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How Obsessing Over The Numbers Can Hurt Your Songwriting

Whether it’s the play-counts you rack up over streaming platforms or the amount of followers you accrue through social media, numbers and statistics have become an almost unavoidable part of being active in music today. But just because you’ve got a perpetual front row seat when it comes to following the numbers behind your music, doesn’t mean you should always be paying attention. In fact, obsessing over your plays, views, followers, and downloads can do more harm than good for your songwriting.

Why more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to numbers in music

Musicians aren’t any different than regular people in the way that we’ve all been trained to attach value to things that garner attention through numbers: social media posts, video views, and song plays. When it comes to musicians, it’s easy to believe that songs that don’t rack up high numbers of streams, downloads, and listeners just aren’t worth much. But this line of thinking is false and dangerous for a couple of reasons.

Chasing numbers in music is sort of like reliving a high school popularity contest over and over again. Music doesn’t get its value from how high of a listenership it receives. There is a myriad of examples of great music that never finds an audience, and awful music that tops the charts. Holding the belief that your music won’t be good until it reaches a certain amount of plays or listeners can be a distraction or even a detriment to your songwriting.

The truth is that as a culture, we rely on numbers to measure value because we don’t want to think too hard about something like why a song is meaningful, successful, or impactful, or not. We want things easy and straightforward, but like all artforms, music is complex, and the merits of a song can’t be easily measured with statistics.

What songwriters should focus on instead

It’s easy to say that songwriters should ignore the numbers and purely focus on their work, but it’s hard advice to follow. Realistically, paying attention to the numbers behind your music has to happen at some point in a musician’s career, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The trouble happens when an artist conflates high numbers with good music. The two aren’t always linked.

The stats linked to your music are fine to pay attention to, as long as they don’t distract from or shape your songwriting process. Writing music in a way that aims to please the number gods is a recipe for creating formulaic and disingenuous music for many songwriters. Whether it’s obsessing over numbers or prioritizing success over everything else in music, your songwriting practice can’t thrive if there are things constantly getting in the way of your work. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the time, money, and personal sacrifice you throw into your songwriting work to pay off, but those things are separate from the act of writing music.

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.

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