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How is streaming altering the very nature of music? These stats bear repeating.

There has always been a symbiotic relationship between music and technology. When the 78 RPM record became the standard for the music industry, popular songs were also standardized. Before the 78 could hold no more than 4 minutes of music per side, composers and consumers adapted. That’s why we’re so used to the idea of pop songs being less than four minutes long.

When the long-playing vinyl album came along in 1948 with its maximum playing time of 22 minutes per side, artists began to create musical works that took advantage of that space. Same thing when the CD came along in 1982. Why stop at 44 minutes when a CD could hold 74 (and later up to 80)?

But these are all physical media. Digital musical works aren’t constrained by anything. Because storage is so cheap and the price of bandwidth keeps dropping, even worries about file size is a thing of the past.

There are, however, some new and unforeseen consequences of streaming. These stats (gathered at offer some insight on what this newest tech is doing to music.

Because streaming feeds into our need for instant gratification and our short attention spans, the very nature of music itself is changing.

Since the recording industry’s inception, formats have dictated—and inspired—art. Vinyl’s limitations helped shape the traditional album length. Cassettes kicked off the bootlegging craze (and hip-hop dominance). The human ear has limitless choice in the streaming era, and behavioral playlisting—music as accessory, not main attraction—plays a role in how more and more tracks are structured. Several years ago, Inc reported the following average skip rates on Spotify, calculated with data from millions of listeners. (It’s important to note that skip rates vary between each DSP and within each DSP ecosystem.)

  • Within 5 seconds of playing: 24% likelihood of skipping to the next song.
  • 10 seconds: 29%
  • 30 seconds: 35%
  • Pre-completion: 48%

Last year, BBC reported correlated findings from an Ohio State University study. Average song intro lengths dropped more than 70 percent between 1986 (20 seconds) and 2015 (5 seconds). The pressure’s on to attract & retain earshare: A ‘stream’ on Spotify equates to at least 30 seconds played—the minimum time needed to trigger a royalty payment.

We need to be thinking about these things. Keep reading.


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.

Alan Cross has 38324 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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