WE NEED TO MEASURE THE SOCIAL VALUE OF MUSIC

by Azucena Micó

The IFPI’s Global Music Report 2019 figures show that the total revenue for recorded music in 2018 was US$19.1 billion. The 2017 UK Music’s report Wish You Were Here states that live music fans generated £4 billion in direct and indirect spending in 2016 to the UK economy. New York City’s music ecosystem is responsible for 57,500 jobs, US$4.7 billion in wages and $21.0 billion in economic output...

We have repeated these numbers several times and they are important, indeed. But, it’s not the whole picture. In this era of data, it’s surprising how there are still barely any numbers reflecting what the social value of music is to the community. After all, it is greatly significant.

Music and the People

Music has a role in very different aspects of a city’s and its inhabitant’s lives, including health, environmental sustainability, urbanism and education, to name a few. But also more intangible aspects such as: social inclusion; promotion of participation in community life and sociability; fostering diversity; increasing autonomous development in individuals, their critical capacities, or their creativity, among others. Without forgetting “l'art pour l'art” (the art for art's sake), the idea that the intrinsic value of art (and music in this case) needs to be detached from any commercial or utilitarian objectives.

Many qualitative analyses have been made to show that all the above is a reality, but not many have tried to put it in a quantitative format to be able to measure and analyse it, and then design actions and policies accordingly. In order to foster sustainable development, music policies and strategies need to find a balance between the economic impact and the social benefits that music can bring to the city. In order to do so, decision makers, institutions and citizens need to understand what the outcomes really are and access the tools and information to assess them.

Photo by Ban Yido on Unsplash

Photo by Ban Yido on Unsplash

Imagine a city with music, literally, everywhere

Imagine how many police stations could decide to use music in their zones if they had actual proof that it helped decrease crime rates.

Or how many local institutions would use music in socially conflicting areas with diverse populations if they had figures that showed how participating in music activities can promote tolerance and increase cohesion in the neighborhood.

Or how many therapists would use it if there were more studies showing how it increases people’s confidence and self-pride, reduces isolation, or promote control over one’s life.

Or how many companies would use it if they realised how much it can build skills among their workers, increase their creative thinking and reduce stress.

Imagine how much music a city would have if all those different collectives would add it to their everyday activities! And those are only some: it can develop people’s pride in their city and help increase a sense of belonging, it helps improve the image of the city both among its inhabitants and its visitors, it gives people a tool to organise community activities, it makes people feel better and more relaxed and hence improves quality of life, it brings different community groups together, it makes people participate more in community and democratic affairs…

While there has been a lot of theorisation around the topic of social impact and social value, we still need a methodology that allows for this theory to be supported with numbers. It is true that some of us don’t need to be shown an infographic to know how much music impacts not only people but also places but, at the end of the day, in the time of data, “a number is worth a thousand words”.