The music industry is a very strange market. It is fuelled by the talent of incredible artists, performers and producers and has communicated messages of love, despair, liberalism, achievement, and rebellion. The medium of which people consume music has changed throughout the years from records to tapes to CDs to MP3 format and nowadays to online streaming. One thing that has not changed in the music industry in all this time is the huge amount of money circulating it. The music industry has made millionaires out of children from the streets of Compton, the slums of Brazil and the council estates of Ireland and the UK. Through performing and releasing music, artists, producers and record companies’ executives have made a colossal financial empire out of music and even used this success as a platform to branch into different industries such as fashion, reality TV and literature. Though there has always been a large amount of money circulating the music industry, there hasn’t always been the same value of money circulating it. Why? The Money Illusion.
The Money Illusion is a concept in economics which helps explain the subjectivity of value in our society. The paper on which a €50 note is printed on is no more or less valuable to the paper on which a €10 note is printed other than society deems that the €50 note is worth five times what the €10 note is worth. This subjectivity of value can be seen to in the music industry as well.
When my dad was a teenager if he wanted to listen to Led Zeppelin’s new album he had to pay ten pounds to buy the album, as did millions of other people at the time. However, if I want to listen to it today I am free to do so because I pay Spotify €10 a month for the ability to stream any of the music they have available on their app. Paying the same €10 a month also entitles me to listen to as much of Green Day, NWA, Drake or Foo Fighters as I want to. So, what my dad could buy one album with in the 70’s I can now listen to a wealth of musician’s entire catalogues.
This is not because the music has become any less valuable, it’s just that the medium of consumption has changed and society deems the monetary value of an app less than that of all the individual albums which the app enables one to listen to.
By Daragh O’Leary