How do you value a song?

I’m trying to figure out this money thing. It’s a mystery to me. Last night I watched a program on Bernie Madoff  which told the complete story of the scam from start to finish. I like being comfortable and having the few bob in my pocket as much as the next guy but…what is the point, in the big picture, of spending your whole life just accumulating money? Not only that but screwing everybody you come across in the process. Oh, what fun! On one level I’m sure that’s not what we’re here for.

On another level I’m intimidated by these guys in that it’s all miles over my head…all this ‘front loading’, hedge funding, futures, speculating on some other guys collapse, the picking up of pennies a trillion times and then gambling it all in some other direction. The addictive thrill of fucking someone over. it’s a skill that’s gone on from the dawn of time in one form or another and…I’m not even at the races. I just don’t get it. Am I missing something?

The thing that bothers me is that, when I’m around these people, and from time to time we do cross paths… hey, they need to be entertained every so often…I kinda feel like I’m from another species, one that’s on the way out. Last time I was in NYC I found myself looking up at the Lipstick building and feeling like a dinosaur….a very small one. It’s not a good feeling.

Once in a while a money guy will go..hey Paul, I’d love nothing more than to be able to sing, write a song, play the guitar like you. How come i don’t believe him, think he’s humoring me?

Mind you, Bernie’s in the clink now and I’m heading out on tour to play for you guys.
But one question won’t go away. How do you value a song…and is there any way I can maybe bet on it being a failure?


  1. says

    Placing monetary value on a song is so far removed from the art and craft of songwriting that I won’t go there.

    To answer your question: I value a song if it resonates with me: either because the subject matter of the lyric has something I can relate to or because I associate the song with an event, place, person. If it is the flame to the petrol of an emotion then the writer has done a good job and the song has value. Even if it is only true for one listener.

    Betting on a song being a failure is a tall order. By my own definition, on which I shall probably be hung, it is necessary to prove that not a single person finds value in the song. That would be quite difficult.

    When the suit says to you that they would love nothing more than to be able to sing, write a song, play the guitar like you they probably mean it more than they realise. I don’t think they are always referring to the specifics of writing/playing/performing. They generally mean “I would prefer to be doing anything apart from this soulless activity that is eating away at my very being”.

    Like most songwriters I have a day job. Constantly I encounter contradiction between my creative side and my business side. Can they live together ? Sure they can. Can I have it all ? No, not really: I have accepted that taking the 21st century king’s shilling means I cannot dedicate my life to my songwriting & performance, at the same time I decided not to allow the day job to become my life. I am not a namebadge.

    Unfortunately the music business (as you know better than I ever shall) is full of these money-grabbing individuals who accumulate wealth on the back of someone else’s talent.

    (Paul – change the blog settings to allow people behind a proxy to post, most people in an office are stuck behind a proxy)

  2. Bernard O'Hara says

    Paul – I too have an office job…a reasonably well paid one…and, like you, I’ve had to work damn hard to get to where I am (lots of crappy exams, as well as having to put up with a lot of people I have little in common with)….and I love nothing more than to get home, get out of the suit, stick the stereo, lift my guitar and strum a couple of tunes (with a cold beer nearby). Yet, I appreciate that if I didn’t do my job, I wouldn’t be able to afford my guitar, or to go to see my favourite artist in concert, or go on a nice holiday. Ultimately we make choices – we go down a certain path..(maybe we’re encouraged to at school) and before we know it, it seems too late to turn back.. I would loved to have been a musician – but the truth is that while my mum and dad sent me to guitar lessons when I was young, I hated it – and wasn’t prepared to put the effort in…. It was only later that I discovered my own ‘music’ – which incidentally was spurred by seeing The Shadows on TV and thinking – that is SO cool. Hank inspired me to play the guitar – and I have been lucky enough to see him play many times and have even met him a couple of times – a true gent and a legend.

    Back to your question though of, how do you value a song? Well, I guess it is impossible to know how well each of your songs is going to do before you release them to the outside world – but in monetary terms I guess you could look back at each of your songs and look at what royalties you’ve earned from them. If you look at the wider value, I’ll come back to the Shads again to illustrate a point. I am one of their younger fans (I’m 34) and the typical age profile would probably be guys in their 50s now. Yet over the last few years, a lot of these guys find themselves with grown up families and have bought the strats and the ac30s and are getting up and playing the tunes they knew and loved when they were kids in clubs all over the place – in fact we’ve started one near Belfast which meets monthly. There are people from all walks of life..and this may be the first opportunity they’ve had to get up and play in front of people (I know my first time was less than a year ago) – they’re digging out and learning B sides, album tracks recorded 45/50 years ago – tracks that to the composers / performers were just ‘throwaway’…and yet, there are many like minded people to whom an individual track means a great deal. Just like we all have songs that remind us of an important event in our lives….first girlfriends ; getting married ; whatever – I just don’t think you can put a value on that..

    Maybe you see your own songs as your ‘children’ or as a part of you…and different people will interpret them in their own way, or relate the songs to their own lives. I guess that’s a wonderful side effect of being a singer / songwriter and being able to play your music – and see how people react to it? What a special, privileged position to be in…

    To round off on the money men, though, surely it is right that you should be well rewarded for your compositions, for your performing, for your talent – after all, there are plenty of musos who have a very hard life – and I’m sure your own career (which I’ve only been following for a relatively short time) has had its ups and downs. surely, regardless of the ‘audience’ you are playing to, you can tell those for whom your music just makes a connection….I don’t believe that the emotion which music brings out in people can be faked….chances are, if they’re making the effort to come chat and pay you praise, or tell you that you had the life they wish they’d had, they’re probably telling the truth, but they probably never had the inclination, or the balls, to give that life a go, and make the necessary sacrifices…

  3. admin says

    Thanks, Peter, Bernard for your considered responses. I wasn’t expecting to be taken so literally, but it’s nice to see it has provoked thought. I have no problems with people in suits, in a well paid job, making a good living, nor do I feel that guys who are musical but only play for the love of it or as a hobby are in any way to be looked down on.
    Really all I was talking about was the rarefied atmosphere at the top of the money chain where a few guys can wreak havoc on hundreds of thousands of honest hardworking individuals and leave them destitute.
    My question about betting on the failure of a song was tongue in cheek. perhaps I shoulda put a smiley after it? 🙂
    Keep ’em comin! PB

  4. Gerry Coogan says

    Hi Paul,
    I like the look of the new website and I’m looking forward to getting your new album.
    I love the clips I’ve heard. 🙂
    I haven’t been able to find the lyrics and TABs yet. Have they been carried over?

    Your throwaway comment about the value of a song sparked some interesting comments there.
    The thing that always strikes me is that there’s a huge difference between the monetary price of something and its real value. They’re often spoken of as if they’re interchangeable. But they’re not.
    The real wealth of the world isn’t gold or GDP; it’s people. I don’t think the world becomes a poorer place if a bank goes down the toilet but when a dearly loved soul passes on, we all lose something. We lost a lot on the 9th December 1980, for example. And there’s no profit margin that can compensate for the Lennon songs that HAVEN’T been written in the last thirty years.
    Thank God that there’s still artists like yourself who enrich our existence. 🙂

    P.S. I’d like to conclude this first post on the new website by wishing myself a Happy Birthday!

  5. says

    Hi Gerry,
    Thanks for the reply. Lyrics and Tabs are sub-pages under the ‘media and shop’ parent page.
    Belated happy Birthday!

    Paul B

  6. Jason says

    How do you bet on it failing? I suggest you watch “The Producers” by Mel Brooks.
    That’s pretty much as close as you can get to “front-loading” art.

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