Vampire shows, Fragmentation & Oversupply, and the “Classical Music Crisis”


While watching the second episode of Penny Dreadful, I was struck by a thought* — I just don’t have time to watch all these geek themed television shows! Penny Dreadful is just the latest of shows which features vampires.  The recently cancelled Dracula series, The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off, The Originals, and Being Human are series which center on stories of vampires. Like Penny Dreadful, the Lost Girl, Supernatural, and even Da Vinci’s Demons are set in worlds where vampires exist**.

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San Diego Opera, again…


In my piece “Opera: ‘I’m Not Dead’” post, i mentioned a guest post at Bill Eddins Sticks and Drones guest blog by Viswa Subarraman, conductor and Artistic Director of the Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee and his thoughts about the San Diego Opera closing. This is just one several criticisms of the organizations decision to shut down (here’s another recent piece) amidst rumors which inevitably fly as organizations of this size come near an end.

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Orchestra 990 Database Project


I’d been meaning to blog about this especially given how often those of us who blog or talk about arts organizations and finances discuss economic issues in the field, but as a last minute reminder, Drew McManus’ has blogged about his kickstarter campaign for an Orchestra 990 Database.

As you can see from the post, here’s what the Database will include and feature:

  • Converting a decade’s worth of IRS Form 990s into a searchable format along with assigning category filters.
  • The database will begin with the 2003/04 season filings. The database will include all US based professional orchestras with total expenditures of $2 million and higher.
  • A website that will retain a searchable database of professional orchestra IRS Form 990s.
  • The user interface will provide multi taxonomy filtering to assist with narrowing results (think searching by state, zip, and other custom categories).
  • Users will be able to download copies of documents returned in the search query.
  • Searches and results will be free for all users, all the time. 
  • The website will be built atop an open source publishing platform and feature a responsive design, allowing users to easily interface via desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone without the hassle of downloading and installing platform specific apps.
  • An L3C will be formed as the entity under which all work and ongoing administration will be conducted (more on that below).

Drew was also recently interviewed and gave more info about the project on the video blog, SoundnotionTV, which can be viewed on youtube:

For a field which has tons of researchers, pundits, and bloggers making claims about the financial conditions of large arts organizations without the ease of access a project such as this would allow, it would really be nice to have some level of transparency and, more importantly, ease of access to the public and other independent scholars who don’t have significant resources for doing research.

Even if this kickstarter doesn’t fund the project this time around, I’d hope that the next time it get proposed we can see the value of it and get it funded and off the ground because we sorely need easy access to things like this to combat the hedgehog pundits on any side of debates about arts sustainability!

Creativity, Craftmanship, and Copying


Michael Rushton’s recent post says some wonderful things about the problem of focusing on either Creativity or Quantification.

Creativity is a wonderful thing, but successful songwriters, playwrights, poets, video game designers and chefs, know technique – they have to. It is great to encourage children to experiment and explore, to instill a love of creativity. But they won’t turn into adults that make genuinely interesting creative works until they have learned technique. “The Daily Show” sketches cannot be written by someone who only understands how to analyze data, Egan is correct. But neither can they be written by somebody with no experience or sense of how television comedy works.

In my post, to create or to copy, I explored the misguided dichotomy of creativity versus copying by giving an example of a comment by Japanese Bunraku musicians:

[This] reminds me of interviews I had with the chief puppeteer in the major bunraku troupe, the chief chanter, and the chief shamisen player. I asked them how they trained, how they learned as children. As we all know, the standard system in Japan is to copy your master. [But] those artists said, “We do not copy our masters. Of course we watch our master and we learn. But no two human beings are alike, so it is impossible for me to copy my master. I have to internalize my art, make it my own. Then I can become a great artist.” This is a wonderful illustration of the solution to what might seem to be impossibly opposite goals: to “replicate” and to “create” anew.

And what they are describing is the process of learning Craftsmanship.

Sure, there are plenty of artists who “copy,” and probably as many who are “creative” without any sense of craftsmanship. But as I said in that post,

In the end, the greatest artists are those that can make ANY work, whether their own or someone else’s, speak powerfully. On the flipside the weakest artists have to hide behind the rubric and hubris of citing originality and creativity, or, dedication to the re-creation of a previous work to hide the fact that he or she has nothing really to say.

So again, I wonder, going back to Rushton’s final paragraph:

The need to teach “creativity” has achieved a lot of buzz lately, as Egan notes. But is it misplaced? Should the emphasis rather be placed on technique, know-how, rather than some generally vague notion of creativity? Misleading to characterize the issue as one between creativity and the quants.

and my questions about the Music Conservatory and Music Education industries and Arts funding politics I still have to wonder how much of the entrepreneurial and business shift in some conservatories are more for the sake of legitimizing the status quo in the pre-professional world of music making.

