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Spotify: are we listening or perseverating?

Spotify logoPaul Lamere’s Music Machinery blog has a revelation that caught my eye. Tracking billions of Spotify plays for a research project, the Development Platform Director for The Echo Nest reports that almost one in four Spotify users will skip a song within the first five seconds of play. The probability that the content will be skipped before the first thirty seconds is 35.05 percent; and the likelihood that the piece will be dumped before it finishes is 48.6 percent.

In other words, Lamere concludes that “the odds are only slightly better than 50/50 that a [Spotify] song will be played all the way to the end.”

More data: listeners skip tunes to the tune of 14.65 per hour. Men and women skip at almost the same rate: 44.75 and 45.23 percent respectively. The skip rate on mobiles is around ten points higher than on desktops: 51.1 percent. Skipping drops with age. It’s highest for teenagers. But older folks still skip at around 35 percent (I’m not entirely clear what these percentages denote. I think it’s the share of skipping, but could it be the percentage of skippers?).

More skipping takes place on weekends. “When people have more spare time, they are more apt to curate their listening sessions by skipping tracks,” Lamere notes, adding that the skip button “is now a big part of the overall listening experience.”

Here’s the really big question for me: are we really “listening” when we skip along to Spotify, or are we just “perseverating,” defined as the “uncontrollable repetition of a particular response.”

For me, real listening involves some degree of patience and a spirit of compromise. I often listen to the radio station of the college where I teach. It plays lots of wonderful music. But sometimes the content isn’t exactly what I want to hear. No worries, I instinctively think, something nice will come up any minute now (and it always does).

One almost has a sense of being part of a project, a listening project, so to speak—in partnership with the station and the deejay.

But if I’m just sitting around skipping something close to half the tunes I hear, many before they get five seconds off the ground, what I am doing? I guess I’m engaging in an act of obsessive-compulsive curation for myself. Maybe I’m really searching for some wonderful tune that I heard somewhere. But the chances are better that I’m just being persnickety and twitchy as a matter of course.

Is that really listening? And whatever it is, is it really worth the effort? This is why I prefer applications within Spotify like Soundrop, which function more like collectively managed radio stations and less like individualized skip-fests.

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