Media @ McGill

Competitive Labour Practice in Creative Economies

Submitted by Media@McGill on


By Jonathan Karpetz

The rapid development and dissemination of social media-fueled contest platforms has led to immediate shifts in the creative practices of those involved in fields related to these sites and their offerings. These developments have reoriented certain labour practices into networks of competition, where creative and their audiences are asked to engage with crowdsourced competition platforms and their partners for a chance to sign away their work for the promise of exposure if they happen to be ‘lucky’ or ‘talented’ enough to win a contest. Often ‘winning’ these contests is only part of a process of further enmeshing creative workers and their networks in the social media-fueled ecosystems that these websites have set up. Platforms, including, Indaba Music,,, along with, and many others, match established crowdsourcing practices of providing a platform for forming a crowd to solve creative problems, while also pushing the undercurrent of competition that drive most crowdsourcing initiatives to the forefront. They do this by encouraging the crowd’s crowd to interact with their websites through social media by allowing the sharing, liking, and voting of these contests by anyone who wished to participate.

While creative crowdsourcing is nothing new and creative contests were attempted in the early days of web-based crowdsourcing, these companies have developed neutral platforms that do not aim to solve significant problems. Instead the sites offer creative competitions for partner corporations and their marketers in the hopes of engaging a crowd of emerging artists and their audiences to produce creativity under the promise of prizes and exposure.  What these platforms allow is for a company, brand, filmmaker, musician, or music label, to approach the crowdsourcing company and co-design a contest to ‘solve’ a creative problem in service of providing exposure for the brand partner through designing a contest that engages a creative audience and their peers to provide the solution. By providing the solution the crowdsourcing platforms also help their partner brands achieve a wider reach via social media websites by transmitting competitions and integrating the submission, voting, and judging processes across major social media websites, which produce not only crowdsourced creativity but a deeper engagement between companies and creative networks with every like, share, or vote.

How these crowdsourced completion platforms have reoriented creative labour practices in creative networks is the focus of my research. Contemporary creative workers are continually asked to engage with various contest platforms and their stakeholders as a significant part of their day to day practice. Creatives looking for work are often required to film videos, produce new music tracks, or assemble portfolios of images, which are then uploaded to these platforms as a showcase of their ‘unique’ talent. These practitioners are then asked and often required to pass their creativity through their socially networked connections to gain likes or votes, which directly impact their chances of winning contests and finding work. As I will explore, workers caught up in contemporary competitive practice on social media platforms are participating in new forms of creative labour that demand a great deal of their free labour, along with the work of their peers and audiences, in order to find even the most basic opportunities in their field of practice. At the same time, these creative platforms are engaging and engaged by major brands and creative businesses who are adopting the platforms as marketing vehicles and content providers, ensuring creative workers will be asked to compete on these platforms as a core part of their practice for some time to come.