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This figure shows my network-based sampling frame of successful songwriters, with interviewees indicated in blue. You can see that I interviewed one isolate, some from small components, and many in the main component. Further, unlike snowball samples, you can see the there are no direct ties between my interviewees.

How do individuals enact careers within our increasingly precarious economic system? Examining workers in artistic careers can bring insight into this question, given their history of precarity and non-traditional employment. As analyzing artistic careers in aggregate is more difficult than simply mapping a corporate chain of command, I developed a novel method, the “network-based sampling frame,” that uses social network data to account for structural biases in snowball sampling and to examine the ways individuals enact careers when opportunity is concentrated in social space rather than within a bureaucratic organization. My sampling frame facilitated the collection of novel quantitative data from 1197 songs written by 941 songwriters, social network data mapping the 2927 co-writing ties that created these songs, and 38 in-depth interviews with songwriters and recording artists who wrote these songs. I use this data to examine the re-patterning of cooperation between songwriters and recording artists from 2000-2015.


I find strong evidence as to how political economic shifts in the music industry at the turn of the millennium led to the restructuring of songwriting careers, which ultimately led to reduced chances for success without being socially tied to other successful songwriters. The changing nature of collaboration between songwriters and recording artists contributed to decreased songwriter agency in the writing room and a more homogenous cultural product, as the influence of recording artists’ personal branding goals influenced the songwriting process. My study deeply engages with Becker’s theory of patterned cooperation, which, while cited thousands of times, generally is used to justify intra-occupational study into non-superstar occupations rather than examining inter-occupational patterns of cooperation within an art world. I call for more research into a “networked post-bureaucracy” that incorporates social networks as the structural basis for systematic analysis of careers that are increasingly temporary, part time, project-based, or otherwise casualized.

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