Our Average Attention Span Has Shrunk to Less Than That of a Goldfish. What Does This Mean for Music?

You’ve heard the story about how goldfish have very short memories. Science has actually measured its attention span: nine seconds. Here’s the bad news: the average human now has an attention span of eight seconds. This is from Venture Beat:

A recent Microsoft consumer study claims that the human attention span today is 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. The goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. Make do of what you want with this research, but I don’t believe that this warrants lamentations about phones ruining our minds. Instead, over the past decade or so with the advent of social media, our minds seem to have evolved to adapt to the information flood from the synergy between news media and social media.

You can read the entire article here.

If you’re still with me–hey, it would have taken more than eight seconds to take in the above–let’s consider what this effect this shortened attention span may have one music.

Let’s consider the typical Spotify listener, someone who has instant access to 35 million songs. According to the most recent data I could find (2014), people use the skip function a lot.

Time Likelihood of a Skip
First 5 seconds 24.14%
First 10 seconds 28.70%
First 30 seconds 35.05%
Before the end of the song 48.60%

In the Olden Days, people put up with a song they didn’t like or one that was unfamiliar. Maybe the next song on the radio would be better. It was too hard to get up and move the needle on the turntable. Fast-forwarding a cassette was a pain. We let the song run–and sometimes, we learned to actually like it. But then the CD player had that skip button, which meant getting to the next song took less than a second. Same with the iPod and any smartphone.

With an always-on firehose of music coming at us, many of us (well, me, for sure) are stressed that we’re missing something better than what we’re listening to at the moment. Besides, we think, life is too short to put up with bad music. So we skip.

Two points:

  • Sometimes we need repeated unintentional exposure to a song, artist, sound, scene or whatever before the the penny drops and we go “Oh! I get it!” If we’re constantly skipping songs, how will we escape our personal echo chamber?
  • If musicians, composers, producers and record labels know they have less than ten seconds to make an impression on a listener with a new song, how is that going to change the way songs are written and produced?

Congratulations if you made it to the end of this post. You may now skip to the next one.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Our Average Attention Span Has Shrunk to Less Than That of a Goldfish. What Does This Mean for Music?

  • December 5, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    This means music is considered old after 7 days. Welcome to the Digital Generation…not bothering or caring to discover Led Zeppelin, The Smiths, or the Small Faces


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