What is Music Worth?

The question of “what is music worth?” has followed me throughout high school in the form of school administrators asking, “where can we make budget cuts?”. Administration constantly grilled the music department at my high school for not providing any tangible value. The fact that the school couldn’t use a standardized test to measure the value of music meant that, by default, music simply is worth less than other subjects. At least, in an academic sense.

But today, I find myself still facing that question. No longer in the arena of academia, but rather, the business world. Obviously music is worth something. In 2012, “total music purchases (physical albums, digital albums and digital songs) totaled 1.65 billion units” (Huffingtonpost.com). And that’s just what was acquired legally. But this doesn’t get us any closer to answering the question I’ve posed. While this is a tangible and finite statistic, this number represents a product (CD, iTunes purchase), not “music”.

Music is not a physical entity. Its worth cannot be measured. While you can say Justin Timberlake is more successful than The White Stripes because he’s sold more albums, you cannot say his music is better or worse.

So, what’s going on here? If we cannot measure the differences between music, how does a consumer make the decision? Choosing between buying Justin Timberlake’s music and The White Stripes’ music isn’t like choosing between a Nikon camera and a Canon camera. The two cameras have specifications and numbers that define their abilities. The two CD’s might have a different number of tracks, or maybe a different amount of money spent on production values and/or marketing, but that doesn’t define the music’s utility to the listener.

Some terminology from Marketing 301 should be able to set the record straight! At least, that’s what I thought. As it turns out, music doesn’t have “customers”. Music doesn’t have “stakeholders”. Music doesn’t have a place or time, nor can be possessed. Music simply, IS. Which might frustrate high school administrators when they’re trying to determine its value, and might also explain why artists create an “image” to sell  instead of letting the music appeal to the listener on its own. In my humble opinion, I think anyone can find ways to market an artist or an album, but music itself, might transcend marketing altogether.

-Thomas Moretti

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