Death of the Musical Long Tail



An intriguing piece about the growing disparity of recorded music revenue popped up a couple days ago at the Music Industry Blog.  The post is based on a consulting report, The Death of the Long Tail: The Superstar Music Economy, which is available for free to subscribers to the blog. The blog describes the music recording revenue climate, which has been dropping for some time as we know from all the news about how music labels are failing:

The 21st century decline in recorded music revenues continues to send shockwaves throughout the music industry and although there are encouraging signs of digital-driven growth, the impact on artists is less straightforward.  Total global artist income from recorded music in 2013 was $2.8 billion, down from $3.8 billion in 2000 but up slightly on 2012.  Meanwhile artists’ share of total income grew from 14% in 2000 to 17% in 2013.  But the story is far from uniform across the artist community.

What’s interesting is that the total income growth to artists is skewed towards Pop Superstars (and realize that this is a growing share of an increasingly smaller pie).

The music industry is a Superstar economy, that is to say a very small share of the total artists and works account for a disproportionately large share of all revenues.  This is not a Pareto’s Law type 80/20 distribution but something much more dramatic: the top 1% account for 77% of all artist recorded music income.

This shouldn’t be surprising, recall that I mentioned in my Pop Music Industry and the Cost Disease post a paper by Connolly and Krueger called Rockonomics: The Economics of Popular Music, that this growing disparity towards Superstars has been noticed for live concert revenue since at least the early 80s.

In 1982, the top 1% of artists took in 26% of concert revenue; in 2003 that figure was 56%.  By contrast, the top 1% of income tax filers in the U.S. garnered “just”14.6% of adjusted gross income in 1998 (see Piketty and Saez, 2003). The top 5% of revenue generators took in 62% of concert revenue in 1982 and 84% in 2003. Surely, this is a market where superstars receive the lion’s share of the income. (pp. 19-20)

For musicians in the recording and live market, the revenue has always been skewed towards the Superstars, and increasingly so.

In her doctoral dissertation, Chamber music in alternative venues in the 21st-century U.S.: Investigating the effect of new venues on concert culture, programming and the business of Classical Music, Sarah May Robinson describes the revenue for the clubbing circuit at which Classical Musicians are increasingly performing:

For some ensembles, club performances can match their concert hall fees.  Sascha Jacobsen said that if the Musical Art Quintet had a well ‐ paid club performance  “we get paid 1,500 to 2,000 (dollars and) that’s pretty much comparable to a regular  concert series.” In general he says club and bar performance income “varies a lot but it’s  pretty comparable, actually” to concert hall and museum series income for the  ensemble. Filling a large club venue, which might produce this kind of fee, is not  something the quintet can do every week, however. “It’s not easy to make what you  need for the month by only working in alternative venues,” said Premawardhana.

Revenue for individual musicians also depends on the number of performers at  an event. A solo cellist can make $400  during an hour set with a crowd of 40 in the back  room of Barbès .  Members of a quartet playing for the same crowd in the same space  would only earn $100 each.  Events that rely on a large number of performers , like the  chamber jams at the Revolution Cafe , provide little or no income to performers in most  cases. At the Revolution Cafe, the organization’s cut of the bar income generally  amounts to around $100, according to former cafe manager, Joe Lewis. 237 Donations  average between $15 0 to  300 according to Premawardhana.  The resulting $250 to  $ 400  is split among the musicians that play over the course of 3  hours, which often includes  several  chamber groups. Premawardhana said payment is “usually between $20 and $40  a player depending on how much they play.”  At Opera on Tap Los Angeles, per concert 80 income ranges from $120 to 380 and is generally used to pay the accompanist while  singers volunteer .  Revenue from many Classical Revolution PDX events goes to fund the  organization, since splitting the income among the musicians would provide them with  only a nominal fee.

This is, frankly, pretty discouraging. I would have thought that in the time that I’ve started playing clubs well over ten years ago, the revenue would be greater than this. More discouraging in that Sarah is discussing larger music markets on the coasts–and what’s happening currently–while I was able to generate this kind of income in the Midwest ten years ago.

Even while I was playing clubs in the late 90s and early 00s, the local pop musicians were already talking about how the money was better “back in the day”–this almost invariably referred to pre-1995.  Clubs were fewer, pay was better, there wasn’t as much competition from DJs and Karaoke machines. In other words, local musicians have noticed a breakdown of their revenue streams from over 20 years ago, and as we can see from the growing disparity above, it is only accelerating.

I think what this shows is that, just as we have this tendency to overestimate the decline of Classical Music by focusing on a few failing institutions, we also tend to overestimate the health and sustainability of popular music due to the focus on a few Superstars who do happen to be doing well. Most of my blog posts in the past about revenue made by popular local acts had been to focus on this over-reliance on a biased sample for Crisis talk.  Some of my recent posts have focused on the over-reliance on knowledge about a few failing institutions to describe the whole field of Classical Music.

Maybe it’s time to revisit what Douglas Dempster said well over ten years ago:

But the studies reviewed here make it perfectly clear that critics have, perhaps in a spate of millennial fever, greatly exaggerated the demise of classical music at the end of the 20th century. Even worse, however, they have witnessed very complex trends in the culture of classical music and reduced them to the morally simplistic calculus of “rise” and “decline.” Musical and cultural critics misinterpret economic, demographic, and technological changes affecting the world of classical music as signaling some spiritual decay in the culture of classical music itself. The audience for classical music is not withering, but technological, sociological, and economic forces are reshaping that audience in important ways.