The “Value” of Music

If you read this space regularly, or as irregularly as I regularly write, you’ve no doubt noticed a trend that questions the “value” of music these days. I’ve not made secret that, in my opinion, there have been many factors that have contributed to the devaluing of music in today’s (primarily youth) culture: competition for leisure time, concert ticket costs, satellite and streaming radio, and the role shows like American Idol and The Voice have had in determining “pop” music. add to that, what I call "the ghost of Napster," and you have a generation of young people who havbe likely never paid for music and do not expect to. By hook or crook, it is "available" for free and little thought is given to the career-consequences of musicians.

However, I recently conducted a Five Questions feature with Mat Snow, the former MOJO magazine editor and author of the new book U2: Revolution and he really put this point in perspective. If you haven’t read Five Questions, Mr. Snow said, in part as a response to a question about the U2/Apple fiasco:

“Today's 15-year-olds cannot imagine a world where to buy an album cost the equivalent today of around $56! I'm not kidding. How much was an album in 1973? £2.20 on average in Britain. Go onto one of those cost of living calculating websites and it’ll tell you how much purchasing power that equals today: £22.88p. And do you know how much US currency £22.88p would have bought you on my 15th birthday in October 1973? $55.85. An album would cost me my entire monthly allowance, and yet that didn’t stop me from buying albums, pretty much to the exclusion of anything else. That’s how it was with with lots of my friends too, and I'll bet that's how it was with those four guys over in Dublin. Music was very expensive to buy yet it was that important to us we had to buy it anyway. And by investing so much of our money in our music, that reinforced the emotion we invested in music. If music was cheaper to buy or obtain virtually free, as is the case today, maybe we would not have cared so much. So, for our generation, the idea of a top act giving away their new album is a really big deal, a huge gift to fans and even to the unconverted. Had, say, The Who given away their new album in 1973, there would be statues of them in every town square in the Western world. But today, music is an ecology of surfeit rather than shortage, so for the generation brought up in the free music culture, an unwanted U2 album is like any other piece of music spammed to your inbox: unwelcome clutter.”

I couldn’t agree more and I really couldn't have said it better. I saved up allowance for one reason only: a trip to the record store. It was by far the best day of the month or week, and me and my friends would spend hours, days and weeks staring at album covers and listening to the music within.

To read the interview in its entirety, click here.