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Did Mozart Invent the Gig Economy?

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.

[endif]--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."