Playlists & Plateaus

Photo by Zhengyu Qi on Unsplash

The music industry is changing. Has changed. This isn’t surprising, as it was only a matter of time once streaming became a thing that music would be mostly thought of as something that is free (or at most worth a $10 monthly subscription). As artists, though, this presents some weird challenges. The keys to getting heard globally now lie in the playlists one’s music gets on, the marketing you do on social media, the intriguing story you have. It’s gone way past just making music for the sake of making music. If you want to be heard and get paid by people listening to your songs, you’ve got to hang with the new gang.

At the risk of sounding jaded, I miss the days when I used to just write and play music because that’s what I wanted to do. When you didn’t feel like you had to share everything you did with the world. Those were purer times, with no ulterior motives or monetary fishhooks. I do think that there’s still space for that, and that the best music often comes from that honest and pure place. It’s just that as an artist trying to stay relevant, you need to consider the tools and industry practices that have become the norm for music consumption. Playlists and online marketing strategies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So you stay in the loop, hoping to maintain a respectable level of listenership (and collect those royalty pennies). To me an artist’s job is to be able to write from that real place regardless of external things going on around.

I do think that at the end of the day, the quality of the song should rule. Unfortunately there’ve been too many instances of good marketing creating buzz for a subpar song (Rebecca Black’s ‘Fiday’ comes to mind). The same can be said for production quality; it’s become popular to put more emphasis on a song’s production, feel, and vibe, than on the structural and lyrical integrity of the song, which to me is sad. I heard a great quote from Phoebe Bridgers the other day. She said “There are a lot of great songs that hide behind shitty production, and a lot of shitty songs that hide behind great production.” I’m all for music that makes you feel a certain way and is produced with state-of-the-art tools, interesting sounds and great melodies. I just don’t agree with relegating the lyrics down to the role of afterthought.

Maybe this whole semi-rant is being brought on by the plateau I’ve seen in my own writing since trying to keep up with the musical Joneses. It can be rewarding in it’s own right to come up with content and share some of your personality with others in innovative ways, but also you have to use a lot of non-creative energy to do things like run your social media, keep an updated website, submit to blogs and playlist curators, keep track of music income and expenses and do interviews and podcasts. I feel like I’m in that place where I’m not quite ready to delegate these more manager-y tasks to someone (plus I’ve got zero money to pay anyone to do it professionally) but am definitely wearing too many hats, and some of ’em don’t fit very well. I guess I’m figuring it all out like every other artist in these strange times. I just want to make sure I keep myself grounded in the fact that I am, after all, a songwriting and performing artist. Everything else is just a necessary evil.

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