ESNS Editorial: ESNS Science guides the way towards a sustainable and resilient future


Researcher Frank Kimenai reveals how we can use science to imagine a brighter, more equitable future and build a roadmap to change course

The music sector is in dire need of significant, systemic change. As we resurface in a post-lockdown reality, we find ourselves witnessing the faltering of existing models that structure the sector, with cancelled tours, the drop-out of skilled professionals and rising inflation among many other key symptoms. Driven by a vision for equity in the music sector, Senior Researcher of Resilient Music Ecosystems at Erasmus Frank Kimenai presents ESNS Science – a conference programme that reveals how we can use science to imagine a brighter, more equitable future and build a roadmap for the sector to change course. Together with a selection of highly skilled researchers and music sector professionals, the specialised panels and sessions take on transformation strategies, envisioning a sustainable future, the issues with the superstar economy and the promising potential of universal basic income. Dive in to find out more.

Interview by Roxy Merrell

Photography by Bart Heemskerk

You have a long history working in the music industry, and are now a music ecosystem researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam. How did you get entwined with this subject?

Frank Kimenai

I entered my music industry career as a trained ecologist. After twenty years in the industry, I found myself naturally drawn to working on policy level, driven by an interest in looking at the music sector from a systemic lens – which is exactly what ecologists do. What really caught my interest was the shift towards using the metaphor of ‘the music sector as ecosystem’. What bothers me about the metaphor is the risk that we just ecologically rebrand old systems without changing them. On the other hand, the metaphor might suggest we are stepping away from the capitalist point of view and looking at the sector from a systematic point of view – which gives opportunities. This has essentially led to the PhD research I am currently doing.

(Image by Lana Mesic)

What do we mean when we talk about a sustainable future for the music sector?

This programme focuses explicitly on social economical sustainability: creating a sector that is feasible, viable and healthy for people to function in for the long run. If we look at the sector as it is today, we see that is very much not the case. People in the sector suffer from mental health issues and financially precarious situations. A sustainable future, then, would be a future in which a lot of these inequalities, inequities, imbalances are solved. This might sound naive, but we owe it to ourselves to make sure that the sector gets healthier and more equitable.

First, you have to envision where you want to go, and then you have to figure out how to get there.

Recognising problems is a key part of the process, but solutions can be a lot more complex to come by. Can you tell us about the conference panels and sessions you have organised?

If you're talking about sustainable futures, first you have to envision where you want to go, and then you have to figure out how to get there. We organised two sessions to tackle just that. Firstly, the interactive session Turn and face the change: How can the music sector transition towards a sustainable future? with Derk Loorbach, a professor in transformation sciences, from the Dutch Institute for Transitions (DRIFT). As we all know, systemic transformation is a very abstract idea. As one of the leading experts in the subject, Loorbach developed the x curve: a very tangible model which helps you get a grip on the transformation process. It’s about identifying the processes you want to change and phasing out the unwanted structures in a system.

If 20% of the population within a system, society or sector wants change, that's the tipping point for change to occur.

Loorbach suggests that systemic change is a collective effort, but you have to start acting individually. It’s based on the theory that if 20% of the population within a system, society or sector wants change, that's the tipping point for change to occur. That’s an optimistic outlook, but getting to that 20% is the hard part. Loorbach will present concrete advice on how to get there, followed by an interactive workshop on the process of transformation. 

To create systemic change, we need to reimagine current models and construct new ideas. What comes next?

Exactly! The next session takes on the future with Loes Damhof: The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades: Imagining future scenarios with and for the music sector. Damhof is UNESCO Chair Futures Literacy at Hanze University of Applied Sciences, and she explains why thinking about the future will help you in your current state of affairs. It’s not about the accuracy of predicting the future, but a long-term vision on our predicted future and the futures we want to construct can expose the barriers and issues you might encounter in the present. After we’ve imagined the future we want to construct, we need a roadmap to get there. That’s where the panels come in.

Photography by Bart Heemskerk

One front-running concept is Universal Basic Income. Can you tell us more about the panel that tackles the subject?

The panel Universal Basic Income: Battling the eight giants of the precariat offers a future image of a new socio-economic model which could sustain a more equitable and fair music sector. I'm particularly proud of the key kick-off speech by Guy Standing, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network. Standing wrote a groundbreaking book called The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, in which he describes the new socio-economic class that has emerged on a massive scale following the flexibilisation of the labour market and the rise of the platform economy. He addresses the eight biggest challenges music sector workers face, such as mental health issues and precarious working conditions, and how the universal basic income can provide a solution to this. Check out his video made together with Massive Attack and Young Fathers, if you want to know more. 

Following Standing’s lecture, the panel will discuss recent experiments with basic income, such as the Basisbeurs pilot here in the Netherlands, at Into The Great Wide Open festival and the Irish “Basic Income for the Arts” scheme.

The final panel talks about a ‘Superstar Economy’. What does that refer to?

The fourth panel So you wanna be(at) a Superstar? is about the tenacious and unhealthy structure in the music sector: What we mean with ‘superstar economic model’ is a winner-takes-all economy that sees 10% of the sector earning about 80-90% of the revenue. The final 10% of revenue is then divided between the rest – people are battling for scraps, basically. This panel is going to present some quantitative research that demonstrates the growing inequality, with the big earners increasingly earning more, while the other segment is barely keeping up with inflation. The panel will present the situation with facts and figures – which is interesting for everyone from policymakers and politicians to freelancers in the sector – and then discuss how to change this economic structure.

What comes after a future vision and a roadmap?

We have two applied and academic activations planned to engage delegates. The first activation will take on the common misconception that digital technology and algorithms are neutral. The Utrecht University researchers will explore the fairness and biases of recommender systems, together with the delegates – aspiring to spread awareness for a sustainable and fair future. Secondly, we will host a future confessions stand in which researchers from Fontys Academy invite delegates to confess their biggest dreams and worst fears for the future of the music sector, followed by an interactive talk about the transitions we think we need.

What I hope people get out of the programme is awareness, inspiration and agency. Basically, agency to start acting.

The programme brings together many different expert opinions and insights. How do you envision that playing out?

The idea behind my curation was to bring together different perspectives, to generate insight and impact. I am proud to say that this programme is made possible together with our partner in this project, the Regieorgaan SIA, who are underwriting the importance of this kind of research for the music sector. What I hope people get out of the programme is awareness, inspiration and agency. Basically, agency to start acting.

Presented by: ESNS Science
Thu 19 Jan - Grijze zaal - 12:00-13:00
Turn and face the change
Derk Loorbach, Dutch Research Institute For Transitions (DRIFT)
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Presented by: ESNS Science
Thu 19 Jan - Grijze zaal - 13:30-14:30
The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades
Loes Damhof, Hanzehogeschool Groningen - Elles Kazemier, Hanze University of Applied Science – UNESCO Chair Futures Literacy
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Presented by: ESNS Science
Thu 19 Jan - Grijze zaal - 10:30-11:30
Universal Basic Income: battling the eight giants of the precariat
Yosha Wijngaarden, Erasmus Universiteit - Roderick Udo, HU Business School Utrecht - Frank Kimenai, Copyright Delta / Erasmus University - Angela Dorgan, First Music Contact - Willem Smit, Musician Personal Trainer
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Presented by: ESNS Science
Fri 20 Jan - Kelder - 13:30-14:30
So you wanna be(at) a Superstar?
Steijn Koeijvoets, 3S Music Management - Majel Blonden, Paard - Den Haag - Erik Hitters, Erasmus Universiteit - Martijn Mulder, Erasmus Universiteit - Milad Milad Hosseingholikhan, Friendly Fire
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