Quality and trust in jazz music production networks based on the example of the Marcin Wasilewski Trio

CICERONE is an EU-funded interdisciplinary research project which provides policymakers with a unique and innovative perspective from which to understand the cultural and creative sector (CCS). Previous analyses of this sector have typically mapped the location and the spatial distribution of clusters of creative activities. CICERONE innovates by exploring the wider context of these creative activities by looking at the wider production networks of which these are part, comprising not only production, but distribution, exchange and archiving tasks too. Analysing the CCS through the lens of the global production network approach, we focus on two key dimensions of these networks: 1) their spatial footprints and 2) governance configuration. The project then assesses to what extent these dimension correlate to the different levels of embeddedness of the production networks.

The project’s empirical backbone consists of a series of extensive case studies, each of which explores in-depth the networked production of a selection of varying projects in architecture, cultural heritage, artistic craft, design, the festival industry, performing and visual arts, music, publishing and the audiovisual and radio industries. The rich empirical case study findings are used to 1) assess which quantitative data are available for mapping these networks – and which not -, and how this data could be augmented with qualitative data as to enable a more accurate measuring of the societal impact of the CCS; 2) construct a typology of production networks across the CCS; and on the basis of which 3) the project then explores the implications for effective policy support for the CCS in the areas of labour, competitiveness, sustainability and crises resilience.

These findings and their implications for policy making will be communicated through an interactive cultural economy observatory which will be developed as part of the CICERONE project. This observatory, then, facilitates ongoing debates on the economic as well as sociocultural potential of the CCS.

Quality and trust

Jazz music is a rather niche genre, listened to mostly by audiences with a sophisticated musical taste. They attach particular importance to quality, both in terms of the quality of the composition and performance, as well as the quality of the musical recording. The leading and legendary European jazz record label is ECM, known for the high quality of its productions. Marcin Wasilewski and his Trio (MWT) is one of the few Polish artists who work with this label.

ECM was founded in 1969 by a young musician and producer, Manfred Eicher, who is still the owner of the label today. It is he who decides which musicians the label works with, he controls the recording process and the final shape of the recorded album, including the cover photo. In the jazz world, he is a legendary figure, respected for his taste, attention to quality and the creative freedom he leaves to artists.

In 1999, the Marcin Wasilewski Trio was invited to collaborate with ECM, initially as a band accompanying a famous Polish trumpeter, Tomasz Stańko, who had already recorded for ECM. Together they released three albums with the label. Later on, Manfred Eicher invited the band itself to collaborate, appreciating its interesting sound. To date, seven MWT albums have been produced by this label.

Although the activities of both the ECM label and the Marcin Wasilewski Trio are strictly commercial, it is not the financial aspect that is the axis of cooperation between both entities. The same is true when it comes to cooperation between the manager and the band, the manager and concert agencies as well as the band, the label and the worldwide distributor of recordings. Personal relationships, reputation, quality of work and mutual trust seem to be more important here. The study of the relationship network of the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, and in particular the relationship that exists among the various actors in this network, allows us to discover important non-economic factors that influence the production of high quality music.

Our approach

The music sector is broadly analysed in the scientific literature, very often from an economic perspective. A lot of attention is given to the impact of digitisation on the development of the music sector, such as the issue of copyright or changing music consumption patterns. However, such analyses rarely take into account differences between music genres as studies mostly focus on so-called mainstream music. Yet, the music genre can determine not only how music is consumed, but also how various actors related to a particular genre operate in the sector, what are the relationships among these actors and what the relationships are based on.

The study of the music sector carried out by the CICERONE project adopts a broad approach, based on the Global Production Networks (GPN) model. One of its advantages is the possibility to identify the type of relationships that exist between the different actors in the network. The genre chosen for the analysis was jazz music, a non-mainstream genre, and the subject of the study using the case study method was the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, a jazz group from Poland. In the course of the research, 13 interviews were conducted with various entities directly related to the Trio or to the Polish music market, including the band’s manager, the owner of a jazz label, a representative of one of the streaming services, an employee of a public institution supporting Polish culture abroad, a representative of one of the so-called majors of the recording sector, or an audio engineer, owner of a recording studio.


The music sector is mainly in the hands of private companies. It is controlled by transnational corporations: Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music when it comes to the recording sub-sector, Sony Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group and Warner Music Group when it comes to the so-called music publishing sub-sector, in other words, the management of rights to use musical works, and Live Nation Entertainment, an American global entertainment company whose main activity is the organisation of music concerts.

These companies operate according to purely market principles, focusing principally on financial profit. This is achieved, among other things, through practices such as strict gatekeeping, i.e. investing only in those artists who have the greatest market potential. This means that they can appeal to the widest possible audience thus generating the greatest revenue for the companies. Leading corporations take over the value created by the artists at the creation stage; amplify it intensively, especially at the distribution and promotion/dissemination stages; and then capture most of the value resulting from the consumption of music in the form of recorded music, live music, or music placed in derivative products, namely in films, TV series, commercials or video games.

The case study analysis of the Marcin Wasilewski Trio through the GPN lens helped us unpack the relations amongst the actors as well as highlight the power dynamics of the industry. It showed that niche music genres operate on a slightly different basis in the market.

It is true that the Trio works with the most renowned jazz label in Europe, ECM, so one might acknowledge that in the jazz area its importance is similar to that of the majors in the popular music area. The barrier to entry, namely the possibility of collaboration, is set high and the Trio’s collaboration with ECM is essential for the band’s functioning in the entire multi-stage network. However, this significance is built not on the size of the label, its global reach, and its market power, but on its brand. This brand, in turn, is personified first and foremost by the head and founder of the label, Manfred Eicher, who is an icon in the jazz music genre. His education, experience, musical taste, professionalism and commitment to the aesthetic value of the music he produces, which surpasses the potential economic value to be gained from the product, in fact make him a lead actor in the network.

The relationship between the Trio and the ECM label illustrates that, in the case of jazz music, it is mainly trust and merit that are vital to build capital and succeed within the industry. Here we are dealing with a merit-based governance model, where reputation, trust-based relationships, professionalism, and concern for the art or artistry, for the highest quality of the implemented project, play a leading role. While it is true that the ECM label has been on the market for several decades, so it has to behave according to market rules. However, the financial aspect, the financial success, is not an end in itself. Rather, it is the result of other, non-financial activities, namely artistic work based on high quality and mutual trust.

Written by Anna Anetta Janowska

This blog relates to a case which is part of the report “Production networks in the cultural and creative sector: case studies from the European music industry”. This full report can be access here.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.