Inverting the Pyramid - Investing in our Creative Music Makers

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A Perspective on Creative Industries' Impact on our Musical Lives

The term "experimental music" carries with it the baggage that such music inevitably attracts small audiences. However it is now apparent, for a variety of reasons, that this need not be the case. Indeed evidence shows that a vibrant music industry is fuelled by the new, the entrepreneurial and the innovative. Using as a starting point play and experimentation (instead of rote learning of "fundamentals") is likely to stimulate a more vital musical life at all levels - professional, amateur and pro-am levels. Thus, through new practices and ways of reaching audiences the rarefied world of experimental art world becomes part of the far more outwardly reaching "creative industries" sector.

The British Government Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) defines the creative industries as:

those industries that are based on individual creativity, skill and talent. They are also those that have the potential to create wealth and jobs through developing intellectual property. This includes advertising, architecture, the art and antiques market, crafts, design, designer fashion, film and video, interactive leisure software, music, the performing arts, publishing, software, computer and video games, television and radio.

The technological and cultural change we have been experiencing could be compared to water rising in a dam – long, slow, imperceptible and silent but relentless. If you have not been monitoring the water level, you'l be unprepared when the dam starts to break from the pressure. The changes in music began during in the second half of the 20th Century. Some noticed ... and some still refuse to believe that the water is rushing down the valley towards them. Watch out!

Public music funding in Australia is an inverted pyramid with about ten times more funding going to the major arts organizations (orchestras and opera companies) than to the rest (see diagram below). Funding for micro businesses is less than 5% of the total available, with small to medium performing arts mopping up around another 10%. This means that the emphasis could be said to be substantially propping up the unviable rather than investing in the future of our music industries.

x

Growth

Creativity is a key driver of the 21st Century, economically, industrially and socially. The ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation report "How Big is Australia's Creative Capacity?"[1] indicates how fast and far the creative industries have grown in Australia.

Between 1996 and 2001, the average annual growth rate of the creative workforce was 5%, considerably faster than the average annual growth rate of the total workforce (1.9%)

Other findings deduced from the 2001 census that Australian creative industries accounted for 6.6% of the workforce and of this 85% was digital in some way. Cunningham explains there are "explicit" and "embedded" creative industries:

  • Explicit: almost 300,000 people were working in firms specialising in the production of creative goods and services.
  • Embedded: an additional 137,000 people worked in creative occupations within other industries (eg acoustic designers in car making).

In the UK a similar trend has happened with the creative industries sector accounting for 7.9% of the workforce in 2006. It is the fastest growing sector in both countries.

The performative part of the music industry is not growing as much as some other areas. However this is more than offset by enormous growth in music software development and other digital areas of music (Cunningham et al. 2007). There are also debates as to what is "creative" and what is not. The creative industries could be said to include more traditional cultural industries, as well as the more innovatively focused areas. So the creative industries covers a full spectrum of musical activities, from heritage to cutting edge. Growth is overwhelmingly in the latter areas.

Transferable Skills

Music, in all its forms, is a backbone of the creative industries. Although being musical is of course intrinsically important in itself there is evidence that creative skills applied in creative music-making are transferable and therefore of importance to more than just the practicing musician. Such skills include team-building, problem-finding (see below), problem-solving and creative project management. More research is needed here.[2] Sir Ken Robinson who led the British government's 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education argues that because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers,

We are educating people out of their creativity.

Entrepreneurship

Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.[3]

What is increasingly apparent is the need for creative musicians to be entrepreneurial in the broadest sense. Fewer musicians are full-time employees than in the past and "waiting for the phone to ring" is not the best survival strategy. More often than not musicians in the contemporary world have a portfolio career, balancing a range of skills and aptitudes which make him/her desirable in a series of situations. The 2006 English Government report Developing Entrepreneurship for the Creative Industries[4] suggests that

We have largely lost sense of what 'entrepreneurship' really means.

The QUT Creative Industries Precinct is one of four international examples of interest in this report (p 34) - the only area from Australia.

