour income and capital income. Popular Music History, 14(1), 60–75. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.19828