Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Economics of Music

Here is a little story that I am sure will delight any economists out there. I was having breakfast with a friend of mine in a sidewalk cafe yesterday when a young man walked up right in front of us and turned on a boom box he was carrying which began playing an instrumental accompaniment. I sensed what was going to happen next and said to my friend, "if he starts to sing I am going to kill myself!" Just an idle threat of course. Then he commenced to sing, in a not-too-bad voice, a song about how he has had sex 1000 times, but with you is the first time he has made love. We both wished he hadn't shared that thought. In any case, as soon as he stopped I stepped over and gave him 50 pesos (about $4) on the condition that he leave. He nodded, unsuccessfully hit up a couple of other diners and left. My friend thought he would either get angry or stick around. But I said people like that are not actual artists, just working blokes. He made more than he expected. I have also paid the worst-sounding clarinetist I have ever heard to go away.

Sadly, these public musical assaults are usually unpunished by law. Though I did see a very funny New Yorker cartoon once that depicted a burly, unshaven, hulky guy standing on the street with a sandwich board that read: "Kill the street musician of your choice: $5".

As a matter of fact, many, many years ago I spent a summer working as a busker in Italy but we did not perambulate around to outdoor cafes tormenting the patrons. Instead we set up in front of a statue of Cosima de Medici in the middle of a plaza and let people come to us. On a good night there would be over 500 people listening at one time.

Tough to find the right clip, but here is a guy busking outside Notre Dame in Paris. I saw a small chamber orchestra busking in the Metro in Paris at the La Bastille stop once.

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