The Awkward Truth Behind Skip Rates
With the ubiquity of music access and a lack of any need for patience, the term "skip-rate" has crept into the modern music industry lexicon, and some new data behind why and when consumers are skipping songs (and thereby not generating revenue for the artist) has many in the industry concerned.
Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix
Think you have a hit song on your new album? Better make it track one.
When you have access to everything all the time with just a few simple clicks patience is a hard thing to achieve. After all, why wait for something that may or may not be good when you can have almost anything else in a moment’s notice?
That way of thinking is how the term ‘skip rate’ became commonplace in the music industry. Skip rate refers to the likelihood of someone skipping a song when it appears on streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL within the first thirty seconds of the track. Any stream that lasts longer than that amount of time is considered a play and therefore generates income for the artist whether or not the consumer finishes the song.
The reasoning behind a skip can be hard to pin down. Some skip songs because the artist is unfamiliar, but other songs get skipped because they don’t engage consumers fast enough. The latter is the most troubling, and it has changed the way music executives discuss new music.
“Data comes back [from YouTube] and it’s like, ‘videos that have intros longer than 20 seconds have less playback value,’” says Alexander “AE” Edwards, A&R VP at Def Jam. “So if an artist is going to start a video off with a 30-second scene of them running in the bank and robbing the bank, it’s like, ‘people might not watch this because they don’t want to sit through 30 seconds of no music.’ We have those conversations within the label and with the artists: ‘Maybe the intro has to be 15 seconds; this is why; here are the numbers; numbers don’t lie.’”
A report released in 2018 revealed that consumer attention spans are shortest when dealing with new artists or talent that is new to the consumer. Music blogger Paul Lamere analyzed billions of plays from millions of Spotify listeners all over the world to discover their skip rates. Here’s what he found:
- 24.14 percent likelihood of skipping to the next song in the first 5 seconds.
- 28.97 percent in the first 10 seconds
- 35.05 percent in the first 30 seconds
- 48.6 percent skip before the song finishes
Data points like the ones above are adding pressure to new artists trying to break through the noise and become a fixture in the entertainment world. “I’ve had a million and one conversations about the whole album sequencing thing,” says Barry “Hefner” Johnson, co-founder of the management company Since the 80s, in a recent Rolling Stone interview. “This really affects new and younger artists that are trying to capture the attention of an audience. If you don’t, they’re gonna move on to something else too quick.”
He later adds, “Put the best six songs up front, make it top heavy to keep ’em glued in for a longer listen. I remember a conversation that me and No I.D. had a couple months ago. He was saying, nowadays, if you can make it past the first six songs, people almost deem your album a classic.”
Not everyone in music agrees with this line of thinking. “Skip rates are a funny thing for a few reasons,” explains Danny Rukasin, who co-manages Billie Eilish. “You’re looking at an aggregate — every single listener’s skip rate in a given playlist. But some artists have core fans that are going to listen no matter what. Those are the people that you should care about. You obviously care about the mass audience as well, but when you’re trying to pull it all into one ratio, I think you’re missing a lot of details you should be paying attention to.”
Regardless of where you stand, it’s impossible to deny that streaming has changed our listening habits, and those changes are making a lasting impression on how labels approach the business of music. However, it remains true that the key to success for any artist lies in knowing who their audience is and what they want. If someone can deliver that, they can have a career.
James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.