The Creative Industries Precinct brings together commercial and educational expertise in a facility dedicated to creative experimentation and commercial development providing a unique opportunity for designers, artists, researchers, educators and entrepreneurs to connect and collaborate with others to create new work, develop new ideas and grow the creative industries sector in Queensland.

It is keen to promote creative entrepreneurship as an important quality that needs to be further developed in musicians (and all artists) of the future.

The report states

The term "entrepreneur" has French origins which translated literally indicate that it is about spotting opportunities as well as creating solutions - problem finding as well as problem solving. Entrepreneurship is not just about making money (although someone who both finds and solves problems is a valuable proposition)...

The entrepreneur can be described as one who makes things happen, a 'mover-shaker', a creative thinker, a go-getter.

Entrepreneurialism is an alternative way of viewing the world to the analytical and critical viewpoints that are taught within HE and FE [Higher Education and Further Education] and which enables students to make the transition from academic theory and creative practice to understanding and capitalising on the wider application of their work in society … The most successful economies and societies in the twenty-first century will be creative ones

On a BBC program Global Business,[5] Russell Ackoff stated that Western education has been imprisoned for centuries by valuing only analytic thought. As a result most people cannot do the "synthetic" thinking that sees an organisation as an intermoving whole. As Sir Ken Robison stated at QUT CCi (2007)

We are focused on dissection rather than holism.

The document Developing Entrepreneurship for the Creative Industries - The Role of Higher and Further Education (2006)[6] states that:

Some studies (eg. Ropke, 1998[7]) have suggested that higher education can actually make graduates less entrepreneurial by developing the analytical and theoretical skills to the detriment of more lateral thinking abilities. It is often reported that students on arts and creative programmes are generally more practical, 'right brain', lateral thinkers than many of their peers and as such, these students already have many of the latent competencies that are needed for entrepreneurship and it is important that they are allowed to continue to develop these fully. We also know that a high proportion of students on art and design courses have some level of dyslexia (as many as 25% on some programmes). The reality is that these students can often be at a disadvantage as despite their creative and visualisation abilities, the requirement to present ideas in written format within the examination and assessment structure requires a set of disciplines that come less naturally to them (p 20).

If this is true in any sense, the dominance of analytical thinking may have led to a stifling of creative approaches. In a world of downloads and web 2.0 it would seem to be of utmost importance for any musician should be committed to creativity, that the entrepreneurial aspects of being an artist in the 21st Century are fully explored.

Our history informs our present. We are in a culture that has not completely shaken off the shackles of its colonial past. Australia still celebrate the Queen's birthday as a public holiday. Interestingly they do not celebrate the Queen's Birthday in the UK.

In the world of music, the UK was lucky to receive its wake-up call by a series of happy coincidences in the early 60s. Post-war egalitarianism, the youth revolution, new-found wealth, and speaking the same language as most North Americans conspired to create the conditions for a burst of musical innovation from a plethora of bands, led by The Beatles. These bands' influence spread around the world. Having little "classical" compositional legacy for 300 years since Purcell (apart from Britten and a few minor composers), the UK was ripe for acceptance of popular music forms, and their success sealed future creative industries directions for music there. Geographic conditions (where large population centres were within reach of each other) enabled a new music culture to flourish despite any media inertia. For instance the BBC did not have a popular music channel until way after the music explosion had happened (Radio 1 in 1967). It also flourished despite all formal music education programmes, most of whom were backing on the future of music with Schoenberg, Stockhausen and the Avant Garde. This new popular music was not primarily about mathematical progressions or algorithmic systems, but extended below the neck to embrace physicality, and beyond the body to encompass contemporary social movements, and to new sounds from new sources such as electric guitars, drum kits and synthesisers.

