Perhaps the classical music world has taken the entirely wrong approach to selling recordings; perhaps the reason they don’t turn a profit is because they’re significantly underpriced. Maybe we should be charging way more—like, three-figure prices per copy. And no, I’m not talking about charging extra for value-added stuff like boxed sets or exclusive tracks, I’m talking about, “Hey, this recording is awesome, so the price is $150.”
Hear me out before you dismiss this as crazy. Inevitably we’ll sell fewer copies if we set a higher price point, but that might not be harmful. In fact it might be a good thing. (more…)
There is never enough money in the arts. Equally problematic, the money we do have is not always used very efficiently. In the United States, most arts funding outside of ticket sales comes through philanthropy, whether by individual donors, private foundations, or nonprofit advocacy groups. While individual donors don’t usually have the clout to sway an entire sector, the larger arts funders can and do. As such, they shoulder greater responsibility for the financial inefficiencies that affect the arts—not out of malice, but simply because many a well-meaning initiative has relied on accepted wisdom that isn’t actually all that wise. Now, there are indisputably organizations conducting innovative work. But doing philanthropy well is really damn hard, and the bar could certainly stand to be raised.
Philanthropy is about 90% how and 10% what—it’s not enough to have an endowment and good intentions. (more…)
Factory spewing music notes
Not everyone buys my claim that entrepreneurship is impossible in art, so I want to spill a few more pixels on this question. Whether or not you agree with me, you’ve got to admit that entrepreneurship hasn’t been a winning formula for artists as a whole—unsurprisingly so when you examine the fundamental characteristics of both disciplines. Art is infinitely scalable, communal, inherently subjective, and useless by design. Entrepreneurship is scarcity-based, individualistic, inherently objective, and pragmatic by design. Both are creative activities, but of opposite types.
When you look more closely you’ll notice that “art entrepreneurship” is and has always been about art technology, not art itself. (more…)
Violinist busking, photo CC by meltsley on Flickr
Periodically I see these memes on Facebook: “If surgeons were paid like musicians…,” or “Hire a plumber for the same service and we’ll play for half that.” I sympathize, but this is the wrong approach. Moral finger-wagging has never won any argument, ever, and if it were to work in music it would have decades ago. So how do we actually solve this problem of musicians’ lack of economic clout?
First, we need to understand what’s actually going on. The moralists cling to the delusion that it’s just a matter of education, but even musicians can’t decide what fair compensation is: I’ve had the exact same budget called “extravagant” by one jury panel and “overly ambitious” by another. And to throw salt on the wound, moralizing also hurts our collective bargaining power. Take the common story of the lowballing nightclub owner who gets chewed out by an indignant jobbing musician. The lecture doesn’t make the owner any less likely to lowball the next musician. In fact, it’s the opposite: you’ve just shown him that he has all the power in the relationship. (more…)
Young Entrepreneurs Forum 2012, CC by US Embassy, on Flickr
We live at a time that prizes entrepreneurship above all else, and this is bad for art. Not that entrepreneurs are out to destroy the arts, it’s just that artistic and business innovation are fundamentally antagonistic. Yes, entrepreneurs have unquestionably created value for the arts, but the actual business is always one step removed from the actual art. At best, entrepreneurship provides stuff for artists to sell and then gets the hell out of the way. At worst, entrepreneurship turns art and artists into disposable commodities.
Unfortunately, our societal love affair with entrepreneurship has confused this relationship. Suddenly all artists are expected to be business innovators, as if coming up with a marketing plan were the self-evident first step in the artistic process. (more…)