3 Reasons Why Low Play Counts Shouldn’t Discourage You

In today’s music climate, technology gives us a constantly-updating snapshot of how our music performs over streaming platforms via play counts. The higher the counts are, the better the music is, or so goes conventional thinking. This is flat wrong for lots of reasons. Yet, with a healthy desire to find an audience for your music, it can be easy to give in to this idea in ways that damage your creativity and career in the process. There’s nothing wrong with wanting lots of listeners to love your music. In fact, wanting to build those connections is an essential part of building a music career. But if your only metrics for musical success are the stats behind your music, then you’re missing the point. 

They don’t judge the true value of your work

If your songs rack up lots of plays, then your music is probably brilliant. But if they don’t, there must be something lacking with you as an artist, right? Maybe, or maybe not. The numbers can’t tell us the true value of our music. Some songs take off and find audiences over streaming platforms because they’re great. Others become favored by algorithms in ways that make it easier for listeners to find. Therefore, those are played far more than other songs. With today’s tech-centric and playlist-centric music culture, it’s far too simplistic to think that songs can only get their value from the number of plays they have. There are countless songs out there that are listenable, meaningful, and engaging that have under a thousand plays. On the other side of things, there are plenty of massively popular songs that lack originality and endurance when it comes to creativity and listenability. 

Numbers can’t tell the whole story of what’s going on with your music

It’s completely possible today to have songs with millions of plays but few devoted fans. While playlists and streaming platforms are undeniably giving unestablished artists easy access to wide audiences, there’s a lack of connection and intimacy that can happen when listeners are barraged with a constant stream of new music tailored specifically to their needs. For many artists, it’s literally and figuratively easy to get lost in the shuffle today, even if their music is racking up a lot of plays. Developing artists without much visible play count momentum have the chance to earn fans by building intimate, music-forward relationships through live performances and direct online engagement. The same goes for musicians who generate high streaming numbers as well. Since the numbers can’t tell the whole story about you and your music, you have to find a way to bring that story to fans directly any way you can. 

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Your focus should be on creating the best music you can, not the numbers 

With a constant stream of stats and analytical information being thrown at musicians in today’s music industry, it’s easy to think about releasing music like a video game––the highest-scoring songs win. But the truth is that thinking like this is like taking a sledgehammer to your creativity. If your first and largest intention during songwriting is to write music that generates lots of plays, your mindset is a universe away from where it needs to be. When we let the human connection be the focus of our creative energy, we’re free to make our best work. But when the burden of thinking about the numbers enters our process, we’re less likely to pursue our best and most human ideas. Think of it this way: When you write music, are you thinking about the human beings who will (hopefully) listen to it, or the numbers you hope it’ll generate? If your thoughts center more around play counts than actually living, breathing people, then something needs to change with your process. 

It’s not always easy, but we can have a thriving creative practice as musicians with a strong desire to have our songs heard at the same time. But if play counts is your most important way of measuring success, you’ve got it wrong. Dig deep enough into what it is you truly want out of making and sharing music, and you’ll quickly see that connecting with people is far more important than the numbers. 

 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.

Dave3 Reasons Why Low Play Counts Shouldn’t Discourage You

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  • Paul - November 18, 2020 reply

    Not to mention lots of bands, and even labels from what I have read, will actually buy fake views for their YouTube videos. You can also buy fake subscribers, fake likes, fake Facebook page likes, fake Spotify listeners on and on. So, judging a song’s popularity on views may be misleading. This might be a good topic for another article from your service.

  • Patrick EA Griffin - November 18, 2020 reply

    Very good take! Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Mike Lambeth - November 19, 2020 reply

    Hi Patrick, love your take on song writing! 🙂

  • Chris - November 19, 2020 reply

    Very timely, good advice, once again, thanks!

  • Deefer - November 19, 2020 reply

    As an old boss of mine used to say “don’t give me words, give me numbers”

  • Jerry Lemmon - November 19, 2020 reply

    This is the marketing blueprint for any new brand. If you look at the artist and his (her) music as a consumable product , you will have the advantage in today’s Social Media marketplace. Great Article!

  • Bryan Dove - November 19, 2020 reply

    I agree. I have low numbers yet totally in on doing each song better than the last as a goal. It is not easy and sometimes isn’t quite as good as the previous song but knowing I put my best into writing and vocal delivery I know it is worthy of attention. Bryan Dove, of Titan Loose.

  • Kwatrain - November 19, 2020 reply

    Good stuff, right on time .

  • Mister Bat - November 19, 2020 reply

    Unfortunately, A&R doesn’t see it this way. Deals go to the artists with the most plays, particularly on Spotify. Money is all about numbers, and if you ain’t drawing numbers, then you ain’t making dollars. Hundreds of thousands of followers is meaningless to them if you only have 5,000 plays on ReverbNation, less on Youtube, and zero revenue.

  • KFD - November 19, 2020 reply

    I beg to differ from all these other sycophants that have posted here. I totally agree that popularity and quality are not necessarily the same thing – and shouldn’t be confused. However, if you are not getting massive amounts of plays then you are not in the music industry at all. You are in the music hobby zone. And this is where 99% of “artists” are going to stay – forever. You are fodder for the market which makes money from selling services to hopeful hobbyists such as yourself. Their business is from gear, plugins, tuition, promotions & release schemes. This is a bitter pill to swallow, so most people won’t. Therefore, they keep believing in the sentiments expressed in articles such as this. Other hobby genres such as surfing, fishing, sports, knitting etc don’t seem to be so full of people with such delusions.

    Karl Hoffa - November 20, 2020 reply

    Streaming is streaming. Playlists are instead of commerical radio, who also used computer to choose music.

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