Political Economy: How do we value music?

It’s easy to give an answer to this questions without really thinking about it; ‘music means everything to me,’ and so on, but when we look at the question in a more detailed way it becomes necessary to give a far more thought-out answer. As a base to work off of I will answer with my own opinion, then give arguments supported by research that will either support or condemn this answer.

So, without further adieu, how do we value music? On a personal level I feel that music has intrinsic cultural and social value that cannot accurately be summed up in any way that modern industry and society attempt to do so. Music as an entity has been linked, bonded, to us as human beings since at least the Paleolithic era, possibly longer as part of ancient rituals, celebration, mourning, and ceremony. Surely to place a financial value or even to say that some music is of more credibility, more worth than others is an insult not only to music and it’s invaluable nature, but to its importance to us as a species.

In many ways, music falls victim to society’s tendency to place a monetary value on everything and the attitude that the higher the value in currency the better or more worthy it is. We sell albums, some for £9.99, some for £5.99; we sell singles, some for 79p, some for 99p. Why is some music valued in this sense more than others? Who decides what increases or decreases the value of sed music? The idea that an artist or a songwriter can slave over a piece of music or a performance for days, weeks, years even, just to have it valued less than somebody who puts relatively little work in comparison into their music is quite frankly criminal.

‘‘Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting.  And of course, when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up.”(1)

However, music is still considered of great importance in most, if not all, world cultures. In 2009 researchers in Germany discovered flutes made out of bone that were carbon dated back as far as 35,000 years ago. Palaeolithic humans may not have had as expansive or as complex a society and cultures as we do today but music still played a part in their lives. Without money, music would have been valued as part of ancient cultural rituals and ceremonies. This discovery gives us more insight into what cultural differences set upper paleolithic homo sapiens apart from homo neanderthalensis.

’The flutes from Hohle Fels, Vogelherd and previous finds from nearby Geißenklösterle Cave demonstrate that a musical tradition existed in the cultural repertoire of the Aurignacian around the time modern humans settled in the Upper Danube region. The development of a musical tradition in the Aurignacian accompanied the development of the early figurative art and numerous innovations, including a wide array of new forms of personal ornaments, as well as new lithic and organic technologies. The presence of music in the lives of Upper Paleolithic peoples did not directly produce a more effective subsistence economy and greater reproductive success, but music seems to have contributed to improved social cohesion and new forms of communication, which indirectly contributed to a demographic expansion of modern humans relative to the culturally more conservative Neanderthal populations.’’(2)

As a species music has played a part in our cultural development for at least 40,000 years, possibly more; surely to arbitrarily value it is to cheapen it’s significance to us as people. There are arguments that suggest that in order to continue functioning efficiently and peacefully as a society then everything needs to be valued in a certain way. They’re fair arguments and they make sense (artists deserve money for their work and so on) but from the point of view of a musician, I don’t want my music to be valued any less or any more than anybody else’s. As a society we embrace the opportunistic culture of monetising everything that can be monetised but what good does it actually do?


(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/opinion/sunday/slaves-of-the-internet-unite.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&

(2) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090624213346.htm


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