ACEI 2010: international conference on cultural economics in Copenhagen


First thing that struck me when I landed at Copenhagen Airport yesterday evening was how clean and futuristic it felt. Everything in Denmark appeared to have been designed for efficiency.

After picking up my small suitcase from baggage claim, I inserted my euro credit card into the ticket machine and got a train ticket into the city. My Danish friends were already waiting to welcome me to their home with chilled white wine and a tasty home-cooked dinner.

This morning at Copenhagen Business School, I introduced myself as a full-time musician, giving up practising and concertising this week, to meet the cultural economists whose works I’ve read and helped explain the paradoxes in the music and arts world that I’m in. I came to the4-day conference to understand that irrational addiction called music.

“Expain what you mean by addiction,” asked Professor Tyler Cowen whose cultural economics blog, The Marginal Revolution, has made headline news and continues to lead a cult following of superstar status. He led one of the three doctoral research seminars on cultural economics prior to the official conference opening today.

“Making music is highly addictive,” I began. “You get into a flow, making something so beautiful to play and to listen to, whether by yourself, or even better, with others such as in chamber music, that you don’t want to stop. Whether you are practising at home, rehearsing with others, getting coached, or giving a concert, you can get the same kind of adrenalin rush or endorphin kick that athletes get. You want to get it again and again.”

A Portuguese doctoral student observed, “It’s interesting that you are referring to addiction from the production perspective. I’m sure most people think of addiction from the consumption side. There is a book about how our brains are wired to enjoy music.”

I had not thought of that at all.

Cowen added, “I doubt producing music is as addictive as you say, otherwise there would be more people making music instead of the small percentage of the population.”

I added another hypothesis, “For musicians, the utility of making music is so high that everything else seems boring and tedious.”  The addiction and the high utility might explain why musicians are willing to perform for free.

I touched briefly on the paper I am presenting later in the week,  “House concerts for art music: multiple stakeholders, audience development, and sustainability.” The 14-page PDF document and other papers are available for free download from the ACEI website.

“Has it ever occurred to you that people go to concerts not just for the music?” Cowen highlighted. “They go for affiliation —- to be part of the community.”

I hadn’t thought of this before. But I have tried to use all sorts of “pulls” to get people to come to our concerts: free entry, good wine, exotic cuisine, interesting repertoire, etc. Sadly many musicians, like myself, still prefer to believe it’s our music or our musicianship that attracts people to come to our concerts.

How many other cultural practitioners are here to learn and have their beliefs challenged? I can’t wait for the conference to begin!

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4 Comments

Filed under articles, economics, research, travel

4 responses to “ACEI 2010: international conference on cultural economics in Copenhagen

  1. Tyler Cowen

    Great to meet you…Tyler

  2. Very interesting! very. Although the reply: “I doubt producing music is as addictive as you say, otherwise there would be more people making music instead of the small percentage of the population.” Seems to be a no-reasoning. Drugs can be very addictive too, yet most people stay away from it, just as most people choose a productive life over the often hard and insecure life of musicianhood. Besides: You have an excellent set of skills which makes getting to a high level very achievable. One ingredient for addiction I think.

    • Perhaps many beginners never get to a high enough level to feel that “flow” and if so, could that level be a goal, i.e. if the student never gets to that “flow” his or her parents and teachers should make sure he or she does not stop?

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