In the last few years, we’ve seen a rapid increase in social and economic opportunities for DIY‘ers (do-it-yourself’ers), both on- and off-line.

I’d argue that changes in our communication technologies are enabling this home brew entrepreneurship revolution. For example, the so-called “Web 2.0” paradigm shift on the Internet, describes a new way of creating wealth with tools such as wikis, blogs and interactive content portals, where the bulk of content is generated by users.

In other words: today, it’s participation, collaboration and “user-generated content” that make or break new brands on the Internet.

More important for a musicians: Web 2.0 services and apps have helped break the traditional isolation of the DIY’er and the amateur. Think of all those home bodies putting up their latest musical achievements on YouTube, and the feedback they’re getting as a result.

Three years ago? Unheard of.

the pro-am revolution

This new social norm of active leisure and “user-generated content” is one of the main themes explored by British think-tank Demos in its publications. In their Pro-Am Revolution, Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller (published as a .pdf document) describe the demographic, economic, educational and technological trends underpinning the increase in participation by previously marginalized actors in all areas of the knowledge economy.

And who are these previously marginalized upstarts? Simply dedicated amateurs?

Better. Leadbeater and Miller call these “new knowledge agents” Pro-Ams: passionate amateurs working within professional standards.

As a consultant to industry and goverment in the UK, Leadbeater has been a major proponent of the concept of an “innovation commons”. In a presentation at TED, he describes the new culture of Pro-Ams with examples from the fields of science, manufacturing, and law, and further provides policy recommendations, applicable to both public and private sectors.

a manifesto for makers

The macro-trends described by Leadbeater and Miller help us situate the culture shift in the larger context. But that doesn’t necessarily give voice to the experience of the New Amateur (or “Pro-Am”), or describe the psychology of making as a way of life.

In other words, is Pro-Am activity simply “occupational”, or is it a new ethic?

I turn here to University of Helsinki researcher and blogger Ulla-Maaria Mutanen for some help. On her Hobby Princess blog (republished in Make Magazine) you’ll find a curious Craft Manifesto.

The Manifesto is Mutanen’s attempt to encapsulate – in the plainest language possible – the conditions, rewards and implications of making, as an economic activity and as a way of life.

Though I encourage you to read it in full (it’s short), here are some highlights as they relate to my talking points (note: though the statements below mostly apply to the making of physical craft objects, musicians should be able to “transpose” these insights at the level of music-making activity and creativity. If you simply replace “objects” and “things” with “music”, you’ll get my point):

1. People get satisfaction for being able to create/craft things because they can see themselves in the objects they make. This is not possible in purchased products. […]

4. People seek recognition for the things they have made. Primarily it comes from their friends and family. This manifests as an economy of gifts.

5. People who believe they are producing genuinely cool things seek broader exposure from their products. This creates opportunities for alternative publishing channels.

6. Work inspires work. Seeing what other people have made generates new ideas and designs.

7. Essential for crafting are tools, which are accessible, portable, and easy to learn. […]

10. Learning techniques brings people together. This creates online and offline communities of practice.

11. Craft-oriented people seek opportunities to discover interesting things and meet their makers. This creates marketplaces.

12. At bottom, crafting is a form of play.

What’s relevant from these statements (individually and taken together), is that we gain insight on the amateur as a passionate maker or crafter, engaged in his/her art or craft as a way of life (as I like to insist upon).

Further, this ethic of making can today become widespread and cross-cultural, as we gain new tools for socializing and sharing knowledge.

Finally, the communities of practice that arise from the new communication tools enable us to rediscover old forms of wealth that emphasize “relationship capital” – that is, what Mutanen refers to as the gift economy.

the cathedral & the bazaar

By all means, Mutanen isn’t the first cultural commentator on the (new) gift economy block. Indeed the concept of a “potlatch economy” most famously took off recently with the publication, in October 1999, of Eric Raymond‘s book The Cathedral and the Bazaar – another manifesto, this time for the open source movement in software and (networked) IT development.

Despite the brouhaha it generated around open vs. proprietary code and business models, the Cathedral and the Bazaar had the merit of analyzing the motivations of inter-connected individuals who dedicated time, talent and resources for the benefits of robust software, with no financial rewards in view.

Raymond’s conclusions? In the bottom-up, “bazaar” model of massively distributed collaboration, the sharing of resources, tools, techniques and knowledge are the new social norm. He saw that this type of wealth-creation followed the patterns of what anthropologists called “reciprocal exchange”: the gift economy.

In a nutshell:

  • The more you give, the more prestige/value you have in the eyes of your peers.
  • If making implies giving: the more you make, the more you are capable of truly bonding with all your significant others, since your gifts are personalized.

In other words, making is as inwardly focussed (creativity, self-expression) as it is outwardly (gifts, social prestige).

Thus, we can now measure the richness of our culture by the respect and recognition given to the most dedicated and unique makers – whether professional or amateur – in our midst.

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