The value of music

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A reader drew my attention to the fact that an essential point was missing from my post Listening to music should be free: the clarification of the concept of value in relation to music, or more generally: art. I would like to address this in this post.

What does "value" mean?

The term value can be interpreted in various ways, with context often being the deciding factor. For example, it can refer to a mere scientific value. Such as a numerical value indicating something. On the other hand, another interpretation of the term is valuation, or what I mean here: the subjective evaluation of things. The former interpretation would be more objective, while the latter is typically subjective. The term can also be associated with moral concepts. In this case, it would be about morals and desirable ideals, to be precise. However, the term value can also be interpreted in an economic context, as the pricing of goods and services. Perhaps there are other ways of interpreting the term, but these did not occur to me.

Music and its values

As a musician myself, I will mainly focus on music in this post. In this field, I have already gathered my own experience regarding this topic and developed thoughts. However, the whole issue can certainly also be transferred to art in general - after all, music is just one subcategory of the entire world of art.

Now, according to my above definition of the term value, I will try to connect music with its possible meanings. I will use all of the above-mentioned interpretation possibilities to hopefully inspire further thoughts.

Numeric values and music

When considering value as a number, it can be associated quite well with music. In music, there are concrete note values that indicate the duration of a note. Then there are also time signatures, which are often indicated with specific numbers. And there is also the tempo, which also often indicates the speed of a piece or a passage with specific numbers. There are also intervals and degree theory. In these fields, it can also be common to use numbers as substitutes for specific modes or pitch intervals, or to measure them. Ultimately, music is quite mathematical!

Rating Music

There is no dispute for taste ("De gustibus non est disputandum") - that's a well-known saying. You can love certain music or not like it at all. Of course, there are also gradations in between and you might only like some parts of something. In addition, I always find it interesting to listen to music that I don't like and try to analyze why I don't like it. You can also try to analyze such music you don't like and find elements that you actually still enjoy. I think this is an aspect that allows you to feel and experience that the world is not black or white. But that's just a side note.

Ultimately, one should also differentiate between opinion and conviction here (also an incentive from the reader, for which I am very grateful). An opinion is something that is not based on any specific system. It does not allow for inward observation and can be changed at any time without consequences. A conviction, on the other hand, is something that results from specific aspects of a system. A conviction is also changeable - yet then in an understandable way. Thus, there may be more convincing justifications that lead to an upgraded conviction. Therefore, a taste judgment can be justified with a conviction - not with an opinion. (Note: This is my paraphrased understanding of the reader's explanation on the topic - so credits not necessarily to me!)

Moral concepts and music

Music itself cannot have values in terms of moral concepts, as it is not an individual. But it can carry such! There could be music pieces that deal with various themes related to such values. Personally, I find this somewhat difficult since I would consider music in this context to be textless. And since music is a nonverbal medium and therefore often widely interpretable, I consider it difficult to claim that a certain piece of music unmistakable deals with diverse value norms. The context (e.g. the composer's life, the time in which the piece was composed, etc.) would always play a crucial role in this regard. So, if one wanted to interpret music in such a way, it would remain rather open and not clear-cut, I think.

It may be different "the other way around". Namely, when music itself becomes a concept of value inside the individual. At least, I understand the term value concept in such a way: it is about attributing a certain quality to an action or an object that is associated with generally desirable moral, ethical, social, and similar properties. As an example related to music: for me, music has a personal value insofar as it can give me emotions that are rare to encounter in everyday life. Accordingly, music can transport me to other worlds, so to speak, and generally steer my thoughts in different directions. Music has a value for me that no one else could assess in exactly the same way.

Economic value of music

This is the part that I had primarily in mind in my other post, as the title implies: Listening to music should be free. "Free" is often associated with economics and finance.

What is the value of music now after all?

Although the term "free" may lead one to assume the financial aspect of value, the reader's criticism is still justified. The question was:

"[What] if [...] the artwork is not published or even produced at all. What does the world and the economy miss out on?"

Now, here is my very own opinion on what the economy and the world would miss out on:


I find this aspect extremely difficult to think about. Spontaneously, I replied to the reader that the economy probably wouldn't really miss out on anything - very impulsive and extreme, no doubt. However, the more I think about it now, the more difficult I find it to simply claim that "The economy doesn't miss out on anything."

The economy may be missing out on something that can be measured in numbers. No question about it. But I wonder how much of this economic value was simply assessed without any substantive basis. You are welcome to read my post linked above on this topic. I am especially thinking about the aspect of indirect compensation, which makes it unclear and non-transparent what is actually being paid for. The question also arises as to how fair this is. Because my experience is that there is quite a large range of financial compensation for music that is essentially very similar (just search for "composer" on Fiverr). Why does musician 1 receive more compensation than musician 2, even though their pieces could possibly be rated very similarly in terms of quality (as to how concrete this can be rated, is already questioned in a section above)? This is just an example of how the indirect compensation seems very opaque to me. The last question applies equally to the indirect compensation and the general question of the economic value of music: What justifies different prices among musicians? Qualification? Professional experience? Or rather unequal (and in my opinion often very unfair) conditions such as fame, origin, social environment, gender, or even just the available equipment for music?

Perhaps I can sketch my thoughts on why I find it difficult to assign an economic value to music. Of course, as a freelance composer, I ultimately find it quite natural to be paid and thus be able to finance my existence. But, starting from the reader's question, does the economy really miss something if I can't make my work as a musician cover its costs? Maybe the economic share that my expenses represent? What if I realize that I can no longer make a living from art and take on another job? Then the share is still there, just not generated through art anymore. I cover my expenses with another job and thus remove art from this equation. It's circling in my head, and I find it difficult to think about it. Ultimately, as a musician, it's about justifying my job in this economic world. It's interesting how paradoxical and somehow ... yes, difficult, I guess!


For me personally, the value of music lies mainly in the aspects I mentioned under the heading Moral concepts and music. This is (at least for me) about the less tangible things. Eventually, in my opinion, the value of music (and art in general) lies in the processes that occur in people's minds. By this, I mean thought processes such as encouraging society to reflect themself more concretely through art. So, it is about stimulating thinking, motivating people, and presenting alternatives and new perspectives. And on a social and interpersonal level, I also see a certain value in music and art: it connects people, brings joy together, sometimes brings tears, and can certainly contribute to "emotional cleansing" overall. Moreover, music can be a specific tool for occasions such as supporting meditation or cultural events.

In summary, my answer to the question "What is the world missing out on?" would be: many things that can fulfill, help, or in some way contribute to the internal life of human beings (thinking, emotions, motivation, etc.).


The value of music or art can be seen from various perspectives. Personally, I am rather critical of capitalist thoughts, so the economic value is less important to me. My belief in this area is that money and economic growth are not essential for the survival of humanity. Therefore, I consider all the less tangible "values of music" to be much more relevant - for me.