As well as being a terrific art form, music is one of the most consumed goods in the world. It is impossible to measure the total amount music that people consume because there are so many different ways to consume it. Even casually listening to the radio, a busker on the street or your father singing in the shower is a way of consuming music. The closest we can get to accurately measuring consumption levels of music is by looking at sales figures, and even at that the true level of consumption of music isn’t being captured because music is so often consumed by illegal means on the black market which isn’t regulated and therefore can’t be measured.
However, the increase in Spotify users in the below graph indicates that streaming music is becoming a popular method of music consumption.
With this increase in consumption of music in the streaming market, it is probably fair to say that music is still a viable and valued good to consumers, but music is a strange type of good in the sense that it has no physical form. It is purely a sonic entity, yet it is consumed on an incredibly large scale. Another entity which is valued highly yet is becoming increasingly more abstract is money.
Nowadays people are spending their money more and more in the virtual world. Debit and credit card transactions are becoming increasingly popular and physical money is being used less and less. Similarly to music, money is now becoming an entity which we place a high value on yet has no physical form. This revelation makes the topic of money a bit more interesting, largely because it highlights how money is a man-made concept. It holds no value other than the value which we in society place on it.
If you actually look at what a €20 note is, it’s just a piece of paper with the number 20 printed on it. The materials used to make it are no more valuable than those which are used to make a €10 note. In fact, they’re nearly the exact same, we all just accept the fact that the blue piece of paper is worth double what the red piece of paper is worth. With this in mind why don’t we do the same with music? Why can’t we trade music in exchange for goods and services instead of money? It’s because for something to function as “money” it needs to hold at least three key qualities.
These qualities are :
- A medium of exchange
- A unit of account
- A storer of value
Medium of exchange:
This quality basically just means that for something to be money, it has to be something that people can give to one another. This would actually be quite possible with music. Anyone who remembers the days of file sharing and mobile phone Bluetooth exchanges will know that it is possible for one person to give another person a song.
The only issue with this is that for the exchange to have value, the person who gives the song away must no longer then have that song after the transaction is complete. The ownership of the song would have to be inferred to the other party, meaning that if you wanted to buy a pizza in exchange for the song wonderwall, once you bought the pizza you would no longer be able to listen to wonderwall.
A unit of account:
This quality just means that for something to be money, it has to be something which is easy to quantify. For example, the euro is a unit of account because we assign a numerical value to it, if you have a €1 coin you have one euro, if you have two of them you have two euro and so on. This is possible with music in one sense because you can assign pieces of music a numerical value. For example, if you have one song you have one quantity of music; if you have two songs you have two quantities music and so on.
Although the issue here is that some songs are longer than others. So, is it fair to say that if someone has the song song 2 by Blur (2 minutes long) that this is the same amount of music as someone who has Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirvana (nearly 5 minutes long). This is where currency has the upper hand because one euro is definitely just one quantity of currency, and it is definitely one quantity of currency in relation to other currencies, whereas one song may be one quantity of music, but it is not necessarily half of two other pieces of music.
A storer of value:
Being a storer of value basically means that something is capable of being valuable to people. Currency is a near perfect storer of value because the value of €1 to everyone is €1. It also doesn’t matter if you leave your €1 lying around for a while because when you find it again it is still worth €1. Now of course, the buying power of €1 may change due to inflation, but that doesn’t change that €1 still means €1, it just means that €1 now won’t buy as much as it did ten years ago. Unfortunately, this is where music falls down in a big way in terms of being a currency.
Music does have value but it doesn’t have a set universal value. For example, I love the song I bet that you look good on the dancefloor by Arctic Monkeys, and I don’t particularly like the song Gangnam Style by Psy; so I place a high value on the former and a lower value on the later whereas someone else might do the opposite. This is because the value of music is subjective to every individual, some people love jazz and hate EDM, and others love EDM and hate jazz. So, if music were money they’re would be no universally accurate way to determine the price of things because certain people will either under or over value certain pieces of music.
Another reason music would be a bad type of money is that there is no regulation on who can create music; anyone can do it so the supply of songs to the market can’t be regulated and therefore inflation wouldn’t be controllable. So for now we will just have to stick with coins, notes, and cards.
By Daragh O’Leary