Aretha Franklin

The Economics Of Getting Heard: Guest Op-Ed

Courtesy of Spotify
Left: Page, Right: Harvey

While labels and artists compete with each other on the charts, one of music’s biggest issues is competition from other forms of media.

Attention is a scarce resource, and tech companies have effectively entered an arms race for it. YouTube autoplays more videos, so we forget to leave; Instagram shows new likes one at a time, so we keep checking in; Facebook shows whatever keeps us on screen. The list continues, but the attention span cannot.. A 2015 study by Microsoft suggested that due to digital lifestyles, the human attention span had fallen from 12 seconds in 2000,  or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds -- less than that of a goldfish.

There are countless examples of tech companies who require attention to win, and by winning they may cause music to lose. That’s why a better understanding of “attention economics” can unite an already fragmented music industry: it shows how we don’t compete with our competitors -- rather we compete for time spent with media.

Listening to music requires little or no engaged attention, but as media becomes increasingly immersive -- from big budget TV dramas to endlessly addictive mobile gaming -- it becomes harder to consume multiple forms of media simultaneously.

TV, video and games make up three-quarters of all hours devoted to media, and could be complementary or substitutional to music, according to a recent survey by MIDiA, a music consultancy firm. MIDiA also reports that those who stream music over-index on the time spent, implying that as music streaming grows, attention to music grows with it. But all those who contributed to streaming music also contributed to streaming video. Music needs to ensure that gains of other art forms are not at the expense of our own.

Spotify's users are not just paying more attention, they're spreading it, listening to an average of 41 artists per week, up 40 percent on 2014. And Spotify is growing faster than ever, adding over 20 million subscribers in the past year: paying for content helps you pay attention.

But there are thousands of releases a day loading onto Spotify’s digital shelf and, as a result, traditionally-held marketing strategies are eroding in their relevance, making it harder for each new track to grab attention.

Artists need to treat their fans’ scarce resource of attention like a transaction. Relying on the traditional mainstream media channels to perform this transaction for you may not get your conversation heard. The artists themselves need to build and maintain a conversation about themselves and their music; the consumer is becoming the most powerful broadcaster.

Nurturing, building and maintaining that conversation between artist and fan in today’s ecosystem requires leaving behind the front-loaded mindset of sales in favor of the more stretched time-frame of access. Gone are the days where the bulk of consumption was done in the first week of the release. Never mind first week sales flashes, it’s now not uncommon for the second year to produce more demand than the first.

When choice is unlimited, the authentic and the intangible become most valuable. Putting out a great record is the required start, but building and maintaining the conversation is -- more than ever before -- paramount to getting your music heard.

Will Page is Spotify's director of economics. Rob Harvey is Spotify's global head of artist and label services. Additional analysis by David Erlandsson.