I’m in the back of a hired town car on my way to the airport. The fare will be $90. I could have driven myself and parked at one of the many indoor parking lots but I didn’t. I have travel anxiety when I go it alone and I’d rather relax and let someone else get me to the plane on time. And…I’m lucky. I’m able to afford it.
Why? Because I had a few hit songs in my day.
For much of my life, I bussed it, cabbed it, shuttled it, trained it, or had a friend or relative take me to the airport. But at this point in my career and my life, I feel that I’ve earned the luxury of a private ride.
I often wonder if a songwriter starting out today will have the same option in their future.
I look forward to these rides because I’m able to collect my thoughts. About ten minutes into it I hear the beginnings of a familiar song. It doesn’t register right away, but then of course it does. It’s “What A Girl Wants.” I wrote that song 16 years ago and someone is still playing it. Thank you, Universe.
In the rear view mirror I notice the driver looking at me as if to see if I react to the song. Hmmm. Does he know I wrote it? Perhaps it wasn’t random at all. My thoughts:
- That’s a little creepy. Does he Google his riders?
- I was enjoying the serenity and anonymity. Now, I’m destined for conversation.
Okay then. Conversation it is.
I inquire—”Did you play that song or was it on the radio?”
In a heavy Russian accent, he replies…”Well, I know it’s the one you are best known for.”
Google it was.
He seems harmless enough. And friendly. And eager to talk about, well, music. Which is unusual in this situation. Now my curiosity is sparked.
“Can I ask you—by what means did you play it—CD? A personal playlist?”
“Spotify,” he replies.
“Oh. Do you subscribe to Spotify?”
“Oh Yes! $9.99 a month. I play everything. I love it.”
I ask him if he’s aware he could get it for free (if he was willing to listen to ads of course—ad’s from which songwriters get a minuscule piece while streaming services make a killing.)
He said, “No. I pay. Don't like ads. $9.99 is good.” He reiterates, “I get to hear everything.” (Is this a dream?)
“So knowing what a great bargain it is, would you be willing to pay more to subscribe?”
“Why not. If I like. I get listen to Led Zeppelin and then REO and Bob Dylan. Yeh— I would pay 20. I used to go to record store on Melrose and listen to music I grow up with in Russia. And there were words. And I smell it. I look at pictures.” I thought to myself, Wow this is like a page out of my book. He totally gets it. He values music.
As for me—when I was a kid I wanted to have as much of it as possible. Sadly, it wasn’t possible. Loosely, at around $9.99 per album, I could afford to buy about 1 or 2 vinyl records a month with my weekly allowance. That’s equivalent to one month of Spotify. I was lucky if I liked that album though, because if I didn’t, I couldn’t return it and exchange it for another. (Usually I did like it, however—even the album cuts sandwiched in between the singles I bought it for.)
Later when CDs came onto the scene I was waiting tables and was able to afford about 3 or 4 albums a month. But this meant I had to shell out more like $40. For one month. See where I’m going?
The streaming revolution has been a gift to users. Including me. We can access as much music as we want, whenever and wherever we want it. For ten bucks. And, we can put our selection back on a shelf and opt for something else if for any reason we aren’t satisfied. That’s a pretty good deal. One would think that for an all-you-can-eat buffet, the value of music would have risen, not declined.
After all, we’re not just paying for the music. We're paying for ease, the convenience, the flexibility. And for songwriters in a session we now have a way of instantaneously accessing a past hit and making sure it’s not too similar to the one we're in the process of writing. Or for some of us, to make sure it is. :)
What would we pay for music if we couldn’t get it for free? Or for $9.99 a month? That should give us an idea of its market value. Unfortunately, at least for now, our hands are legally tied. So the most we can expect is that users at least subscribe—and show that they respect music.
I understand why the tech lobby and their shills champion free streaming. They stand to make billions on top of the billions they’ve already made from the music they want us to give away for free. I know nieces, nephews, neighbors and friends who don’t pay for it. I even know songwriters who can’t get enough of the free stuff. Don’t they realize they're essentially ripping themselves off?
Anyway, these are my thoughts along the way to the airport. I like the town car driver very much and I’m not unhappy he interrupted my thought collecting. It’s nice to find people, when you last expect it, who value music.
I wish there were more.