Nobrow

Until the Second World War, music had been divided into highbrow or lowbrow – music of the elite and music of the masses. During the 1950s a touch of middlebrow crept in. The 1960s were the start of what John Seabrook called Nobrow, in the book of the same name. It was this that gave UK a newfound confidence with the swinging 60s, a confidence which the UK has been able to reap ever since, in sales of mediated art (recordings, films, tv) and national campaigns such as Cool Britannia (c1996). This direction has not been based on class, but has been more related to other demographics such as generational differences or such intangibles as "buzziness".

Until recently Australian music has not had good conditions for global growth. Long distances between population centres and a history of imported culture meant that the US and UK dominated media with rigid playlists ensured that we remained net importers of music. However the fragmentation of distribution sources through online connections has changed this. And the success of the Music. Play for Life campaign is, I hope, also indicative of the start of a newly found confidence and a real growth in people actually making music for play and enjoyment. Such movements in education and policy, combined with new production and distribution mechanisms, will provide the basis for a long-term development of musical entrepreneurship in Australia.

Time and Space Redefined

Sound recording helped change our concept of historical lineage. Once a consumer could walk into a record shop and see all periods of music displayed side by side, the original era of a piece of music meant little. Everything was effectively an ever-present present.

More recently the internet has collapsed the concept of musical geography, and with it the necessity to isolate and conserve style and genre. The iPod was an icon for this change. Now with the proliferation of interactive websites with tag clouds and intelligent databases (started by Amazon), anyone can (and does) put up their music on the web for anyone anywhere in the world to hear and comment on. Musical communities can be built can be built on geographically dispersed, but culturally connected clusters. This new generation of online facilities is known as "Web 2.0".

Occasionally an act or a song catches the imagination of a big enough audience, made up of people all over the world and the music takes off in a mass way. But as Chris Anderson states in "The Long Tail" (2006) the sales of the top 5 albums between 2001 and 2005 fell by half, whereas the total album sales fell by a quarter.[8] This latter figure probably underestimates the thousands of one-off sales of privately released songs on the web. As Anderson observes we are now in a world of niches not blockbusters. This profoundly changes the music industry business models. Value is thus judged not by an amorphous consensus, but by clustered groups of peers, geographically dispersed but sometimes aggregated into a large number. What was formerly unviable professional practice in the old media environment can now be possible in the 'global village'.

Impact and Quality

A judgement by such a geographically dispersed yet unified group is often referred to as "The Wisdom of the Crowds" as opposed to the more traditional academic or expert-based "Wisdom of the Tribe". The judgement of the self-selecting crowd is often referred to as impact, whereas the judgement of the group-appointed academic tribe is deemed to be quality.

Thus the tribe (as opposed to the crowd) is more like a club with entry rules and codes of behaviour, exclusive and the home of the expert. Music, and musical ideas, which do not conform to these rules, are deemed to have little quality - thus innovation is often beyond the paradigm of comprehension of the tribe. The crowd, on the other hand, being self-selecting, can be remarkably accurate in its judgements, providing the group formed is large for its critical views to have 'critical mass'.

Julian Knowles expresses this in his Survey of Web 2.0 Music Trends and Some Implications for Tertiary Music Communities (2007) where he states

In simple terms, Web 2.0 is problematising the traditional notion of the expert and the wisdom of the crowd has now risen to become a major force alongside the wisdom of the expert within the knowledge economy.[9]

Both approaches have their pluses and minuses, but as an agent of change the crowd is viewed to be more sensitive to trends, therefore effective in reflecting the dynamic contemporary artistic landscape. It is more flexible with fewer vested interests (providing the sample is big enough) and is, in short, more democratic with a more transparent modus operandi and a more flexible response time. Ironically although the book by Laurence Haughton and Jason Jennings book explains it's no longer the big that eat the small but the Fast That Eat The Slow,[10] these new online social network groups can be big and fast.

The crowd wisdom is understandably seen as a threat by the tribe. Vested interests are threatened. The old order is in jeopardy, witness the bunkered attitude of many conservatoire-based musicians and the dragging feet of large entertainment corporations. But as the Wikipedia has shown, the crowd, when big enough can be wiser than a small group, yet faster than a print-based group. The lessons of King Canute should be born in mind.

