Some of the most coveted songs in the history of popular music have always held a certain sentiment within the listening audience. Its the moments we each share while listening to our favorite songs that give them value to us. Though Billboard Charts and Nielson SoundScan numbers try to measure music’s worth in dollar amounts, record sales, radio spins, and online streams, that’s not what the listener cares about. Here’s a little bit of a well known secret that many of you may or may not already know: the numbers in which a song pulls in mean nothing to a genuine recording artist in comparison to the effect the music has on each and every listener who has the chance to experience their work. In a day where popularity is gauged by YouTube views, digital downloads, and song streams, the power of a song is measured by how long it makes an impact on the listener; this could be days, weeks, months, even years.
I still remember the first time I heard Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” I might have been 7 or 8 years old, but that opening electric guitar sequence is burned so deep within my memories. I still dream about one day being able to re-create the original sample using devices of my own choice for composition. Songs like “Everything I do, I do it for You” by Bryan Adams, Seal’s “Crazy,” a dozen Michael Jackson hits or half the catalogue of Outkast & Tupac carry with them a weight in my childhood and musical history that no publication list could ever do justice. No matter how many articles I read from online and magazine sources, none of them will ever truly capture the essence of what certain songs mean to me as both a fan and an artist.
The popular music blog Pigeons and Planes published an article in 2015 entitled: Burn, Billboard, Burn, in which the author explained how the current method of charting album singles is outdated and doesn’t measure the true scope of the actual buyer value of a record. The article itself described an observation of today’s current business model which I identify quite well with. Its a notion that has become painstakingly clear as we continue to shift into the next era of entertainment, in which the entire market as a whole is opened up with creators leading the way into a revolution of content that is released and shared amongst the masses.
Regardless of what the media presents to us in whatever form, it is ultimately the fans that give music its power and influence. As time and tradition has shown, there can be countless individuals that possess the passion and talent to create wonderful art, but its the fans that give the work its worth in their ability to spread it like a wildfire that consumes anything standing in its way for geographical domination.
Truth be told, the only people the numbers matter to, are the ones who donate all their time, money and effort into inflating them as much as possible so they can potentially increase the stock value the parent companies have in their conception. In all actuality artists and songwriters have never received their due compensation for the work they’ve put into the products they create. Therefore, the true value of the product in itself is measured by how long it lasts and can be used by the consumer, which gives it longevity that will never fully be described by commercial output numbers. Meaning, no matter how old I get, or how many times I’ve heard it, I’ll never be able to retire Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” or Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” Some songs will simply just last forever.
This same time honored tradition of allowing music to soundtrack our memories showcasing a vivid display of our personal history throughout the years and the experiences we’ve had will forever be passed down from one generation to the next. Therefore, if the future to how music is played and shared as we know it is to continue to follow down the same path its been traveling on, then that will be more evident than ever in regards to the value and lifespan a single record released in present day has. Since the dynamic of how fans are consuming music is continuing to shift, we have to keep in mind that a billboard charting record or radio hit today doesn’t have near as much buying power is thirty years ago, or even ten years ago. Just because its being streamed today, or downloaded this week, doesn’t mean it will have any relevance or even be remembered a year from now. That’s just the scope of where we are today in regards to the staying power of music. There’s just too much to consume and its all being released at the same time through far too many outlets for the average listener to keep up with. Just because a song takes off on radio stations in Atlanta, Detroit, or Seattle, doesn’t mean its going to be received well here in Texas. This is where labels usually misread the market, signing artists who receive notable recognition in their region of origin hoping their record is received well in other markets across the country when there’s really no way to truly predict that without using vast resources and a humongous budget.
When you really break it down, the reason a song is being streamed by so many people at one time relies on a large amount of factors that most tastemakers possibly don’t take into consideration. All Fetty Wap’s streams in 2015 told me was there were an abundance of teenagers with Iphones & access to mom and dad’s Spotify accounts who like to dance and party to trap rap music. It actually proved nothing as far as his music’s artistic value or even whether anyone will even remember him in two to three more years. That’s just no logical way to place worth on the value of music. If you believe otherwise, honestly I just think you’re “drinking the kook-aid” trying to convince yourself that there’s not a direct connection between the quality of music being marketed today and the decline in music sales in general. It doesn’t matter the numbers the artist is pulling when a song is released because the only thing most people are likely to remember is the effect the music had on them during the moments they were actually listening to it.
When the kids that are listening to Young Thug, Fetty Wap, Migos, Drake, and Future grow up in ten years they won’t remember billboard chart positions, or even whether they had any intention to buy these artists’ music in the first place. What they’ll remember are the experiences they had while listening to the music and who they shared those moments with. While bloggers and label executives try to scratch their heads as to what to expect as we transition deeper into the digital age of music, the fans will take with them something I’m sure many industry professionals don’t have the luxury to hold on to, and that’s memories and experiences that come with the consumption of their crown jewel of a product.
If you do a bit of research online, you’ll come to find out that Hip-Hop/Rap music leads all other genres by incompatible numbers when it comes to online streaming statistics. That fact is interesting to me b/c it goes to show how fans would much rather stream rap songs than bother purchasing the digital singles or even waste GB space on their computer’s hard drive in downloading because I can assure you only a fraction of them have ever purchased a rap album at a Best Buy or local music shop. That’s what once gave music the value it had. You had to work to make the money, then invest time in your day to get a ride to, walk or ride a bike to your closest electronics/media retailer and spend the money to buy the entire album, then make time to listen to it fully to pick and choose your favorite songs. There was a process and a multitude of factors that went into music consumption and distribution. It took work to be fan of any artist. Today, a retweet or viral meme creates fans that really aren’t fans until they’ve invested time and money into the work of an artist, producer or even songwriter.
In today’s fast food culture of music it seems we’ve lost complete sight of the most important aspect of what it is; a scientific art-form so unique in character, its transcended all human experiences into a few minutes or even seconds of rhythm and melody. Between the competition for popularity and cross branding infusion with consumerism popular culture has taken the driver seat while the art-form has moved from the passenger seat to the back seat for quite some time now. But beyond all the social trends, controversial press, debates, memes, greatest of all time lists and award ceremonies is the music itself. At the core of our being, intertwined with our experiences be it individually or socially; its always been about the music. This is where the value is and will always remain. Whether you’re an artist or just a die hard fan, the music you’ll always remember lives within each and all of us, and never dies.