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Principle 5: The Theory of Scarcity vs. the Theory of Abundance
By Mary Dawson - 04/16/2005 - 01:20 PM EDT

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 pain
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 me


The 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.

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).
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.


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.

There are only a couple of problems with the Theory of Scarcity:
1) It is NOT a universal truth – it is a manmade myth
2) 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.

Contrast the Theory of Abundance! It is 180 degrees the other direction! The basic premise is this: There is a big world out there with enough space for every talented person to achieve his/her music goals – if he/she is willing to learn and polish the disciplines of the craft.

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

The restaurant business discovered the Theory of Abundance years ago! Have you ever watched a new McDonald’s going in on a previously vacant corner of your town? You can bet your french fries that it won’t be long before Wendy’s builds across the street….Burger King goes in next door with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell just down the way. Counter-productive, you say? Hell NO! The savvy marketing teams in each of these restaurant chains realize that when that corner of town becomes known as “restaurant row,” more consumers will be drawn to that area every day. They will decide when they get there which fast food will satisfy their craving today – but in the end, all the restaurants will profit from the increased and steady traffic.

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!

Copyright 2005/Mary Dawson
All Rights Reserved




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