You might have heard the term “gig economy” recently. The media love to use the term, but what does it mean? Will it help you or hurt you?
The word “gig” comes from music industry slang, where a short-term entertainment job is often called a gig—playing an instrument, singing or giving a theater performance for a night, a weekend, or a month.
My grandfather and his seven siblings were talented musicians, and as a family they traveled widely, playing band music at afternoon and evening performances in towns across the country. Here's a picture of the Hruby Family Orchestra in 1910. My grandfather is in the back row, second from the right.
Traveling musicians were an early example of the gig economy. Perhaps musicians invented “gigs” during the Middle Ages, when traveling troubadours entertained audiences across Europe.
I’ve been part of the gig economy since 1984, long before it acquired the nickname. Even though I worked in marketing research, it was just like my grandfather’s era—my small firm traveled widely to work for clients from paper mills in Maine to electronics companies in Southern California, and many places in between.
Beyond a single occupation like music or marketing, the gig economy simply means people working on their own, performing some identifiable service for others. It’s that simple: self-employment.
These individuals are their own bosses in terms of what they do, when they do it, what they charge, and how specialized they choose to be. But by choice they work as a business, selling their services to customers who could be called their clients, customers – or their audience, in the case of musicians and performing artists. Different professions use different terms for buyers of their services, but never think of their buyers as their "employers."
More than two centuries ago, musicians were all employed. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the legendary musician and composer, began his professional career in the usual way, as a full-time employee of Prince-Archbishop von Colleredo of Salzburg, in Austria (shown at left). But young Wolfgang chafed as an employee, sensing better prospects elsewhere. Mozart eventually felt so financially constrained that at age 25 he left the Prince-Archbishop’s employ, after a disagreement over money, to become a self-employed composer. Seeing a better way is the sprouted seedling of the gig economy.
Mozart is an excellent example of what motivates most people to join the gig economy: the desire to pursue their occupation for more freedom, more money, and to fulfill their ambitions. Mozart went on to enjoy long-lasting musical composing success. Maybe there’s a little bit of Mozart in your future.
Mozart saw how he could be more financially successful: by composing pieces for money, publishing his musical works for payment, teaching pupils for a fee, and giving performances. Mozart’s idea became the typical gig economy business model: he broke down his profession into projects that buyers of musical service wanted that he could deliver. For Mozart, the projects were compositions, performances, and lessons. Each of his activities became a specific deliverable, each having a consumer and a provider, a beginning and an end, and standards for performance, no pun intended.
The gig economy consists of doing work that can be organized, performed and paid for on a project basis; projects are a distinctive feature of the gig economy, thoroughly different from employment.
My grandfather’s family followed Mozart’s business model, using the same formula of compositions, performances and lessons. After traveling for many years, as a family they taught music lessons to more than 10,000 youngsters in Cleveland for 52 years. Mozart had formulated a business model many self-employed musicians, like my family, could follow into self-employment.
Sadly, while Mozart was musically brilliant, he was unsuccessful in his business efforts, and literally died penniless. The need to combine professional skill and business skill is another key feature of the gig economy. Employees often rely on their employer for business savvy, but the self-employed need an underlying business model. Mozart invented a model that many others can adopt, even in different fields. In fact, one later prominent musical composer excelled at both his music and his business. For now, we'll just say that one of that second composer's most well-known short pieces is Rage Over a Lost Penny.
If your future is to be bright as a member of the Gig Economy, you’ll need a marketable skill and a strong business model.
Think of the occupations you, your family and your friends are in: engineering, marketing, accounting, software coding, landscaping, all types of research and analysis, repairs and maintenance, law, public relations, many parts of medicine, writing and creative occupations—these and many other fields include work that can be purchased and delivered on a project basis. They all have service elements that buyers will pay for individualls as projects. Mozart would tell you, “think big about what you can achieve if you work independently.”
So, Yes. Mozart started the gig economy! In addition to composing his wonderful music, he showed us a new way to success through self-employment. # # #