Has Big Data Killed the Intro?
Last weekend, I went down to the local theatre to see the unmissable Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. In one of the movie’s more interesting casting decisions, a nearly unrecognizable Mike Myers portrays record executive Ray Foster. He hates “Bohemian Rhapsody” and when he first hears it, he dismisses the band, causing the group to walk out in disgust and throw a rock through his window.
Although Mike Myers character is fictional and only loosely based on EMI chief Roy Featherstone, it made me wonder would Bohemian Rhapsody ever be released in today’s music environment where streaming websites collect enormous amounts of data on how streamers listen to music.
In the past, the record industry had relatively little way of understanding its audience and executives often relied upon their gut instinct whether or not to release a single or play it on the radio. However now with the boom in streaming services, music executives can now track every movement of its listeners.
In a time when music was listened to on LPs and cassettes if you didn’t like the intro of a song, you would have to get up out of your chair and carefully lift the needle or fast forward the tape. Today, with our fancy iPhones and our digital streaming music subscription services, skipping a song couldn’t be easier. Just tap a button and you are on to the next song.
Spotify data collected by Paul Lamre confirmed the notion that our attention spans are shorter than ever. 24.14% of listeners are likely to skip to the next song in the first 5 seconds, 35.05% in the first 30 seconds and 48.6% skip before the song finishes.
A songs skip rate is critical to the success of a song and can also affect the success of future release by an artist.
A study from Ohio University found that intros that averaged more than 20 seconds in the mid-80s are now down to just 5 seconds long.
The biggest selling song in 1978 was Andy Gibb - Shadow Dancer, a 25 second intro.
The most streamed song in 2018, exactly 40 years later; Drake - In My Feelings, a 1 second intro.
Skip rate also plays a crucial role in whether or not a song makes or breaks it in Spotify’s in-house playlist, which are arguably more important than radio in bringing new music to the masses. Spotify uses extremely sophisticated information to decide which songs make the cut. Data drives the business and is such a huge part of determining which songs make the cut.
Charles Alexander, from Streaming Promotions quoted, “Spotify is based on how users engage with the music. If it doesn’t resonate with an audience, the data tells you that. If it doesn’t belong, they take it off. Even if someone got their song placed on a Spotify playlist, in a deceptive way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the artist will gain traction or get paid. In order for a stream to count, someone has to listen to at least 30 seconds of a song. If a song is skipped at a high rate, that counts against the song. If this happens multiple times across multiple songs, that counts against the artist. If a playlist has a lot of songs with high skip rates, that counts against the playlist.”
So if you're wanting to leverage your chances of making in 2018, make it catchy, and make it fast.