Mother Nature: inspiration of songwriters that keeps on giving

Benefit of ecosystems worth some €566m to tunesmiths over 12 years - Dr Luca Coscieme

The hills are alive with the sound of money - and there ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no river wide enough to stop the cash coming from Mother Nature.

She is the source for literally millions of songs and she just keeps on giving, as the inspiration that drives the outpourings of songwriters around the globe.

Research has finally put a value on what this cultural benefit is worth - no less than some €566 million over the past 12 years, says Dr Luca Coscieme.

Think about it. Moon River, Fields of Gold, Welcome to the Jungle, Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls - these are all million sellers that yielded massive amounts of money.


All of this money is Blowin in the Wind, they say. Or perhaps the shekels arrive after you were Sitting on the Dock of the Bay while you Cry Me a River - so Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree if you want to remember nature's major contribution to music making.

Creative works

All of these hits drew on aspects of natural ecosystems, with nature either directly or indirectly providing the impetus for the creative musical works, Dr Coscieme said.

The Irish Research Council-backed post-doctoral fellow, based in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Natural Sciences, views such inspiration as one of the many services provided to us by nature.

“We often hear about utilitarian gains such as water and land and forests, but nature also delivers cultural benefits through inspiration, aesthetic and other non-material gains,” he said.

He decided to discover what this “inspirational value” was worth in terms of hard cash.

"There was not a lot of research in terms of quantifying this value," he admitted, but there was a lot of data to drive his study, just published in the journal Ecosystem Services.

Musical database

He targeted, a musical database holding information on about 30 million songs, and used keywords to scour lyrics and titles.

He looked for songs that referenced ecosystems, for example rain forests, but choosing words that were in common usage, in this case jungle. The Earth’s water systems were reduced to rivers, streams and bays.

He eventually came up with 1.37 million songs that highlighted nature. Those with lakes, rivers and forests topped the charts with more than 200,000 songs each, followed by tundra, grasslands and deserts, which inspired about 100,000 titles each.

Each of the songs was downloaded on average about 350 times over the study period, from 2003 to 2014, and Dr Coscieme worked out the inspirational value of this collection based on a typical download fee of €1.20 per song.

It amounted to a staggering €566 million, but he believes the value might actually be much higher.

“It could be an underestimation, given I didn’t use words like ‘earth’ or ‘flower’ or ‘bird’, or name a particular species. If these were added to the search, the total number would have been much higher.”

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.