Thursday, July 21, 2005

Boston Rocks the Commons



While my comrades have been mashing up Boston music, I have been diagramming the networks of ties among Boston Nightclubs. For anyone who missed it (e.g., almost everyone), I have been participating in/studying this market for quite some time. While it's increasingly common to see ethnographic approaches in organizational research, often this comes in the form of a few days of participant observation. A new crop of Chicago School urban ethnographers are demonstrating how more active involvement allows for deeper understanding.

This is particularly true if you want to get a deep understanding of the tacit rules, relationships and meanings that organize art worlds. For me and my colleagues, blurring the lines between insider/outsider, research/practitioner is critical for understanding cultural phenomena in a way that participants themselves will recognize. I think this is even MORE important when you are doing network analysis, because the "instant face validity" of the drawings can mislead you into thinking you really understand mechanisms. For that (at least in art worlds), you gotta get your hands dirty and stay up late. Since many of my music friends and colleagues asked for a less academic summary of some of my research, I thought I'd try to provide it.

Just recently I drew some network diagrams that demonstrate how the market for bands in Boston operates more like a creative commons than a traditional competitive market. What you see above is a diagram that shows all the nightclubs that booked the same bands in Boston over 18 months (+/- a few weeks). Clubs that booked one or more of the same bands are tied. (Ethics note: These diagrams were made from publicly available data so there are no confidentiality issues here). Using the "Clubs-by-night" Nightclub listings from the Boston Phoenix, I was able to generate a nice bird's-eye view of this creative market over almost two years (2001-2002).

The most obvious thing about the diagram is that it seems to have a blue core surrounded by a cloud of red. Blue circles in the middle represent the original clubs (e.g., clubs that book bands that play their own songs) and red circles represent the cover clubs (clubs that book cover bands). Since I was focused on live bands, I basically excluded clubs that had no live music at all. The sizes correspond to the number of different bands that the club booked (so bigger circles booked more different bands than smaller ones) and relate to the different strategies employed by these sectors (consistency vs variety). Distance on the map relates to the similarity between the clubs in terms of their bookings. Clubs that are close together tended to book more of the same bands than clubs that were far apart. (For all you networkers I used MDS in Ucinet - but we are not going into that here. A slightly expanded academic view of all this is at my academic web site).

At a minimum, this diagram again demonstrates that some creative markets contain lots of cooperation among competitors. But as we zoom in, an even more interesting picture emerges. The diagram below shows all the clubs that booked 15 or more bands in common. Line thickness corresponds to the number of bands that played at both clubs. Because the cover clubs all drop out, it means that these clubs tend not to share bands. Now we see that the original market contains even more sharing among "competitors" than the market as a whole. (Although this may be slightly exaggerated because cover clubs may not list as often in the Phoenix as the original clubs).

From an armchair economic perspective, all the clubs in one market should be competitors (e.g., for customers). My data shows that in some settings, buyers actually operate more like partners than competitors.



Another thing that will jump out to people who know this setting is that several of the clubs in this diagram are now out of business (or have reopened under new ownership). Since I stopped collecting this data in 2001, the following original clubs have closed or stopped offering live music for long periods: Lilly's/608, The Linwood, The Kendall Cafe, The House of Blues, The Hideway. Given the recent closing of the Cambridge rock incubator The Plough and Stars (which helped spawn bands like Morphine and G Love and Special Sauce), perhaps it is worth examining this apparent spate of club closings. On the other hand, a number of original rock clubs have also opened and/or started during this time (e.g., PA's lounge, The Independent, The Overdruaght) so perhaps its just volatility rather than a downward trend.

Thanks to everyone out there who put up with my badgering over the years. You know who you are. If anyone still wants to participate in this study or has comments, I am still actively exploring all this and am interested in any refinements, clarifications or additions you may have.

11 Comments:

Blogger subconsciouscafe said...

NOBODY'S putting up with your badgering Pal, I can tell you that right now!

I think one factor here in the cooperative vs competitive mix is the Unholy Sodality of Club Bookers, who maintain collegial relations with each other, knowing that life here in Frogpondia is a zero-sum game, its just too small for anyone to get too starchy; shitty behaviour is duly noted, accounts are kept and word gets around. They are a high bandwidth conduit for scuttlebut on bands and the peccadillos of clubowners, and serve to keep everyone on the level. Their loyalty tends to be less for a given club than for each other. There's a lot of mutual support & cooperation - for example offering talent for a gig to another booker if they cant do the date themselves - the band thinks well of them for getting them a gig, the other agent owes them one, every back gets scratched. The whole scene is regulated for mutual benefit.

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Blogger Fell said...

Heh, I found this link via the Information Aesthetics blog. You got some great work going on here!

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