June 07, 2007

Economics of Music

Dan Wolf has been highlighting some of the similarities between contemporary economics and music. I'm interested in how much further one can take this relationship. For example, what about how composers work? Some of our primary tools are unpowered wooden things (instruments, pencil, paper), but like many modern office workers, we spend a whole lot of time with computers and other electronics.

Dan's post brought up an idea which actually came up in conversation for me this past week, the idea of "Buy Local [Music]." To me, the issue shouldn't need to have anything to do with energy consumption or carbon output. It's a question of whether you want to interact with the people you share your city or town with. Do you want to come away from a concert feeling like you made a sophisticated or hip choice with how you spent your time, or would you rather try something new and meet some strangers who might enrich your life (not that the latter can't happen with non-local music... but you get the idea).

Along with a "Buy Local [Music]" bumper sticker, Dennis Báthory-Kitsz's website contains info on his "We Are All Mozart" project. I'd read about it before, but have in general been underwhelmed with the publicity it's gotten (another instance of why-music-is-not-like-the-other-arts?). My point of comparison is Suzan Lori-Parks's 365 Days/365 Plays project. Granted, she's a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright with more public recognition than Báthory-Kitsz, but she got a fair amount of press coverage, including a big 'ole New Yorker profile.

Besides the personages behind these respective projects (which probably shouldn't be ignored), the major difference is in how they're produced. The plays were written, performances to be found later. To participate, you actually had to apply. The "Mozart" project was done on-demand, people had to instigate each piece.

The 365 project has a blurb on their website explaining its philosophy. One interesting bit:
The 365 Festival is creating an alternative to the present US industry standard of a "World Premiere". In what is currently considered a "World Premiere", one theater in the US or the UK creates the first production of a play written by an English-speaking writer and presents it to a local audience. Suzan-Lori calls the old-school world premiere the "Me-me-me, My-my-my". Many theater artists believe there is a better way to premiere a new theater work. Organizations like the National New Play Network are dedicated to creating more dynamic ways for theaters to work together to widen the impact of new plays. The 365 Festival has put in motion a grassroots collaborative model that blows the top off the single-headed, biggest-theater-wins world premiere status quo.
This problem is also faced by composers. Premieres are highly valued by performers, but can only happen once to a piece. These economics aren't exactly favorable to composers (devil's advocate: should they be?). The only musical model I know of that tries to change this balance is the World-Wide Concurrent Premieres and Commissioning Fund. Anyone know of others like it? Has anyone gone after alternative means of production to get local music played more or to shift value away from the notion of the "premiere"?

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