Intrinsic vs. Tangible

I’ve been in many situations recently, involving “intrinsic” value versus “tangible” value:

As songwriters, we are all constantly developing our intrinsic value.   Every time we write a song, intrinsic value occurs and is centered around our development of the songwriting craft.  Every free show we perform, intrinsic value happens as we develop our performance experience.  Every open mic, every co-writing session, every show we attend– we are strengthening our ability to understand and produce quality art, which I deem “intrinsic”.

On the other hand, tangible value gives proof to a level of intrinsic value that we perceive we have.  Tangible value justifies our ability to provide this level of intrinsic value to audiences, or music venues, business owners, labels, publishers, etc.  As a songwriter, without tangible value, you are a hobbyist.  Which is fine.  But if you believe in your intrinsic value, there comes a point where you test that value with forces other than emotional response, connection, or what your mom says about your recent song.  You’ll test that value, in most cases, by seeing if people will invest in your art.  For songwriters, this may look like CD purchases, download purchases, paid performances, distribution that leads to sales, song licensing, tangible promotion that leads to a physical gain, or bartering a service or good of value in exchange for your art or creative service.

In this way, every songwriter or artist has already created intrinsic value for themselves, merely as a result of engaging with the creative process.  But not every songwriter has what it takes to create tangible value with their music.  Why?  Tangible valuable is contingent upon an exchange.  It’s not something that can be accomplished by the creator alone; someone else has to perceive the creator’s art as worthy of tangible value, and exchange it.  If a songwriter does not have songs that are considered highly intrinsically valuable, they will likely not experience high levels of tangible value either.  However, many artists may create something that people would perceive with high intrinsic value (while others do not), but do not receive tangible value in return for this intrinsic value.  The financially stressful lifestyles of Beethoven and Picasso come to mind.

Modern example:  I have a friend in Nashville who works a day job at Forever 21, but in the evening, opens up for national acts in some of the city’s premiere concert venues.  She once explained to me that you could perform a show for 1,000 people, but if it was a free performance, if you don’t have CDs to sell, if no one downloads your song on iTunes during/after the performance, and no “real” relationships were born as a result of your performance… then tomorrow morning you’ll wake up, go to your day job, and do it all over again.  She explained that customers are often shocked when they walk into Forever 21 and stammer “I’m sorry, but weren’t you the girl who was opening up for…. insert amazing band here…. last night?  You should be famous!”

Considering her situation, there is a perpetual existence revolving around intrinsic value, otherwise known as “being stuck”. Clearly, there is a distinction between intrinsic value and tangible value.  As songwriters, if you believe you are “valuable”, my general advice to you:   Spend your time, energy, and creativity wisely.  Know where you stand.  Know your intrinsic value, and set standards for your tangible value.  Be willing to dismiss “opportunities” that do not help you accomplish your goals.  You’re not “selling out” by pursuing tangible goals that prove your intrinsic value.

– Joey Hendrickson
Founder, Columbus Songwriters Association

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