In today’s dynamic world, where information bombards us from every direction, retaining the audience’s attention becomes a challenge for many industries, including the music industry. In this article, we will focus on the issue of retaining the audience’s attention, stemming from the influence of the so-called “attention economy.” The attention economy is a decisive force shaping the modern digital world.

Economy of Interest

Increasingly, the concept of the “attention economy” is used to describe the activities of media publishers, and it also applies to the music industry. Tim Wu states that attention is the ability „to block out most everything, and focus.” (The Attention Merchants. The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads, Atlantic Books, 2017). This is what neuroscientists and psychologists refer to as paying attention.

Attention pertains to both social and personal prosperity, and everyone has a limited pool of attention that needs to be managed for their benefit.

Once associated with industry, money, prices, investing, savings, supply, and demand, the economy has changed. A “new economy” emerged subject to the law of dematerialization. For the “old economy,” attention was not the most important commodity.

Various Definitions of “Attention Span”

  • The amount of time spent concentrating on a task before becoming distracted (Wikipedia).
  • The period of time during which someone’s attention is held by something in particular (Collins Dictionary).
  • The length of time for which somebody is able to concentrate on something (Oxford Learners Dictionaries).
  • The interval during which an individual can concentrate, as on a single object, idea, or activity (Dictionary.com).
  • How long you can focus on something or spend on a task before you need a break or get distracted (WebMD).
  • The length of time that someone can keep their thoughts and interest fixed on something (Cambridge Dictionary).

Decrease in Human Attention

According to Microsoft’s research on “attention span,” (Microsoft attention spans, Spring 2015) or the duration of human concentration, human attention has shrunk to just eight seconds. This represents a 25% decline over a few years, significantly impacting today’s music industry. This means that human attention is now one second shorter than that of a goldfish.

In a world where information is delivered at lightning speed, the battle for attention has become a crucial challenge for artists, labels, and streaming platforms.

“It seems that the allocated attention time in our collective minds has a certain size, but the cultural items competing for that attention have become more densely packed.” — Professor Sune Lehmann, Technical University of Denmark.

Changing Listening Habits and Their Impact on the Industry

Consumer listening habits have undergone significant changes, leading to an evolution in how music is released by labels and artists. Music has become dependent on attention, and music subscriptions deepen the negative effects of attention economy. In a world where “streamability” often outweighs musical quality, maintaining attention becomes increasingly difficult.

“In the attention economy’s volume and velocity game, the streaming platform is a hungry beast that is perpetually hungry. Each new song is just another bit of calorific input to sate its appetite.” Mulligan, M. (2021, January 15). Music has developed an attention dependency.

Popular Music and Changes Aligned with the Attention Economy

Research shows that popular music changes to attract more listener attention, affecting the diversity and originality of created works, as dynamic adaptation to market expectations becomes the norm. Clickbait-style music is the most popular. Moreover, when another song that grabs the listener’s attention appears, the attention span for music shortens with each subsequent track.

Impact of Excessive Reliance on Automation

Contemporary music trends, such as excessive reliance on automation, especially through autotune technology, can contribute to the loss of authenticity in music. Listeners, increasingly aware of sound manipulation, may lose interest when songs lose their naturalness.

“In this world, ‘streamability’ trumps musicality, but it is not just culture that suffers. Cutting through the clutter of 50,000 new songs every day also delivers diminishing returns for marketing spend. Labels have to spend more to get weaker results.” Mulligan, M. (2021, January 15). Music has developed an attention dependency.

Music Marketing and Excessive Visualization

Marketing tactics that focus too heavily on visualizations, especially in the era of social media, can also have a negative impact on retaining the audience’s attention. Concentrating solely on the attractive image of an artist can lead to a situation where the musical quality is pushed into the background.

Conclusions and Future Perspectives

Conclusions from conducted research clearly indicate that the attention economy has a significant impact on today’s music industry. Therefore, artists, labels, and streaming platforms are advised to adapt to changing listener habits and find a balance between capturing attention and maintaining a high-quality musical experience. Without this balance, the music industry may face difficulties in retaining loyalty and engagement in an era of rapid changes and short-lived trends.

In such an environment, how will the physical format of vinyl records behave? Vinyl absorbs significantly more time than 8 seconds. Does this mean that vinyl records will act as a “brake” on ongoing changes? It seems that vinyl will not stop the changing preferences of music consumers, but it may contribute to rediscovering music in its full splendor and diversity. I am confident that vinyl will retain its value as a timeless, authentic music medium.

What are your thoughts? Join the discussion.

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