Friday, September 21, 2012

The Musical "Marketplace" Is Changing Too Quickly

During the 1990s it seemed like there were hundreds and hundreds of brides and grooms in our area who wanted to have string quartets play at their weddings, and my quartet had pretty much as much work as we could handle during the summer months. Before the internet, there was the telephone, and when it rang it was almost never a sales call from some entity somewhere I have never heard of. Often it was a call about a wedding to play, or a party.

The internet and e-mail have certainly made it easier for people who are getting married to contact our quartet, but it has also jettisoned the practice of pairing up brides and string quartets into the territory of bidding and bargaining, which is not a healthy "place" for musicians to spend time.

I blame organizations like Gig Master. Gig Master seems to make its money from charging a fee for musicians to join and be part of their mega listing. They flood the search engines with links to pages for their musicians, and make it easy for "clients" to find possible "vendors." The "vendors" can "bid" for jobs, and the "client" will usually pick the "vendor" with the lowest price. This practice pits musician against musician, which does no good for building and maintaining a respectful society of working musicians.

Our quartet tried Gig Master, but we let our membership lapse after a year because we did not get a SINGLE wedding from being part of their network. We got inquiries, but, since there are four people in a quartet, and since we are all professionals and provide a consistently high-quality "product," we probably have a higher fee than those clients were willing to pay.

In the "market" for everything besides live music, the higher price "good" is usually considered the better "good." People imagine that a $150.00 pair of shoes will be better than a $20.00 pair of shoes. We are often encouraged to buy good things that won't wear out. High-quality cookware should last a lifetime. So should high-quality furniture. A high-quality musical performance lasts for as long as it takes for a musician or a group of musicians to play it.

It's hard to quantify music. If you go to a concert where the tickets cost $50.00, will that concert be as "good" as a concert where the tickets cost $20.00? Consumers want to know if what they are spending their money on is worth the price, and sometimes, when they lack the skills to tell the good from the great, they will convince themselves to enjoy less-than-enjoyable performances because of the price they paid for their tickets. Most of the concerts I play are not so expensive, so, when the concert is good, the people in the audience feel that they got a bargain: a lot of good music for relatively little money. Unfortunately the practice of newspapers paying critics to write honest and timely reviews of concerts is fading before our very eyes, so there is little in the way of post-concert "discussion" beyond talking with the people you happen to know in the audience.

More and more things in current culture seem to be quantified mainly by money. People pick expensive private colleges over state schools because they think the education they get at the more expensive college will be superior (forgetting, of course, that the real price for getting an education has to do with how much time and effort students put into their coursework). Some people make restaurant decisions based on price, and somehow believe that a $500.00 dinner for two would be "better" than one that costs half the price. People who can afford it make the same kinds of decisions about wine (Michael and I like the "house" brand of wine at a grocery store we frequent because of the variety. The wine varies from bottle to bottle, and it is always well worth the rock bottom price.)

I believe that music is not a thing you buy. Music (and that would be Music with a capital M) is played by people, and it happens in real time. Music is something that is different every time it is played. Music is written by people for people to play for their own enjoyment or for other people, and the price of admission that you pay at a concert should cover your part of the fee that the people playing are being paid and part of what it takes to manage a hall and all the workings behind putting on a concert. You are paying for the privilege of taking part in the Music that is happening.

The slope becomes slipperier and slipperier when people talk about buying music the same way they talk about buying a "thing." (I'm not talking about sheet music now, because I would classify that as more of a tool than a thing, though it is, actually, a thing.) When you buy a CD you are paying for the printing, design, engineering, and all the business-oriented stuff that is connected with making anything for publication. The sound stuff that is printed on the CD to make it something you can listen to should remain viable for a certain amount of time, but it is not something that can store recorded music permanently.

"Buying music" in current terms often means downloading an electronic "picture" of a performance or a rendering of several recorded musical fragments onto a device.

Let's hope that the musical "marketplace" will cycle back again, and Music will be thought of as something to experience rather than something to own. And maybe our quartet will get a few more weddings to play.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well, Elaine, you already know how I feel about the music "marketplace", so I couldn't agree more. I've had similar experiences with musician warehousing sites, never get a single gig from them...they seem to exist the provide the lowest common denominator to non-discriminating buyers. Which is pretty much everybody nowadays.