Asking what makes a song valuable in 2018 seems sort of silly. With music streaming and video platforms displaying listener stats in real time, one doesn’t have to look much further than that to see whether a piece of music is valuable or not, right? If your metric for a song’s success is purely based off of how many times it’s bought, listened to, or downloaded, then no. But what makes a song valuable, in my opinion, is much deeper and more complex than what can be quantified with numbers. To figure out what makes music valuable, listeners and musicians alike need to look past the numbers.
Why it’s so hard not to play the numbers game in 2018
It can be easy for songwriters to assign or remove value from their work according to the numbers attached to their music. If your songs are good, lots of people will like them and they’ll rack up tons of plays. If they’re bad, no one will take notice. This line of thinking is way too simple and flawed for a couple of reasons. Popularity undoubtedly represents momentum and attention in music but not always artistic merit. An incredible amount of great music being released currently doesn’t go on to find an audience for the sheer fact that there’s so many songs being released each day. Following trends, writing something controversial, or making music in response to something happening in the news––these things can help a song find listeners, but not necessarily artistic value.
For hardworking songwriters, knowing that a song’s stats aren’t always connected to its artistic value is often little consolation when it comes to building or sustaining a career. Sure, songs that rack up tons of plays, views, and downloads aren’t necessarily creatively valuable, but they are financially. This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for musicians not to obsess over the numbers when it comes to how well their songs perform online.
What gives music its value
Since a song’s value can’t always be measured by how many times its played, downloaded, shared, or tweeted about, we need to find other ways to determine the worth of music. Music, like any other art, can’t be valued by a one-size-fits-all system with preset rules. When everything superficial falls away, what makes a piece of music valuable completely depends on the person interacting with it. If you’re a listener that comes across a piece of music online that resonates with you in some way, what you’re hearing has value whether it’s been heard fifty times or five million. This also goes for songwriters and musicians. There’s value in the creative process for artists no matter what the end result of their work is. Yes, this all seems a little bit self-helpsy, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Music is artistically valued by the individual people who create and consume it. This is important to remember for musicians who have a hard time finding an audience.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.