How much is a song worth?

It would seem unlikely that the vast majority of internet music pilferers have any passionate reasons for choosing not to spend their money. It has become a social norm; few seeming able to muster an ethic by which it is morally obligatory to stop – the only argument I’ve heard begrudging the free distribution of music comes from musicians themselves, who are sometimes quite rightly insulted by the apparent irreverence displayed in view of their good work.

Sometimes it’s a pseudo-punk-rock pretence concocted by those supporting their local music scene, which coincidentally rests on the pretence that iTunes sales are the last crutch, on which unsigned artists feebly wobble about struggling to find the cash because of all the millions of pounds they’ve missed out on thanks to all the pirates profiteering off their bootlegs on the black market.

The paradox that is at the core of this unsteady notion isn’t a great deal more complicated that ‘copy and paste’, which is a bit like mitosis, if Lionel Richie’s ‘Can’t slow down’ were a stem-cell.

Prior to it having been created, it could be argued that a song’s worth was limitless. Its creation may well have required blood, sweat, and tears, quite literally, as well as hours of practice, laborious repetitions of the same performance to get that one magical take, then mixing, re-mixing and turning up on Monday to the latest of the list of prospect-less career choices expertly blagged to afford the upkeep of the instruments and to pay all the people involved, not to mention food and running water for the songwriter.

And once that record was made, projections of its potential value simply cannot be calculated by a single person by the effect it has upon them. Perhaps it made them cry, or laugh, or change their mind at a vital moment in life; it might have roused the oppressed to stand up to their oppressors, or speak out against some vapid political nonsense before it becomes oppression – it can affect real change. A good record can make good things happen, and make bad things seem not so bad. Not to mention, it can make you rich.

I am a music fan, who considers his copy of Meat Loaf’s ‘I would do anything for love’ to be sacred, and well worth my 99p – I am also a musician who has spent thousands of pounds and hours creating musical recordings myself, encouraged no less by the grandeur fantasie that I might create something which might end up sacred to someone else.

The plain fact of the matter is – from the moment that sacred, soul-inhabiting song has been recorded and become digital information, it is fiscally worthless. It can be duplicated an infinite amount of times at virtually no cost and distributed to virtually any corner of the planet in a matter of seconds; from the moment the record is made, the supply infinitely outweighs the demand.

To provide context, a single grain of rice is a far rarer commodity. A single grain of rice has more demand than a digital recording of music in the developed world. If we are to discuss things in terms entirely of their fiscal worth, a grain of rice should in due respect cost more than a song.

So why are there so many people kicking up dirt about the man who refuses to pay 99p for his new jam? 99p is an awful lot to pay for a grain of rice. And these people are not wrong, but neither are the artists who have sunk their souls into the work. So what do we do?

One rather optimistic way of looking at all this is that it is progress. We (human beings) have managed to create our own small aspect of Utopia. Of course ideally, it would be food, clean water and healthcare that would be effectively free for all, but through some fateful cascade of innovation, we have invented a method of making music freely distributable, at virtually no cost, to nigh-everyone on the planet. If that’s not a good thing then what’s the point?

– HJRM

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