Inverting the Pyramid

The UK DCMS has identified seven issues that are key to success of the creative industries:

  • Education and skills
  • Competition and intellectual property
  • Technology
  • Business support and access to finance
  • Diversity
  • Infrastructure
  • Evidence and analysis

A creative industries approach inverts the traditional pyramid, giving it stability and true sustainability by placing the audience as the base and most fundamental component in the creative process. It also emphasises the economic importance of new knowledge and innovative products. This approach is inevitably a challenge for more traditional areas where in many cases the work is a reiteration of what has gone before, and contains little that is original, and much that can be copied anywhere in the world. Thus the emphasis moves from supporting unviable industries and to investing in ones with the potential to grow.

x

Consequently the artist, ie the 'producer', services those who consume and who pay for their wares. In Mozart's day this may have been a wealthy patron. More recently this may have been the state. As state funding is diminishing, and has itself become more accountable to its constituents (voters), the audience member has effectively had more say in what is wanted and what is not. The traditional elites understandably see this as a retrograde step, against their interests. But apart from holding on to some unprovable sense of absolute value it is hard to justify not changing. However in a niche world there is room for all. So although near-absolute power no longer rests with this one group, most minorities can survive as niches.

In reality the pyramid is being turned on its side allowing greater flow and engagement between the audience and the producer. A successful producer (composer, songwriter, performer, presenter) needs to be of their time, not too far ahead or behind. Their focus needs to align with the zeitgeist.

In a 2005 Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (Arthurs, Radbourne and Clark) a new model for the orchestra was proposed which reflected these views:

x

The traditional orchestra comprises the players that deliver the standard content (repertoire) to a largely known audience in a concert hall. This project is based on the proposition that this method is no longer sufficient. The business model proposed above is an attempt to fit together these known quantities, or variations of them. This project started by developing a successful and sustainable business model. Content was then be created to answer the needs of this model and delivered in a variety of ways. This project was commented on in the "Free Speech" column of Music Forum Vol 13, No2, April 2007 as "Lunacy in Queensland" – symptomatic of the threat many feel towards suggested broadening of the musical tradition. (ref?)

This is not to mean there is now only one focus, a monoculture. Far from it. Since, in a geographically dispersed audience, most niches can survive, providing producers can build their own audiences, plurality can thrive. So, for instance, a classical musician, in a niche of 2-3% of the global music market, can now operate effectively. And through this the musicians can build communities who wish to connect to their music. Marketing for concerts and recordings can thus be better targeted. The concept of the mass media is now unravelled to a series of subcultures – accessible if the musician has the right tools. Work methods have been changed because the means of production have changed. The industrial revolution spawned the industrial economy and mass production. The digital economy has spawned the "knowledge economy". More broadly we could say that the creative economy can be subdivided into the knowledge economy, the service economy, the experiential economy and the transformational economy. Applying definitions from Wikipedia and the London Business School:

  • Knowledge economy - the use of knowledge to produce economic benefits
  • Service economy - where focus is on activities that are charged for
  • Experience economy - where the focus is on the experience and engagement of the customer when interacting with organisations
  • Transformation economy - where an experience is customised

Globalisation

To be fully effective as a working artist it is important to understand and utilise globalising trends. The potentially good news for Australian Music in a globalised economy is that we are moving towards a world where the centre can be anywhere. All points on the surface of a sphere are equidistant from its centre. So we in Australia can now connect to our audience as well as anyone on the globe, broadband infrastructure permitting. All that matters is connectivity, speed, and ideas. Now we genuinely have the chance to be a creative nation. But this demands changes in the way we work, as stated above – a differentiation of what you offer musically from everyone else. We have to be able to offer something different. This demands initiative, innovation, creativity and empathy of the audience culture. Colonialism was firstly replaced by multiculturalism and finally a novo-culturalism demanding a shift of thinking to a culture that can cope with the demands of globalisation- a culture that creates its own way out of the mire.

