artisanal economics

Huh? Well, this is a bit of a stretch but please bear with me – it might be interesting.

I’m reading “An Omnivore’s Dilemma” and saw a reference to an article by Allan Nation which draws on theories of Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter.

Basically it discusses how “artisanal” production methods (which consist of selling something special rather that as a least-cost commodity) must not adapt to “industrial” production models.

If I apply this thinking to creative music, that means creative musicians:

  • should do everything they can to appear cutting-edge or at least unique
  • should never try to achieve financial growth for the sake of growth (e.g., simply because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing). This is contrary to conventional wisdom that you should always be expanding your market. I take this to mean we should only strive to expand our market if it is truly meant to somehow better support our artistic endeavors.
  • don’t strive for uniformity. I suppose you could interpret this a few ways. But why not perform on the edge? Some nights might be rough, others might be stellar. If you’re not challenging yourself, why bother? People pay for artisanal products because they expect outstanding results sometimes and can live with less desirable results occasionally. Consider fine wine. Sometimes bottles are undrinkable but we’ve come to understand this as part of the artisanal production process. If you choose perfection over art, you get something like supermarket wine as a result.
  • Focus on local markets. Follows on from the above point: artisans can’t scale to satisfy global markets. Consider how to optimize your impact within your local market.
  • Rely on reputation, word-of-mouth instead of advertising

I’m finding thinking about this concept very interesting. Obviously, I don’t have a strong backlog of evidence to prove this is the right path for creative musicians. But I like the ideas now. Do you have thoughts about this? Reactions to this advice (which seems opposite what most musicians are doing)?


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