Steve Wiley: How Much Money Is Music Worth To You?


How much is music worth to people?

This isn't a new question for me. For the past 25 years I've fed my family by selling the stuff. And even though I haven't operated a brick-and-mortar record store for almost a year now, I'm still as curious about it, and as relatively uncertain, as always.

After all, I'm still a music fan of the highest level. I was born that way. The big difference is that now I'm out here in the real world, making buying decisions as a consumer. No more promos. No more wholesale. No more first-look at the used buys. I'm a music consumer, just like you, spending my extra cash, looking at my options.

And one thing is pretty clear from this vantage point: Things have gotten to a place where I simply do not need to spend money on music to enjoy it.

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Are You Trying To Piss Off Your Record Store Pals?

I've got a ton of friends who are still running stores and working at record labels...and they surely don't like sentences like that last one.

But they aren't dumb. As a matter of fact, they're the best in the business. The past 15 years of pure volatility in the industry has made sure of that. They know what they are up against.

I think.

I say that because I've always figured music nuts like me would keep feeding money into the industry, if not simply for control over what was reaching our ears and the ability to avoid the general lameness of mainstream music (something that doesn't seem to change regardless of consumption methods.)

However, my change of perspective has left me wondering...

These days, can even a music nut like me be satisfied without spending money?

Music Is Valuable, But How Much Is It Worth To You?

Before we go any further, let me differentiate between "worth" and "value".

Music has great value to me. I can (and often do) make the argument that music is as vital to us as love and nature. Most of my friends and family feel the same. I think it's safe to say that music is just as valuable to society as ever.

But is it worth enough to make you and I pony up our hard-earned money when we don't have to part with it?

Because the simple fact is that we don't have to part with it to enjoy the value of the art anymore.

Around my house, on the spectrum of free and legal, I've got Spotify, Internet radio, Wi-Fi apps, Direct TV radio stations, and Youtube. All of which offer infinitely better and more diverse choices than anything I had growing up (or any of the pitiful, corporate terrestrial radio stations in this town, which we've also got.) Many of these options offer me a great deal of control as well.

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Jerod England
Jerod England

Your business model sounds flawed, Jennifer. How is the artist supposed to survive and continue to make music?

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith

music should be free like it always has been this is why it sucks today..let the true artists come out who really want to play music.


seems pretty passé at this point, but when we speak about things that mean as much to humanity as "love and nature," isn't it a little offensive to ask how much money they are worth (in an objective or subjective sense)? it's from a very western perspective that i am allowed to say that the idea of exchange value enforces themes of domination and oppression, but through globalization capitalism has become the worldwide signifier of economic activity. it's one thing to say, as i (and possibly you) have done, that the opportunity to listen to and enjoy music doesn't have to be an economic activity like most that are measured and studied. the infrastructure of the music industry has given me the cynicism as well as the comfort to resort to piracy. it's another thing altogether to say, as a musician, that you no longer need to "make a living" off of art. i like to think that art occupies a special inviolable status that won't ever be attainable by more temporary things like money and economic management.

definitely think there's some weight in the argument that art is a socially efficient way of navigating and surviving western capitalism, though

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