Cry Me a River, and Make Me Millions…

Posted on: 27 November 2015

Welcome to the Jungle, Fields of Gold, Moon River – not just great songs, and not just great million-dollar songs, but great million-dollar songs inspired by Mother Nature, whose beauty and power has provided the music industry with a $600 million shot in the arm since 2003.

That is according to new research carried out by a zoologist from Trinity College Dublin, who found that 1.37 million songs held in’s 30-million-strong database took their inspiration from our ecosystems.

Between the years of 2003 and 2014, each of these songs was downloaded, on average, 350 times. At $1.20 a pop – the average cost of an iTunes download – that adds up to $600 million. And that almost certainly underplays the real contribution as the ecosystem keywords used in the analysis did not include popular species or groups of animals, such as birds.

“Ecosystems have always inspired human beings and references to these are present in ancient and contemporary cultures,” explained Dr Luca Coscieme, IRC Post-Doctoral Fellow in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, who is the lead author on the paper just published in the journal Ecosystem Services.

Lakes, rivers and forests topped the charts with more than 200,000 titles each, followed by tundra, grasslands and deserts, which all inspired more than 100,000. Coral reefs, seas, beaches and bays stand in the middle of the chart, each of them scoring in between 15,000 and 70,000, whereas seagrasses were much less popular.

Would The Sound of Music have been such a hit without The Hills Are Alive? And would the legendary Diana Ross have reached mega-stardom so soon or so completely withoutAin’t No Mountain High Enough, which was her first solo number one on the US Billboard charts?

Dr Coscieme added: “We are aware that nature and its ecosystems provide us with services, which confer huge financial benefits for society. For example, they sequester carbon and provide clean water.”

“Their aesthetic benefits are often discussed too – think of the jaw-dropping beauty of Iguazu Falls, and the mystery of unexplored rainforests – but what we are discovering with analyses such as these is that their cultural value actually puts dollars in our pockets. It’s also really cool to think that anyone listening to one of these songs is being touched in some way by nature, even if they don’t necessarily know it!”

The value of nature to human society is often invisible in conventional accounting, meaning that its value is often ignored in decision-making. Studies like this, which illustrate the economic value of natural ecosystems, are important in highlighting how important nature is.

It’s not really about putting a price on nature, but about recognising its value. This has been the focus of an international meeting this week (The World Forum on Natural Capital) and is addressed nationally by the Irish Forum on Natural Capital. The journal article can be viewed here.

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