The attention span of the average Spotify listener is killing indie music

Last month, we put out Combo Qazam’s new single Owls. It has a repetitive groove for the first 39 seconds. Then, the vocals kick in at 0:58. Although we hardly define this as experimental, the composition doesn’t seem to fit this modern era. We submitted the song through SubmitHub and the bloggers and playlist editors declined to share the song for the following reasons:

  • There are some cool kraut tendencies in the song’s propulsive mood; I think that for me the song might have taken 20 seconds too long to really kick on…it’s hard to wait for a minute for something to drop in when someone stops by a site focused on singles…usually research shows they just click on after 30 seconds…
  • personally I found the track’s intro felt a bit too lengthy and repetitive in comparison to the track as a whole for my liking
  • Thanks for submitting. Sweet song. the intro is a bit too long.
  • thanks a lot for the song. we have to decline here because for our taste the intro is too long.
  • The seeming polyrhythms here I thought were cool. But felt like the build was a bit long and didn’t quite take me somewhere.

Combo Qazam didn’t think about the attention span of the listener when they made the song. They didn’t even call it an ‘intro’. The word ‘intro’ is used to define the part of the song before the lyrics start. But in some cases, especially in experimental music, krautrock, indie music etc., lyrics and vocals aren’t more important than the rest of the music. As is the case with Combo Qazam. It’s about the mood, the energy, the vibe and the concept. You got to adjust your heartbeat to the pace of the song first. You got to have the chance to be sucked in. 

And why do these blogs have names containing words like ‘DIY’ and ‘indie’, if they care so much about Spotify algorithms? The whole idea about indie music is that you can (and have to) create what you want, apart from what the industry demands. Right?

So where do these comments come from? Well, research shows that these are the skip rates on Spotify: 

  • 24.14 percent likelihood of skipping to the next song in the first 5 seconds.
  • 28.97 percent in the first 10 seconds
  • 35.05 percent in the first 30 seconds
  • 48.6 percent skip before the song finishes

So what should we do? We don’t know. This is merely an observation. Is the 30-second-user-attention-span causing the end of experimental music? Or did we never stand a chance to make it in the digital realms, with even a modestly weird choice: a minute-long ‘intro’? How can you like krautrock, but think that 39 seconds of repetitiveness is boring? Do these bloggers, playlist editors and music consumers enjoy foreplay when having sex, or skip right to the intercourse?

In the meantime, Spotify makes sure you won’t get any money if you experiment with song structures. You only get paid from Spotify if someone listens to your song for 30 seconds or more. If 35% of the people skips the first 30 seconds, you won’t get any income from those plays. Also, for users who are not logged in on their Spotify account, the embedded player (for instance on your artist website) only plays a 30-second long audio preview of each song. Not enough, right? Apart from money, it won’t count as a ‘stream’ in your data as well. Which won’t help with your algorithmic venture into fame. It will tell promoters, journalists etc. that you suck, basically. 

If you want your indie music to be featured in blogs, if you want plays on Spotify, if you want the $0,006 revenue per stream, and if you want the attention of today’s music listener, you better kill your ‘intro’ and bring your catchy choruses up front. But at Tiny Room Records we care about the music, creative freedom and artistic vision too much, so we will try to find other ways to get our music to be heard out there. There has got to be another way, right? 

Written by Stefan Breuer, founder of Tiny Room Records
With help from Gino Miniutti, guitar player of Combo Qazam