Theory of Scarcity versus Theory of Abundanceby Mary Dawson
The Internet Writing Journal, August 2001
Principle 5: Theory of Scarcity versus Theory of Abundance
We start to learn the Theory of Scarcity very early in life!
There are only five slots open for the junior high cheerleading squad -- for the starting lineup on the basketball team -- or for the a cappella ensemble of the school choir. The chosen ones become the school heroes -- the "in crowd." And the rest of us? Well, we are relegated to the "outer circle" with our noses pressed up against the glass of wishful thinking -- dreaming that one day, somehow, we might find a way into that favored group. How did Janis Ian put it?
To those of us who knew the painThe Theory of Scarcity is reinforced again when we apply for college. The really good schools have only a limited number of openings for entering freshmen. So the students who are accepted to universities like Harvard, Yale or Julliard become part of that elite group whose futures seem to be etched in gold, while the rest of us struggle through the community college system and the relentless competition for entry-level jobs that will at least pay the rent.
Of Valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me1
If somehow we escape the scarring that the Theory of Scarcity offers us growing up, those of us who enter the Music Industry will undoubtedly encounter it there! In fact, the Theory of Scarcity has dominated the Music Business for most of the 20th Century -- especially the last twenty-five years. The unspoken but hard and fast rule is simply this: There are only a few select places open in the Music Business for real success and profit and there are also only three major cities in America where true success can be found -- Los Angeles, New York or Nashville. Therefore, if you really wants to "make it in Music, you must...
A. Move to one of the major music cities (or spend most of your income and time making frequent trips).Does the Theory of Scarcity sound harsh? Unreasonable? Perhaps. But by the time we encounter it in the Music Industry, we have become so conditioned to its existence in other facets and seasons of our lives that we accept it as a core reality of life. In fact, many of us have been so cowed into submission to the Theory of Scarcity that we actually foster it ourselves by sucking up to the "insiders" -- treating them as larger than life and not even being offended when they disregard, patronize or dismiss us. We almost feel we deserve their scorn.
B. Grovel, shove, manipulate and push your way into one of the coveted "positions."
C. Be sure to protect that position once it is attained -- warding off any younger or more talented newcomers who may threaten to unseat you.
There are only a couple of problems with the Theory of Scarcity:
- It is NOT a universal truth - it is a manmade myth
- It simply doesn't work
While it may appear to be another case of fortunate insiders controlling and excluding whatever they wish, in reality the Theory of Scarcity creates a self-defeating downward spiral that sweeps everyone into it like a tornado.
- With only a few select slots available in a few select cities for a select few -- ultimately music begins to sound very much the same.
- Talented artists and writers in Topeka, Cincinnati or Sarasota -- who are unable or unwilling to move to one of the three music capitols -- have little chance of being heard and evaluated by listeners.
- Music consumers start getting tired of the "same-old, same-old" and, consequently, record sales drop.
- Record companies react by downsizing and pulling inward. Any new technology or innovation is seen as a threat. Paranoia over job security replaces creativity and innovation.
- Cutthroat business practices abound.
- True artists burn out.
- The Music Business is no longer about music -- it's about greed and fear
Every town and city (not just three) has a community of musically creative people who are developing new and fresh sounds and styles. The more people there are on the playing field...
- The more opportunities arise for different combinations of talent, different collaborations and consequently, new ideas
- The more new ideas and creativity, the greater the opportunities for competition on the basis of musical merit rather than "political" connections
- The more competition, the higher the standard of excellence all around, which stimulates still more creativity
- The more creativity unleashed...the better the music in all genres
- The better the music...the more sales...the more profit for everyone
Here's another example. It was not too many years ago that the not-too-handy homeowner was forced to hire trained professionals to do things like hang wallpaper, lay a tile floor, remodel a bathroom etc. These professionals were often hard to find and very expensive to hire. Enter the Theory of Abundance -- otherwise known as Home Depot! Instead of trying to control and monopolize the home repair industry, Home Depot's marketing team came up with a phenomenal new concept -- equip the Homeowner to do his own remodeling and repair. Home Depot began holding classes on how to sponge paint, hang wallpaper, install a toilet, lay a new floor, or landscape a back yard. Each class -- and each department of the store -- was staffed by those trained professionals. They made remodeling and repair attainable, affordable and fun. The weekend handyman was able to look at a completed project with creative pride and a newfound confidence to try yet another project next weekend.
And did this new Theory of Abundance bankrupt the home repair industry? Only those who were unwilling to "go with the flow" and embrace the new creativity. Those who insisted on "doing it the way we've always done it" became as outdated as buggy whip manufacturers after the advent of the automobile. But the ones who could roll with the punch started their own home repair classes, produced videos, manufactured do-it-yourself kits and got shows on Home and Garden TV -- and they still took care of the many homeowners who had NO desire to do-it-themselves!
I don't know about you, but I can testify that I would rather play my music accompanied by the Theory of Abundance rather than the Theory of Scarcity any day! New people, new opportunities and new challenges, keep life and music exciting and rewarding. There will always be younger, more talented, more creative people entering the music scene, whether we try to keep them out or not. But what fun it is to be the one to discover them, mentor them and give them a hand-up knowing that each new addition to the world of music means new opportunities for everyone! I'm not sure if the present Music Industry will ever "get it" and begin to change its paradigm from the Theory of Scarcity to the Theory of Abundance. If they don't, they will eventually disappear altogether because the internet and other new technologies have already opened Pandora's Box. There's no going back! The Theory of Abundance is alive and well!
1Janis Ian, At Seventeen, © Rude Girl Publishing, All Rights Reserved
**From her earliest childhood years writing simple songs and poems with her father, through her twelve years as an overseas missionary, to her present, multi-faceted career as an author, lyricist/songwriter and conference speaker, Mary has always been adept at using words to communicate her heart to others. She is the President of CQK Records & Music of Dallas, Texas, a company which creates and produces songs in a panorama of musical styles for a variety of audiences, She is also the host of "I Write the Songs," a nationally syndicated radio talk show, especially created to inspire and instruct the more than 25 million aspiring songwriters in the U.S. "I Write the Songs" is broadcast over the Internet. Mary is a frequent public speaker and seminar lecturer on songwriting. She is a regular columnist for Independent Songwriter Web Magazine. Mary's commitment to discovering and mentoring talented new songwriters has given her extensive experience in song analysis through adjudicating songwriting competitions and conducting songwriting workshops across the country and around the world. Because of her role as president of an independent music company, she is also well qualified to instruct aspiring songwriters on the various business aspects of the music industry. She is married and a mother of four. She resides in the Dallas area.