The Production of Popular Music as a Confidence Game: The Case of the Chicago Blues

October, 2004

In this article I argue that the production of live music shares many formal properties with that of confidence games: specifically, (1) a set of structural relationships in which operators, ropers, insiders, shills and marks are enmeshed, (2) the deployment of carefully planned strategies of deception, and (3) a pattern of success owed in part to the moral and financial motivations of insiders, the willingness of the state to assist in the enterprise, and the desire among victims to be swayed by the production. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in some of Chicago’s most popular blues clubs, I examine these three components of live music production qua confidence game. I also briefly discuss how one group of participants— local blues musicians—reacts to their own performances as musicians/confidence artists. Finally, I conclude by exploring the broader implications this case suggests regarding other types of live music production.

Download the Working Paper

Topic Tags: