SongTown USA: What is Your Music Worth?

There is a growing perception that music (and writers) have no intrinsic value. I have people all the time encouraging me to give a song away or to come play a show for free.

I have actually had people get offended when I told them I wouldn’t come play somewhere for nothing. They tell me that I will be getting great “exposure” for my music. Meanwhile, they are packing the house and making lots of money on drinks, food and cover charges.

Some believe that songs themselves and songwriters are just "loss leaders" that get people to buy something else. I, for one, am offended when someone wants to use me and my music to make a profit without compensating me in any way.

Just like Walmart might advertise Coke products at below their cost for a week, just to get people to come in and buy other items - they think that songs should be given away to get people to buy concert tickets, t-shirts, food, beer etc.

I want to challenge our community to think of it in a different way. I believe your songs and YOU are the REAL value in the whole equation. Your songs are worth something. Your time is worth something.

In any business, you have to do things in the beginning just to get your name out there, or to let people hear your music. They will never want to buy it if they never get to hear it. I’m not saying that you should never play a show for free, or that you should never give away a song.

I AM saying that YOU help set the perceived value for your music. If it’s ALWAYS free, then that’s what it’s worth. $0.

However, if you give away songs and time strategically, you can gain loyal fans that will buy your music and support you in an ongoing way. To me, that and charity are the only reasons to give my time or my songs away. If I’m playing for a good cause and the money is going to help someone in need, that’s an awesome use of my gifts. Helping a bar make money off of me is not a good cause.

My strategy is this. I give my time away playing for good causes. That gives me all the exposure I need. If other people want me to play, and there’s really nothing that helps my career in regard to the show, I either get paid or I don’t play.

That helps establish a value for my time and my music. And, it actually creates more demand than if I played free shows all over town.

And, I only give away songs for 1) a good cause, 2) to help a new artist, 3) to get people interested enough to by some more of my music.

Don’t buy into the idea that your songs should be given away. That sets the value of your labor and your heart-felt work at zero. Whether or not you have had a cut, your music and your time are worth something! If you don’t believe it, why should anyone else?

Write on!

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a songwriter, corporate trainer and entrepreneur. His songs have been recorded by artists such as Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and The Plain White T’s. He once bumped Psy out of the #1 spot on the K-Pop charts but that’s another story for another day. Marty plays Taylor and Batson guitars. Follow him here:, at and at Twitter @SongTownUSA or visit

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