Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What Money Can't Buy

I really enjoyed reading Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy (I got a Kindle copy right after hearing the interview I just linked to). Even though Sandel doesn't expound on ideas concerning music and art, reading it caused me to (as usual) expound on ideas I have had for a while concerning money and art and music.

The walls of our house are covered with priceless art. The bulk of it was made by members of my family. I would never consider trading any of it for shiny shells or currency of any kind. Money can't buy what went into these pieces of art, partly because they are not for sale, and partly because they weren't created to sell. What kind of a price could a person put on a needlepoint dodo-bird that my grandmother stitched on top of a drawing her brother made on a needlepoint canvas? And would my grandmother's other needlepoint pieces claim as high a price if I were to show them to an art dealer? Of course not. My great uncle put a few minutes into his drawing, and my grandmother probably put a few months into the needlepoint. Go figure.

We keep art made by our children on our walls because we love them as pieces of art. Our family gallery is exclusive, and its content is truly priceless.

Even if I had tons of money and could afford to buy the best instruments in the world, rent the most expensive halls, hire the best musicians money could buy to play with me, and, through the sheer power of money, convince people to come to my concerts and praise my playing, I would still play pretty much the same way I play as a member of the un-moneyed class. Money can't buy me the things that I would like to improve in my playing. Money can't buy me a better voice. Money can't make me taller. Money could, I suppose, make me look younger, but it couldn't actually make me be younger. It can't make me smarter. It can't improve my memory. I suppose if I had lots of money I could "buy" the friendship of people who also have money, but I prefer to have friends with talent and brains who like me for who I am and not for what I have.

If I were to secretly buy a recording company, have that company hire great musicians to record music I write, and organize the best promotional campaign that money could buy, I bet people would take me more seriously as a composer, particularly if I could give the appearance (when I made one) that my wealth had been generated by my success as a composer. If it were to come out that I actually owned my recording company, and all my success came from inherited money or investments rather than from talent, I bet people would stop taking me seriously. Therefore, I'm much better off letting the music I write be taken for what it is by a relatively small number of people.

We live in a musical world of illusions, at least in the classical field. One illusion is that talent generates success, and that success must therefore be the result of talent. Another is that success as a performing musician or as a composing musician generates money and fame. I think that most un-moneyed musicians (at least in non commercial fields) operate at a subsistance level. And the DIY movement (publishing yourself, arranging your own travel, paying your own expenses, and doing your own publicity through social networking) means that you spend more time on your "career" and less time on your music. I couldn't imagine dealing with the business aspect of creating a company to publish my music: the record keeping, the space and material needed for production, the business expenses, the accounting, and the copyright stuff, not to mention the feelings of disappointment I might have when pieces don't sell, when nobody seems to want to buy the fruits of my labors. I think it's much healthier for me to make the music I write available for free for people who want to play it. I guess that makes it priceless: something money can't buy.

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