Music Business

TikTok is ruining our music attention spans

With short-form video content like TikTok, creators only have a few seconds to grab the attention of viewers, and only a few more to pitch themselves.

by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0

There’s no doubt that social media has made our collective attention spans shorter and shorter. In fact, some studies have even found that it’s now shorter than that of a goldfish (9 seconds). Be that as it may, there is now some evidence that our music attention span is now shorter than ever as well, and it’s all thanks to TikTok.

Elevator Pitch Music

One study found that the average duration of a viral song on TikTok is 19.5 seconds. This becomes the equivalent of an “elevator pitch,” where an entrepreneur has only the time it takes to go from one floor to the next in an elevator in order to convince an executive that his or her idea is worthy.

Songs were already getting shorter because of streaming. We’ve seen that current pop/R&B hits now have a considerably shortened form, as most don’t have intros, outros, solos and even bridges. This keeps the song under 3 minutes, with many even coming in under 2 minutes.

Shorter For The Pocketbook

The reason why is that you get paid the same for a 4 minute song as you do for one that’s only 2 minutes long. If someone likes your song, they may play it twice, and you’ll get paid twice, at 2 minutes. That’s less likely to happen at 4 minutes or even 3, so the incentives are to keep that pop song shorter.

Long intros and outros with fades aren’t used anymore because they were a construct of radio, giving the DJ or radio personality time to talk over the music before the meat of the song began or ended. Since radio doesn’t have the influence it once did in promoting a record, there’s no need to construct a song that way anymore.

Even within those limitations, at least you had the structure of a verse and chorus, so there was a possibility that there be some variation between the two to make the song interesting. At 19.5 seconds on a TikTok viral video, basically all you’re getting is the hook of the song.

Hooks Only!

So have we been reduced to just writing hooks and not worrying about the rest of the song? Fortunately things are that bad yet.

If I had to guess, I would think that this is a trend that won’t last. For one thing, trends in music cycle around and back, and all it takes is just one monster hit that’s over 4 minutes using a traditional song structure to have labels, artists and songwriters jumping on the next bandwagon again.

Looking at blog and newspaper writing is revealing as well. Shorter articles might make for some fine clickbait, but it’s the longer articles that people want and they’ve been found to gain the most traction and keep people subscribing.

Remember that music attention span is ultimately dictated by the songwriters and artists, and not the listeners. Something that’s new and catches their ear, regardless of how long or short it is, is what they really want.

Bobby Owsinski is a producer/engineer, author and coach. He has authored 24 books on recording, music, the music business and social media.

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