To be fully effective as a working artist it is important to understand this new economy. Paradoxically, when anyone can access music for free at any time, what differentiates the successful from the rest is the ability to connect better to audiences. This means giving your audience a better experience, sometimes even assisting in their transformation. Dick Leahy, who discovered many pop acts in the 60s and 70s was a strong advocate of opposing music piracy by creating a product that fans wanted to own. A copy would not suffice for them – they had to buy the original with Walter Benjamin's "aura".

Using the social music networks of the web is a contemporary way of knowing your audience better - through well-designed databases and thus knowing more about your audience, knowing their tastes and preferences. Beyond this it is important to be generous to them - enhancing their experience of your music through blogging, special offers on live events and on-line presence and products, for pre and post show contact – in short forming a relationship with your audience. Chris Voss and Leonieke Zomerdijk wrote:

The research found that experiential services are often designed from the perspective of the customer journey rather than as a single product or transaction; the service is seen as a journey that spans a longer period of time and consists of multiple components and multiple touchpoints. The journey perspective implies that a customer experience is built over an extended period of time, starting before and ending after the actual sales experience or transaction. During a customer journey, numerous touchpoints occur between the customer and the organisation or the brand. These touchpoints need to be carefully designed and managed. The research shows that innovation takes place at each of these touchpoints as well as of the overall journey itself.[11]

Music as a Discipline

Traditionally music institutions' relationship to music-making has been similar to the relationship of the church to religion, a set of dos and don'ts, of rules and regulations that are all combined into what has aptly been called a discipline- the rules of harmony, obeying the wishes of the composer etc. This rigidity is an encumbrance in a fast-moving world where people's musical tastes are as fickle as a share portfolio in a nervous market. We may have problems with this, but as professional or semi-professional musicians we may also wish to survive - even to live well! A new approach to skill acquisition may well be needed - one that is based on the following to becoming competent in music:

x

What this diagram shows is that there are two musical starting points, through being taught or through play, perhaps through a motivational music coach. Being taught skills means learning a set of absolute skills which the teacher deems to be correct. Learning through play can lead to learning the appropriate skills to achieve the desired goals. The first approach tends to lead to the ability to play set repertoire. The second tends to lead to the ability to create new music and develop one's own voice. The advantage of the first is that it can be better systematised and measured. It is also considered reliable method to get students to a known end point. The disadvantage is that young musicians do not necessarily develop a confidence to develop creative skills to make their own material, and in many cases they lose the motivation to continue, as they cannot relate to the ethos of the teacher. The disadvantage of the second approach is the danger that students do not know what skills are needed to achieve their goals. Therefore a sensitive coaching role can assist here. What is apparent is that the creative approach is more aligned to the professional needs of a musician in the 21st Century than more traditional teaching methods. It also is of value, if the coaching is effective, for creative thinking and doing, in areas beyond music – becoming a transferable skill.

Multi-skilling

Does this creative approach mean a downskilling of musicians? If viewed through a traditional unchanging attitude to the skill-set needed then the answer could well be 'yes'. It takes a particular and differing skill and aesthetic to write and perform for the living room or the concert hall or the church or for film or tv or interactive media.

The idea of pure music, untainted by other arts, fashion or by commerce, is not only outmoded, it has connotations of a belief in some kind of authentic ultimate way of making music a construct born out of a particular era of a particular culture – a snapshot taken at a moment in our history.

The evidence all around us shows that there are many ways to be a musician and there is no hierarchy of goodness in this. It is significant that the UK's richest person in 2001 was Sir Paul McCartney, a man whose inability to read music would bar him from most music institutions in this country, and yet a musician whose compositions are now on secondary music syllabuses in England.

Multiliteracy

So it seems there is need to have a broader definition of what musicianship and music literacy is. Reading the dots is crucial if you are destined to copy others' creations, but not so crucial if you are the creator. The jobbing musicians whose only skill is to faithfully play the notes may be admirable, but their status is diminishing – they are important but more replaceable. One solution in the pluralistic musical world that now exists, and if we acknowledge some need to make creative music, is to deduce what the appropriate skills are needed to achieve a certain outcome, and then seek to master those skills. Education is implemented at every step.

