the economics of underserved audiences (part 2): “Who Benefits Whom” and Preference Minorities

Joel Waldfogel’s – The Tyranny of the Market published by Harvard University Press (2007)

It’s been some time since I posted the first part of this series of posts exploring the issues surrounding how I view my role as an educator and musician.  In this, part 2 of the series, I’m going to make some use of some of the research and theoretical insights by Joel Waldfogel that he published as a short book titled, “The Tyranny of the Market: Why You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

The gist of the book is summarized well enough at its page at the Harvard University Press website (linked above):

Economists have long counseled reliance on markets rather than on government to decide a wide range of questions, in part because allocation through voting can give rise to a “tyranny of the majority.” Markets, by contrast, are believed to make products available to suit any individual, regardless of what others want. But the argument is not generally correct. In markets, you can’t always get what you want. This book explores why this is so and its consequences for consumers with atypical preferences.

When fixed costs are substantial, markets provide only products desired by large concentrations of people. As a result, people are better off in their capacity as consumers when more fellow consumers share their product preferences. Small groups of consumers with less prevalent tastes, such as blacks, Hispanics, people with rare diseases, and people living in remote areas, find less satisfaction in markets. In some cases, an actual tyranny of the majority occurs in product markets. A single product can suit one group or another. If one group is larger, the product is targeted to the larger group, making them better off and others worse off.

The book illustrates these phenomena with evidence from a variety of industries such as restaurants, air travel, pharmaceuticals, and the media, including radio broadcasting, newspapers, television, bookstores, libraries, and the Internet.

Waldfogel’s basic thesis is that given high fixed costs, those who are members of a preference minority are far less likely to get products they desire.  Through his research he demonstrates that as the population of a particular preference group increases, the members of that group are more likely to be satisfied by the range of choices available to them and vice versa if the population of a particular preference group decreases.

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Orchestra News

Image of an Assyrian Orchestra, from a slab in the British Museum, dating from 7th century BC. There are 7 portable harps, a dulcimer, two double flutes, and a drum.

Detroit: Drew McManus posts some recent not-so-great news about the possible binding arbitration deal the DSO musicians wanted to begin negotiation with DSO management.

Philadelphia: Management have been threatening Chapter 11 for the Philadelphia Orchestra.



Honolulu: Drew also posts a link to the Liquidation Auction of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra which filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy last year after 110 years running.

Louisville: Despite the overturned Chapter 11 for the Louisville Orchestra, there are still difficulties as the LEO outlines very well.  Also notice that the Louisville Orchestra have effectively shut down the Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association website which is one of the reasons we’ve been seeing Keep Louisville Symphonic in our parts.

Brazil: Brazil Symphony Orchestra to re-audition the whole orchestra???

In other news related to my research.  Last weekend as I was working on my database for ethnic orchestras (see my post Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music) I was just stunned with the numbers of organizations I’ve been coming up with.  After 1990 it almost seems like an exponential blossoming of ensembles and increasingly larger and larger ensembles (this is just for North America).

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“…and it never occurred to me that musical tastes and offerings will change as demographics change…”

Keni Washington and his OMniverse Jazz Sinfonia

Keni Washington and his OMniverse Jazz Sinfonia at the Madame Walker Theater Indianapolis 1997

So today, as I mentioned last week is a cello sectional coaching day, but I was so distracted by thoughts about the current DSO situation that I found it hard to concentrate at the task at hand.   What I also had on my mind, in light of the recent piece I rediscovered and blogged about a few days ago, Changing US Demographics and Classical Music, and especially as Elysia and I have been having a discussion about such issues in a review of a Sacramento Philharmonic concert she went to this weekend which included a composition (“New Conception”) by Egyptian Composer, Nader Abassi, was the quote (in the title of this blog post).

It was a response to a possible solution for the DSO that I had made back in August at the Cello Chat forums.   I tend to envision an orchestral world that isn’t so dominated by European styled Orchestras sure–and I’m not at all shy about stating my desire to form my own World Music Orchestra that would be international in a way that Orthodox Orchestras will probably never be. Continue reading

Changing US Demographics and Classical Music

The title here could just as easily have read “Changing US Demographics and Music” but it is the title of a blog that Ramon Ricker had posted some time ago.  Mainly the realization that the population on the streets of Amsterdam looke nothing like the audience he was seeing at a Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra concert (they were playing Mahler 6).

The most relevant quote, as this relates to what I’ve started to blog about regarding my mission and performing for underserved audiences. follows:

As we waited for the concert to start, I looked around the hall and noticed that the patrons didn’t look like any of the people we were seeing on the street. The concertgoers were stereotypical “Dutch people,” in my mind—good sized with mostly fair complexions. But the people on the Amsterdam streets were much more diverse. There were many more dark-skinned people—I suppose from Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East. I thought to myself, “The people in the streets can’t be listening to European classical music. I’m not hearing it anyplace out here. The demographic of Amsterdam must be changing. But if it continues to change who will be coming to these concerts in 50 years?”

Now, scroll over to US orchestras? In my mind it’s the same as the Amsterdam example. As I look out at the audience at a Rochester Philharmonic concert, the attendees don’t look the same as the general population of Rochester. I ask myself, “Why were US orchestras formed in the first place?” My guess is that the population was predominately of European descent at that time, and they probably wanted to experience or recreate the culture of their homeland. It felt natural to them.

Thinking about the well-documented changing demographic of the US towards greater numbers of citizens with other than European (read: white) ancestry, I can’t believe that this population, in 50 years or probably less, will want to sit in a concert hall and listen to Mahler. It’s not in their DNA or culture. And that’s not a put down. They also don’t get exposure to this music in schools. If I keep going along this line of thinking, I don’t see a bright future for “classical” music in general or US orchestras in particular. Sure this music will be with us, but will professional musicians be able to make a living playing it? That’s already difficult to do today in all but the largest US cities.

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the economics of underserved audiences (part 1)

Yesterday, I posted a bit about playing for underserved audiences, or rather, my desire to play for them. As the response to an email I quoted it’s an issue of bringing a certain type of live entertainment to groups that might not otherwise have an opportunity (or that have fewer opportunities) to ever experience an art form that could regularly be seen in the audience member’s native country.

Some of the questions (or retorts) I’ve had to answer in the past when I’ve bothered to make my “mission statement” public have been weighing on my mind for years (if not decades in some cases) and I’ve only recently been able to articulate non-anecdotal and intuitive responses.

So many of the issues can be analyzed and articulated from the standpoint of the economic benefits or harm that is the result of not having the same range of choices available between populations, or rather between different subpopulations within a geo-political region.

As far as arts and entertainment goes, the case is probably not seen as being so important. I’ll address that in the next part, but to underscore just how important and relevant an analysis like this can be just imagine how fewer options for a particular population can be deadly when it comes to the issue of nutrition and/or medicine.

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