Today's economy

You won’t believe what I’ve spent on music

By Kevin Press,

Comments (5)

In retrospect, the first record I ever bought was an odd choice. Wipe Out, by The Surfaris didn’t exactly speak to the mid-1970s suburban experience I was ensconced in, but then that was part of its appeal. To a 12-year-old looking for something to do in his parents’ Brampton, Ontario bungalow, a bit of escapism — even if I didn’t recognize it for what it was — was welcome. Plus, The Surfaris had a wicked drummer.

A record player - putting a price on music.Music has been an obsession ever since. I’ve been aware over the years that I have spent unreasonable amounts on records, concerts and all the rest. As I came to understand compound interest, a growing sense of doubt about the wisdom of all those purchasing decisions began to nag at me. How much exactly have I spent? And how much better off would my family and I be if I’d toned it down a bit over the years?

This was on my mind over the weekend as I subwayed home from a Sigur Rós show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. The show’s finale was bewildering; it was one of those rare concert experiences that stay with you for years. I’ve had more than my share of those: like the night I saw Joe Strummer back up The Pogues in a nightclub that fit just about 800 diehards (his head down, trying desperately to keep up with the rest of the band). Watching the great Ornette Coleman wrap up a frenzied set with Lonely Woman also comes to mind. This weekend’s moment was a kind of audio-visual onslaught that looked as big as it sounded. Like all great musical experiences, it transported its audience. Just as The Surfaris did for me 37 years ago. For about five minutes at 11 o’clock on Saturday night, I didn’t have a care in the world.

That’s why I love music. It’s why I still look at the new releases list every Tuesday. And it’s why since that first seven-inch single landed in my hands in 1976, I have spent a ridiculous amount of money trying to replicate the wonder I felt at 12.

Yesterday, I decided to have a crack at calculating how much all of this has cost me.

  • Records. I have 515 LPs and 12-inch singles carefully alphabetized in my basement. I have another 47 that my grandfather left me after he passed away, so I won’t count those in my tally. What I will add, though, is an assumed shrinkage rate of 10%. Were it not for a couple of decades of moves, garage sales and loans-gone-bad, I’d have more than 515 records. Let’s call it an even 560. A few of these are box sets; many are European imports. I’m going to guess that the lot has cost me an average of $8 per. Total: $4,480.
  • CDs and MP3s. I have 1,846. My thanks to the good people at iTunes for adding this up for me. I didn’t buy all of these. As a DJ and music journalist, I received my share of freebies. Let’s say 10% were gratis. The CDs I did buy weren’t cheap, especially those I snatched up when they were first introduced in the mid-1980s. And though the price of CDs has been coming down since, album downloads have begun now to creep up in price. I’m going to ballpark an average cost of $14 for the 1,662 I bought. Total: $23,268.
  • Concerts. I drew up a list of the shows I can remember, including the ticket I can’t wait to use for this summer’s return of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Since November of 1982, I’ve attended 109 concerts. Ticket prices have risen since the old days. Let’s assume an average $50 a pop. Total: $5,450.
  • Club shows. I’ve spent a good deal more time paying to hear bands and DJs in night clubs than I have concert halls. This one is the toughest of all to calculate. But it is safe to say that during the ‘80s and ‘90s, I probably averaged three nightclub visits a month. Assume an average cover of $10. Total: $7,200.
  • Hardware. I’m proud to say that I still have the same Technics stereo, complete with turntable, that I scrimped and saved for in high school. The only difference now is that it’s connected to a Macintosh desktop. (I’m in the process of transferring some of my vinyl to MP3.) Current technology has turned out to be somewhat more disposable. I’m on my fourth iPod. I’ve never spent more than $100 for a pair of headphones, but there have been a few of those along the way, too. And I’m old enough to have owned a couple of portable tape and CD players over the years. Total: $2,400.

For the record, I have omitted books about music (too hard to remember them all) and concert T-shirts (too embarrassing to report) from this list. Clearly, there are several rough guesses in these numbers. And none of this is adjusted for inflation. But when I add it all up — and find that I have spent an estimated $42,798 on music in the last 37 years – I am genuinely surprised that the figure isn’t higher.

Is it all worth it? Yes, without question. Here’s how I know:

The other day, my seven-year-old daughter sat down at the piano in our dining room and figured out how to play Amazing Grace without the benefit of sheet music. She and her younger brother are growing up in a house where music is almost always on. That’s adding immeasurable richness to their lives. They know who Billie Holiday was. They think Nina Simone had a cool voice. The Lovely Lisa and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

More on music and money:

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Tara Cabullo on

This is a beautiful piece on music, Kevin! I remember Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stones with this post:)

    kevinpress on

    Tara, thanks so much. I’ve had a couple of friends recommend Sheffield’s stuff to me. Must check him out.

Lorel on

Beyond the actual dollars and cents, it isn’t easy to calculate the ROI on life experiences. But I bet now, whenever you sit in Massey Hall and look up at the chicken wire holding the original plaster ceiling in place, that you recall every opening song and every encore of all the bands that graced (or disgraced😉 that stage. From my perspective those experiences only increase in value. BTW, when I did my ‘what music cost me’ list, I calculated in travel as some tours demanded more than one show’s viewing. It’s all worth it – every penny!

    Kevin Press on

    Thanks Lorel. It’s so true. The Massey Hall experiences are special: Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Daniel Lanois, Big Country, Cocteau Twins, David Sylvian and so many more. BTW, it’s funny you should mention travel expenses:

VV on

No matter how much you spent in $$$$$, everything is priceless at the end (the whole experience and fun you had over all these years). Congratulations for being such a music lover.At the end, count only the benefits you got! Just priceless!

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