Gauging the Market

So is creativity a free for all? Definitely not. It demands a set of skills, a knowledge of the buzz of the time, some nous and some luck. Be too similar to something else and you're dead. Be too different and you are ignored. We are dealing as in a market of symbols in what Justin O'Connor from the Manchester Institute of Popular Culture said is a very volatile and fast moving symbolic circuit - not the glacially changing musical environment of an average Australian tertiary music institution, to say nothing of the Australian National Academy of Music which rarely, if ever, strays from a narrow diet of Western Art Music.[12]

This is not however a world where classical music is doomed, nor popular music blessed. As Manuel Castells stated, globalisation is highly selective.[13] It proceeds by linking up all that, according to dominant interests, has value anywhere in the planet, and discarding anything which has no value or becomes devalued, in a variable geometry of creative destruction and destructive creation of value. In a globalised environment, cults can flourish, provided you are well networked to seek out the individuals from around the world. In a networked world however, you cannot assume to be the spokesperson of a dominant culture.

There is a greater hunger than ever to consume, but there is also a greater desire too to throw away. A creator has to be on the right side of this equation. We need to remain indispensable if we want to make a career in music. We need to understand this new world and respond to the demands it makes on us. In the 21st Century there are no safe places regardless of efforts by some politicians to skew the landscape with unsustainable subsidies. There are strong arguments to say that the disproportionately large subsidies to a handful of traditional artistic but largely uncreative music performing bodies, is a barrier to entry for the more innovative younger companies and individuals. It could be even claimed that it works in opposition to free trade.

Most musicians have few financial safety nets and find themselves living the creative industries ethos daily. They have to ensure that they connect with performers and audiences in various modes and media by using ideas that have cultural relevance. This, put another way, means creating music that is relevant to our culture, be that with a home-grown product, or one that is value-added from elsewhere. It has become a truly borderless world. Whether the music is Australian or not is of little practical consideration. All that matters is that we do not just copy.

It cannot be underestimated how hard change can be. But as Gen. Eric Shinseki, a previous Chief of Staff U.S. Army is reputed to have said, "If you don't like change you're going to like irrelevance even less". How long before we start to invert the pyramid? And, to mix the metaphor, how long before we invest in growth and innovation at the grass roots rather than merely prop up sacred cows in music? How long before we invest in a country whose talents have made a global mark well above average for decades? These are questions we should ask our governments.

References

  1. Cunningham et al. 2007
  2. Kate Oakley, Educating for the Creative Workforce: Rethinking Arts and Education.
  3. William A. Ward (1921–94)
  4. http://www.culture.gov.uk/Reference_library/Publications/archive_2006/entrepreneurship_ci.htm
  5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4508417.stm
  6. Para 45, Developing Entrepreneurship for the Creative Industries, The Role of Higher and Further Education, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH PP 903, May 2006.
  7. Ropke, J (1998), The Entrepreneurial University: Innovation, academic knowledge creation and regional development in a globalised economy.
  8. http://www.thelongtail.com/
  9. http://www.griffith.edu.au/centre/qcrc/resources/knowles-survey-web-2-0-music-trends.pdf
  10. http://www.laurencehaughton.com/Its%20the%20Fast%20that%20Eat%20the%20Slow.pdf
  11. Chris Voss and Leonieke Zomerdijk (2007), Innovation in Experiential Services - An Empirical View, Published by the Advanced Institute of Management Research, The London Business School, London.
  12. http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/releases/2001/January/index1.aspx?ComponentId=6272&SourcePageId=1402
  13. http://www.unrisd.org/unrisd/website/document.nsf/ab82a6805797760f80256b4f005da1ab/f270e0c066f3de7780256b67005b728c/$FILE/dp114.pdf

Author

Prof Andy Arthurs, 2008

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