In 2021, it’s pretty hard to ignore the statistics behind your music.
Distributing your music online and making it available on Spotify and YouTube means being exposed to the number of times your songs have been listened to.
While these stats can be helpful to you as an artist to some degree, they can also do a lot of harm.
It’s natural to think that streams and views can fully represent a song’s value, but that’s not at all true.
The truth is that streaming stats can’t begin to define you or your music. Putting too much stock in them will hurt your creativity and make it harder to reach your goals.
What streaming stats can and can’t say about you and your music
Tracks that rack up millions of plays aren’t necessarily “better” than ones that don’t.
As long as they’re accurate—and sometimes they’re not—public streaming numbers tell us how many times a specific song was listened to, and that’s about it.
The numbers can’t define your creativity as a music-maker, the potential for success of your songs, or your worth as an artist.
Music is arguably the most powerful and limitless art form in the world, and it can’t be summed up by streaming statistics.
There are countless great songs that never get heard and plenty of popular songs that are quickly forgotten. Both you and your listeners will lose if you let the numbers behind your songs shape your creativity and identity as an artist.
It’s easy to forget that your authenticity and creative curiosity are your most important assets as an artist. Obsessing over the numbers threatens these assets in a huge way.
4 ways streaming stats can’t reflect music’s value
So if public streaming stats can’t define the true value of a song, what can?
It’s a good question to ask, and the answer will be different for each of us.
One helpful way to look at it is by asking what streaming stats can’t tell us about music. This isn’t a complete list, but here are some of the major points of value in music that streaming statistics can’t reveal:
1. Creative value
The creative value of a song is far too complex to be defined by public streaming stats. This is because what’s creatively engaging changes for each of us not only as musicians but also as listeners.
A song’s popularity can’t tell you whether it’s actually creative and innovative or not.
2. Connection with listeners
Streaming stats show us how many times your songs are listened to, but they can’t tell us how listeners are engaging with your music.
For example, there’s a massive difference between hundreds of listeners streaming your tracks once and a couple of listeners streaming them hundreds of times.
The special connections your work makes with listeners are the most important relationships you’ll have as a music-maker.
You may not have a lot of streams, but if you’re making these connections you’re building a dedicated following that will be with you for the long haul.
3. Potential for success
While streaming stats can tell us a lot about a song’s momentum, it’s not a definitive indication of commercial potential.
You could have an incredible song that millions of people would love to hear, but it doesn’t mean it will get the attention it deserves.
4. Staying power
Lots of streams don’t tell us anything about whether a song will be remembered a year from now let alone decades into the future.
What determines whether your music will be remembered are the connections it forms with listeners, not the numbers it generates.
Streaming analytics can help or hurt you as an artist
This information breaks down who is listening to your music by age, gender, and location.
Used correctly, analytics can help you plan your next tour and identify which of your songs is getting the most momentum.
But, just like with public streaming stats, obsessing over analytics and letting them shape your music is a bad idea.
Over a short period of time, analytics could show you that listeners are flocking to one of your songs.
That’s obviously a good sign, but it doesn’t mean you need to create an album filled with tracks that sound just like it. And the lack of momentum you see in your other songs doesn’t mean they don’t have value.
With technology that allows you to see when and where listeners are streaming your music in real-time, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the numbers associated with your songs.
But when you choose to look past them and create authentically and on your own terms, you’ll make your best music.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.
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