Study shows a song has 5 seconds to hook a listener + What that means

A study done by NYU proves that the average listener needs to be impressed by a song immediately before our goldfish brains skip to the next track. Here’s why…

by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0

Today audiences have notoriously short attention spans, but no one thought it could be this short. New York University researchers looked at why people love and hate different songs and found that they typically know if they like a song within a 5 brief seconds of listening.

The researchers picked 250 songs from all different genres of music with artists that ranged from Mozart, Beethoven, Elvis, Michel Jackson, The Sex Pistols, Kanye West and Frankie Yankovic, coupled with excerpts from the Billboard charts from over the past 80 years. They then cut them into 3260 different clips and played them for 650 listeners who could then rate each song clip from love it, strongly like it, slightly like it, indifferent, slightly dislike, strongly dislike or hate it.

The listeners were played shorter and shorter clips to find the shortest time when they decided whether they liked the song or not and came up with – 5 seconds!

It turns out that their first impression of the song was their lasting impression as well. When they were played a longer clip from the same song, their opinion didn’t change.

Important Ramifications

What’s important to note here is that the listeners in the study tended to like a song more if they listened to the whole thing first, rather than just being exposed to just a clip. This is super-important in that it suggests that an artist is more likely to gain fans if they happen to listen to your song on the radio or television or other platform where they can’t skip out of it. In fact, streaming may actually work against music discovery in the long run if we consider the data from this study.

What this means is that the old songwriter’s adage of “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” still holds true. When it comes to streaming, the sooner an artist gets to the hook, the better. And that means in the first 5 seconds.

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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