Community and markets

As I get ready to head to the New Music Gathering I’ve been thinking a bit about conferences, markets, and community. Please excuse me while I ramble a bit and think out loud.

While NMG is very explicitly “anti-market” in their determination to avoid the usual conference table of ware-hawkers, every functional community is a marketplace of sorts.

It might not be a marketplace of dollars (though well-functioning communities in Western-modelled societies today often include the exchange of filthy lucre). It could be a marketplace of ideas, or a barter economy, or some other marketplace where things are exchanged. Without exchange of something there’s little reason to gather (and yes, gathering to signify one’s status as a member of a specific group is still an exchange).

But it strikes me, in conversations and observations, that dollars really are an issue. There are the dollars required for the schooling or other training, dollars required for instruments, dollars required for venues, dollars required for all the other things. In addition, the members of any community must eat, sleep, and so on.

The beauty of a good marketplace is that different people exchange things of different value to one another. Something that means not very much to me can be exchanged for something that means more to me. The other person involved in this exchange may feel the exact same way about their end of the deal. This would be the classic win-win.

Having spent the last 15 or so years involved more directly with the business community, where discussion of money is a bit more openly recognized than perhaps the art community, I naturally try to figure out which things are being exchanged and what holds value to whom.

Conferences and marketplaces

A conference, especially a new one, is interesting precisely because it signals the creation of a new market–a new way for humans to get together and determine what has value and how things might be exchanged to increase their own wealth (in whatever terms those individuals use to describe wealth).

The creation of a new marketplace can be welcome, but it can also be a threat to existing marketplaces. Especially if the things being exchanged are the same as existing marketplaces. This can become quite hairy in status-driven marketplaces or idea-driven marketplaces due to how fickle status and ideas can be.

Anytime statements are made about what has value, or behaviors are changed regarding what is valuable, exciting and interesting things will happen.

Markets and tables


I applaud the organizers for dispensing with the tables of wares-hawkers. I know from the business world that the revenue those tables generate is often more than off-set by the stress and hard treatment the hawkers give to staff and organizers. In addition, the wares-on-a-table construct discourages more innovative transaction methods and devalues exchanges that are not about objects and money.

Wares tables were great before things of value were disassociated from things containing atoms. They’re quaint now; ill-serving of hawkers, attendees, and organizers. They hold things back.

The nature of exchange

In order for a market to exist, something must pass from one person to another. The passing of that thing does not necessarily mean the originator loses the thing. For example, in most cases passing an idea on to another person does not make that idea disappear from my head. This is part of why “idea marketplaces” are so popular, because it looks like nothing is lost.

But what is it that will be exchanged at NMG, I wonder? I have a short list of “Things I expect to have value.” But I’m more interested in seeing what actually unfolds.

In a well-functioning marketplace everyone has a pretty clear sense of what they value. Without this sense of value then all exchanges will be colored by “hey what’d that other person get” and other jealousies.

The role of community is to help individuals understand and place their values so that the necessary exchanges can happen without hard feeling.

Or maybe the role of marketplaces is to help communities balance the feelings of individuals through exchanges.

I’m never entirely certain.

I’ll leave you with this fun documentary of a marketplace that began in 1978. Today we have the International Society of Bassists as a result. It’s a great watch for the personalities, the hairstyles, the repertoire. See if you can tell what is valued and exchanged by each of the people who appear in the documentary.

Comments are closed