‘MUSIC WITH MEANING’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY NED STRANGER
THROWING OFF THE STRAITJACKET
ENDING ‘NUMBERS PRESSURE AS A SONGWRITER
I launched a YouTube channel last year talking about songwriting and music.
The channel lasted a few months before I realised it wasn’t the best focus for my energies (more on that later) but there were some revealing lessons along the way.
One of my first ‘episodes’ involved a Q&A and one of the questions I was asked was: What has been your proudest musical achievement to date?” I didn’t think much about it and answered on instinct, talking about the moment a song I wrote with my band hit one million Spotify streams.
I filmed the episode, put it up, left it. And then I was thinking about it afterwards and I remembered one of the more special moments I’d shared with the band. We were invited by a friend of a friend to play am acoustic concert in the oncology ward of the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London for all those people waiting. At the time it felt like a fairly thankless experience (both for us and the listeners who understandably just seemed absorbed in their own problems and worries). We went away feeling like it was a complete waste of time.
And then a week later, out of the blue, we received a long email from one of the people who’d been sat in the waiting room. He thanked us for our music and said that he hadn’t realised at the time just how much he’d needed it at such a dark personal moment. This completely blew us away. We’d had no idea the depth of the impact our playing could have on one person like that.
“It reduces audience members to metrics rather than individuals…”
Thinking about these twin moments from my musical past - the million-stream milestone and the single listener in the hospital - made me realise just how much the obsession over numbers has become a creative and emotional straitjacket. It reduces audience members to metrics rather than individuals and can not only create anxiety in how you analyse the outcome of your promotion (how many likes, how many listens, etc), but even affect the creation of your art in the first place. I’m writing a chorus and thinking ‘will this chorus get the song onto a playlist big enough to win me thousands of listeners’.
I know this problem doesn’t just affect me, but other songwriters as well, and I know music isn’t the only industry affected by it.
Recently I decided to do something about it. Working with a coach, I started unpacking the recurrent thought: ‘I need more people to listen to my song.’
First we analysed how correct this statement was. The more I explored it, the more I realised that my sole objectives should be to create meaningful art and show it to other people. Not a lot of other people, just some people who might find it as meaningful as I did. 121 AWARENOW / THE MAYDAY EDITION