One of the biggest transformations music has undergone over the past two decades is the ability to see songs rack up views, streams, and downloads in real time. Local and national charts still gauge an artist’s radio performance and album sales, but detailed metrics offered by music platforms now let listeners see how much a song is being listened to practically in real time. But public song stats are a small fraction of the detailed analytical information most artists now have access to when it comes to who is listening to their music.
From a music business perspective, having loads of perpetually updating fan analytics at your fingertips is helpful, but I think there’s also a downside to consider. Numbers can’t tell the whole story of worth behind an artist’s music. Since most music is now digitized in some form, it means that the majority of music consumption can be measured. It’s human nature to want to assign value and meaning to the songs that generate the most stats, but there’s a whole bunch of problems to consider if you think that your music is only good if it’s popular.
Why all good music doesn’t necessarily find an audience in 2019
An unfathomable amount of new music comes out each day, and some of it is very good. Whether it comes from a successful artist with bottomless resources at their disposal, or a teenaged bedroom producer sharing their work for the first time, the current musical climate is uber favorable when it comes to letting just about anyone distribute and sell their music online. This means that anytime you release new music, you’re competing with tens of thousands of other artists. Good music doesn’t get heard because more songs come out each day than fans can possibly listen to. And while digital music platforms have built-in tools to help connect new music with listeners, there’s simply not enough resources to put every released song in front of a listener.
Musical value can’t be measured in stats
If you’re one of the many musicians discouraged by how little your music is being listened to, it’s important to step back and assess the way you value music. Metrics like streams and downloads are important, but they won’t give you the entire picture of value when it comes to your music. What makes music valuable completely depends on the individual, but things like creativity, craftsmanship, and personal meaning are important to consider. Set aside the part of your human nature that wants to value things through the numbers and dig deeper into what you really love about about music. If you find that what you’re creating embodies what resonates with you about another artist’s music, then your work has value no matter how much it’s being listened to.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find an audience for your music, but purely basing your work’s worth off of its popularity is unhealthy and can stymie a promising musician’s career. Look past the numbers, and you’ll find that determining a song’s real value is a lot harder than you might think. When everything superficial gets stripped away, the last and most important judge of whether your music has value or not is you.
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.