Those of us in the new music field don’t talk a lot about money. That’s actually weird. One way or another our work is embedded in a broader culture enabled by, driven by, obsessed by money. Money is the ultimate medium through which status and power flow. Perhaps most sadly, it’s the commonly recognized measure of what’s valuable in our lives.
Maybe by not talking about it we’re engaging in an act of silent resistance. The broader culture tells us, “C’mon, get over it! Price equals value. A thing is worth whatever people are willing to pay for it.” Our thought bubbles shout back: “Not true!” or at least, hedging our bets, “Not always!”
Maybe the subject is too painful. One of the fundamental characteristics of our field is the massive disjunction between scale of ambition and scale of financial resource to realize it. My colleagues at New Music USA and I experience this in a direct and personal way every single day as we try to bring as much money as we can to the field and its work. We viscerally understand that one of the salient experiences of being an artist in the United States is the tension between the value we feel in our minds, our hearts, our bones, and the valuation the culture tends to reflect back, negatively, in lack of money.
We should all talk about this a lot. Sharing stories is one of the most empowering human acts. The New Music Gathering this past January in Baltimore beautifully reminded me of this. In one group discussion after another, artists and others spoke freely and without inhibition about their experiences, their thoughts, their emotions relating to money and the work they hold dear. Trusting vulnerability was the prevailing mood. Reassurance and relief, at least in the sense of not feeling so alone, were the big takeaways.
My colleagues and I returned from NMG determined to extend the sharing outward. The first step is this week of content on NewMusicBox dealing with the economic dimensions of new music. We don’t pretend that money is a subject to be exhausted in one week of posts (or five weeks, or one hundred weeks). Still, a period of focus can be a really meaningful step. As in our two previous theme week iterations—focused on education and then mental health and creativity—we’ll be exploring broadly. The week is set to include posts on Baumol’s cost disease, venture capital funding models, volunteer culture, as well as what stories big data may be able to tell us about where we’re headed. In addition, there will be plenty of personal reflection on matters big and small.
We hope you and lots of others will get involved in Music and Money week: reading, thinking, commenting, sharing, discussing. On NewMusicBox or social media or in your local coffee shop. The more open conversation we can inspire the better. Here’s why. First, we can help each other build a healthier relationship between the value we feel and the value the culture seems to perceive. If we get that right, perhaps we’ll find new ways to attract and employ resources that empower our work. And then, were we able to find a way to harness that empowerment, we might even aspire to model back to our culture a way to think about art and its worth that actually IS NOT based on money as the primary measure.
From any perspective, this is far from an angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin type of question. Viewed from altitude, our clarity about our values and how we live into them is key to making the art we want to make. Viewed from the ground floor, no matter where we place our values, we need to live in a world where our landlords and grocery stores and gas stations deal only in cold hard cash.
New posts coming every day this week! Check back here for the full index.
- Lessons from the Outside: A Venture Capital Firm for New Music
- Commissioning Fees Calculator
- Spreadsheets and Skeptics: A Philosophical Tale of Data and Music
- William G. Baumol and You: (Broader Economic) Context Is Everything
- Money, Support, and the Voice of New Music
- Roundtable: The Bonnie Jones Grant
- Roundtable: Let’s Make a List
- Roundtable: Facing the Hard Questions
- In The Absence of Money
- Loving the Lottery: Arts Funding for the Unfunded
*Lead image courtesy Tim Dorr, CC license via Flickr.