Science Has Some Comforting News for People Who Skip Tracks Constantly

Science Has Some Comforting News for People Who Skip Tracks Constantly

The good news: Stop feeling guilty — the data is in and almost everybody who's listening to music these days skips. A lot. The bad news: that's not a good thing.

Combing through Spotify data, Paul Lamere — the man who created the viral Spotify maps tracking the most loved and most hated acts by state — has found that the average listener is almost equally likely to skip a song as he or she is to listen to it all the way through. And, as prophetic rapper Childish Gambino pointed out, it's because of the Internet.

According to Lamere's research, there's a 25% chance listeners will hit skip within 5 seconds. The likelihood listeners will skip climbs steadily as a song progresses. There's only a 48.6% chance they'll make it to the final cadence.

Not surprisingly, the age group doing the most skipping is our own. Lamere argues millennials skip the most because we have more free time to tailor playlists than older folks, who have to deal with "their little kids and demanding jobs." It's a plausible theory, but it seems oversimplified. We may not be sitting pretty in executive positions, but we're still grinding out here. 

Instead, it likely has to do with the fact that more of us are suffering from reduced attention spans. Research has proven that our attention spans are shortening, and many blame our fascination with the Internet.

"[Millennials] are growing up in a world that offers them instant access nearly everywhere to nearly the entirety of human knowledge," said Janna Quitney Anderson, author of a study exploring millennial Internet habits. Anderson says that because of this, we're "already witnessing deficiencies in young people's abilities to focus their attention, be patient and think deeply."

In the same way Anderson characterizes the Internet, streaming services also provide millennials with access to the entirety of humanity's musical output (all except those of Taylor Swift and The Beatles). Our musical attention spans could easily be suffering the same stunting.

Some deny that shrinking attention spans are blowing away our capacity to appreciate music. Ria Misra, culture writer at io9, pushes back, suggesting it's the way we use streaming platforms to discover new music, not the songs or our attention spans themselves. Except most nonstreaming listeners would likely admit to skipping through music stored on their iPods, where they already know all the music.

It seems that the industry has already recognized the reality behind our skip-happy habits. They've started to tailor their music accordingly. Songs have been getting shorter since the '80s and '90s. Few singles clock in at longer than 3:30, and some radio stations have started chopping these in half to try keep listeners' attention from wandering. Industry professionals have argued that the industry would be better off switching to an entirely song-based release structure, instead of an album-based one. They argue that the average listener just doesn't have the time, energy or patience to take in a whole album in a single sitting anymore. Listeners are only going to skip to the songs they like anyway, so it's more profitable to sell them a few $0.99 pop anthems rather than have them half-stream a whole album.

This is not the end of music, but it is a sign that we're forgetting how powerful a full piece of music can be. The best music has dynamics — it builds and changes, welcomes you into its world and affects you on its own terms. Music is vital tool young people use to create social groups and connect. And it can only truly do that in its most expressive form. 

It's time for us to embrace the complexity of music once again; to be willing to truly engage with the art so we can let music change our lives as only it can.