Monday, April 29, 2013

Could the arts exist without alcohol?

Image from Flickr

This week, I'd like to continue on the topic of making money in music. In the past, I've blogged about music funding after labels, and writing Christmas music straight for TV, because it's one of the few protected revenue streams. This week, I'd like to speculate: Would the arts be able to survive without alcohol?

If you are wondering about the connection between the two, while musicians usually don't make money directly from alcohol, a lot of the musical performance infrastructure is built around alcohol revenue. Venues often don't make very much money from renting out their spaces to acts; instead, they use alcohol (and to a lesser extent, other concessions) as their main income stream. And not just popular music, but classical, opera, and jazz. Early jazz was funded almost entirely by alcohol (1). Without revenues from alcohol, many venues probably wouldn't be able to stay in business, making it hard for musicians to perform. This is especially true for small clubs, often the only place starting acts can play. And since live performance is about the only way musicians make money anymore, cutting off alcohol revenue could be disastrous to musicians (2).

Why would I ask this question? After all, alcohol's connection to music will not end in the foreseeable future. Well, first, I'm a teetotaler myself, and if I ever became a popular performer or started a music venue, I might feel a little uncomfortable paying my bills with alcohol sales, even though it's the customer's choice. Second, music's dependency on alcohol makes me wonder how little our society values most music. Many people don't want to pay for music (except for maybe a few big live performance acts), yet they feel okay paying high mark-ups for alcoholic drinks all the time. Do we really value music so little? I realize that the immateriality of music is partly to blame (it's much easier to charge for a product than something ephemeral you hear), but I think the point stands. Without alcohol, it would be almost impossible to fund almost ANY type of music without state funding, private donors, or an attitude change where people paid as much for music as they would for alcohol.

Are music and alcohol consumption so different? They both give pleasant sensations and help people have a good time. They both can be in the foreground or the background of a social experience. Music when consumed to excess, however, is not as dangerous.

So, do you think arts can survive without alcohol? How? Is this a silly question to ask? Would our culture ever pay for music as much as they would for alcohol?

Vocab: venue

(1) Even today, you often don't pay for the music when you go to a jazz club, but instead you pay a "cover charge," which pays for one alcoholic drink.

(2) Finances aside, alcohol is also an important part of some music cultures. Irish folk music comes almost entirely out of the pub culture, where musicians meet and play their tunes together and swear that they play better when they're a little "greased up."

1 comment:

  1. Restaurants also make a good deal of their profit from alcohol sales. Consider some unintended consequences of prohibition