AAJ has published Marc Ribot's in-depth analysis of how avant-garde music is being squeezed out of existence by the dwindling playing opportunities and ever-smaller venues.
Musical fringes are often seen as the refuge of idealists, but Ribot puts a very concrete spin on things:
Over the past 25-30 years, there's been an assumption that the condition of a downtown jazz/new music venue's needing to be subsidized by benefits was an abnormal condition, a special situation necessitated by a particular emergency, after which the venue would return to its normal functioning... But a sea change has taken place in the relation of these clubs to the market with few really acknowledging it... The market is failing as a means of funding downtown new music venues... Musician benefit concerts and recordings... are being normalized as a means of funding.
New music composers of the '40s through the early '60s didn't expect to make money through the live performance market; many taught to earn a living. (...) In truth, our belief that the market could fund new music was always... illusory; European touring, heavily state subsidized, has been the real economic motor of experimental jazz/new music for decades, the light at the end of the tunnel of months of scarce and/or poorly paid NYC gigs. The fact that access to Europe was easier and cheaper for NYC musicians than for their LA counterparts is an important factor in the historical productivity of the NYC new music scene as compared with the West Coast.
European public subsidies have funded cutting- edge US music since the time of Louis Armstrong... Unfortunately, they're neither natural nor guaranteed. They were created by people through struggle and they are in the process of being challenged and to some extent dismantled by European neo-liberals.
While the independently wealthy, the extremely committed and those with no choice would remain in a scene without hope of money, the reality is that musicians tend to drift towards those scenes which pay.
Although ostensibly linked to a leftist/anarchist anti-corporate politics, “Do It Yourself” has also served quite well to foreclose discussion on state subsidy and fits quite comfortably with... free market/neo- liberalism
Without capital, venues either eventually fall back on the old strategies of musician exploitation, abandon new music priorities, fail or all three. If those venues are 'artist run', the only difference is that we get to exploit ourselves. Hooray for progress.
The European gigs were almost always subsidized: usually by the city or state government completely donating the performance space itself... This is real subsidy, coming from those with access to real capital: not peanuts from a bunch of musicians half of whom lack health coverage, pension or savings.
I'm not suggesting a moratorium on benefits. But if we're all bailing water so fast we can't take time to fix the gaping hole in the boat, we'll soon all be very tired and very wet.
It's not just venues who are struggling for funding: Montreal's Jazz Fest just got bailed out by a private donation after losing its federal funding.