There’s nothing more exciting for a new artist than finding out that listeners are starting to learn about and enjoy their music. But using play counts, views, and hits as the only metrics to measure musical success is a bad idea.
If you think about it, using statistics like views and plays to measure an artist’s traction with fans is a relatively new thing. Sure, the music industry has relied on radio charts and record sales to gauge and understand what music is resonating with listeners and what music isn’t, but those metrics are completely different than measuring how often listeners play a particular track on a streaming platform.
When bands used to get played on mainstream radio and sell lots of records, their popularity could easily be translated to money. But in 2018, getting millions of plays across various platforms might not be enough to earn artists a livable wage depending on various factors like whether they’re signed to a label or not. Play counts don’t translate to a significant amount of money until they get extraordinarily high, but even more important than that, it’s problematic to have such narrow definitions when it comes to thinking about what music is and isn’t successful.
If you only measure success in music with how much money an artist earns from their work, then you’re leaving the most important component out of the equation. This, of course, is the emotional fulfillment and joy a person gets out of making music. It’s the kind of love that sustains songwriters and musicians through years of artistic development and discovery that’s almost always accompanied by heartbreak, disappointments, and hardship. A bunch of plays can’t tell you anything about that kind of stuff.
Your band’s single will sound exactly the same whether it has five plays or 5,000,000.
Obsessing over the numbers when it comes to how often listeners are playing your music is also problematic because it can be addictive, distracting, and discouraging. Yeah, your band’s single is up to an impressive 50,000 plays, but what can you do to get it up to a million? Statistics like these give a value to music that doesn’t really exist. Your band’s single will sound exactly the same whether it has five plays or 5,000,000. If your goal in music is to write terrific songs and get people to listen, then obsessing and lamenting over the numbers isn’t going to help you.
With constantly evolving artist analytics and more platforms than ever to stream music on, it makes sense why so many artists constantly look to the numbers to determine whether their music is successful or not. But if you want lasting fulfillment in music, you’ll have to find it on your own terms and not by fretting over likes, streams, and play counts. We’d all probably be much better musicians and writers if we spent more time with our craft and less time obsessing over whether we’re successful or not.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.