Where does the value lie in a piece of music?
The answer isn’t so obvious.
In the age of streaming, the primary focus is fundamentally on the recorded music. This seems to make sense as listening is where most people get the most experience with music.
From a creation perspective most people work on the computer as well, and so most will start from sounds.
It dawned on me, that there are many layers of value.
Take for instance, Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain.
I purchased this album as a teenager (I can’t quite remember when, but it was probably around the age of 13-16.
Of course I didn’t just get the regular album. At that time, there was a newer, reissued version with bonus tracks featuring alternative takes and new songs that were recorded at the time.
I loved the album, particularly the version of the 2nd Movement to the Concierto de Aranjuez.
Serendipity. I was learning to play it on classical guitar. It felt like Joaquín Rodrigo had written 45 years before I was born, and Miles Davis recorded 20 years later, just for me to find it at the perfect time.
This album opened my ears in significant ways. Until then, as far as big band writing, I had mostly listened to my Glenn Miller 5-CD set. Gil Evans’ style was very different. It didn’t really sound like a big band to me. It sounded like an orchestra.
Now ask yourself, “Where is the value here?”
The question is important to me, because very often when I don’t have an outside deadline for writing, I neglect to write. I often get down about the state of the world, and question the value of me writing music. The better answer I have for this question, the more likely I am going to continue writing.
The Value in Music
To me, the value is layered. Listening is clearly valuable on a personal level. There is clear value in the striking, and characteristic cover of the album.
And don’t forget — the main piece is a cover. There is value in the original composition by Rodrigo, and in Gil Evans’ arrangement.
Let’s imagine, that you are going through an attic, and you happen to open up a mysterious box.
Inside the box, is an envelope. It’s dusty. It’s old. It’s worn. You carefully peel open the envelope and what’s inside surprises you.
A handwritten book of music? It’s the sketches of… Sketches of Spain. It would probably be worth quite a lot, but I definitely wouldn’t sell it.
Imagining this scene, it dawned on me that the value in any piece of music lies in many places.
Some Places You Find Value in Music
- The recorded audio feels obvious because you can listen to it, and stream it. It can also be used in movies, or TV.
- The score itself is a work of art. The quality of the score layout, paper, and effort that goes into creating a beautiful score all give it artistic value.
- Being able to perform it myself gives me personal value.
- Others being able to perform it gives them personal value, and often allows me to get royalties.
- The copyright has value in that I can license it out and earn money from it in the long run, as can others.
- The emotions you get from listening to a piece of music can be highly valuable and cathartic.
- The process of writing builds discipline and can put you in a flow state. Plus, learning process is one of the main values you get working for another composer.
- Just having a new piece of music to think and talk about.
There are probably many more ways in which you can value music, and the process that creates it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comment section below.
How I Will Honor the Value of Music
It possibly sounds strange saying I am honoring the value of the music, but hear me out.
If I honor the process of creation as much as the final product, I am more likely to finish something. If I honor the artwork that is the final score, as much as the sound that comes from that piece, I honor the value of that music. If I honor the practice time as much as the performance time, I will honor the value of the music. And I believe I will gain more value in my own life from it.
But how do I honor this process?
First, making sure I have undisturbed time to work on my music. I am currently in the process of finishing the inside of my shed, it order to create a quiet room separate from the house where I can go to compose. It’s an attempt to recreate in spirit, Mahler’s composing hut.
I also honor the process by writing about it on the blog. Writing forces me to think deeply about topics and is part of my process as much as writing notes.
I also intend to bring more of my pieces into a finished form. This means setting the score in notation software, recording, and spending time of the final product. I am currently experimenting with calligraphy, to give a little more personality to the final printed copy of a piece. Like an autograph edition.
And most important, I will honor the value of my music by releasing it to the world. I find it’s very easy to hide behind many walls when faced with releasing music. And I need to spend the time to do that.
I’d love to hear a comment below on where you see the value in music.