Monday, 8 August 2011

Is Modern Music Killing Patience?

It's a symptom of the times. Our culture has evolved to such a point where people expect instant gratification in almost all aspects of life. This is an extension of fairly primal instinct, why wait when I can have it now? Of course it's a natural reaction to waiting, but with modern technology, people are becoming accustomed to faster and faster results with less waiting time between getting what they want. Because of this, less emphasis is being placed on anticipation; the idea of waiting for something is seen as bad and something to be avoided at all costs. This mindset is taking a negative toll on our patience and attention span.

As seen in the previous article on dynamics and attention, the brain awards attention to stimuli that are changing and tunes out things that stay static. This is used in many forms of media, from fast film cuts in movies and tv shows, to radio and music. I'm sure you've heard your local radio station flip through a thousand sound effects and name drops in the span of 20 seconds before. This is like revving the listener's attention. By engaging them with highly dynamic audio it causes their brain to have to focus intently on what they are hearing. As we already saw, dynamics in the music itself can be used to great lengths for capturing attention. This is beneficial to an extent because it allows for entertaining captivating media that engages its audience. Technological advances in other areas like high speed internet, satellite tv, etc. all help the user to access what they want faster and easier. Unfortunately the tradeoff is that we begin to develop an addiction to this constantly changing landscape of information and media that is being fired at us nonstop.

As a result, people are developing increasingly less patience. They skip to the chorus, skim the story, or just get the general gist from a few minutes of a youtube video. Attention spans are at an all time low. The 'good part' is what they crave, and they want it immediately. So badly so that the context is ignored in favour of instant gratification. Gone are the days of people pondering over something. People just take things at face value and move on. Oblivious to some, is the fact that perhaps this face value is not all there is. Perhaps there is something to be gained from waiting, from anticipating, allowing something to develop, while taking the time to think about its meaning. Things such as subtlety and depth need patience to be appreciated.

The problem with constant high intensity is eventually that constant stimulus is seen as static and once again tuned out. Back to square one. You may be giving them what they want off the bat but they will soon tire when there is nowhere else to go. The audience becomes apathetic when there is no flow. Similar to those movies that try to be hardcore action the whole time. The audience becomes accustomed to that level of intensity and this robs the important scenes of their impact. The climax is only relative to the parts around it.

Giving your audience the opportunity to relax and observe from a more chilled passive state will only further the excitement when a captivating event grabs your focus. Anticipation and tension are very strong compositional tools. Make music that keeps listeners engaged but forces them to be a bit patient. This is a difficult balance at times. You don't want a steady stream of intensity, nor do you want too little in certain parts or else your music will be boring and you risk listeners skipping ahead. Great art is made when a balance is struck between these two philosophies. Use curiosity, foreshadowing, just enough interest to keep them moving forward. Then when the time is right hit them with the goods.

Conversely as a listener, the more you invest into the experience the more you'll get back. When it comes to things you love such as art, give them the time they need to be appreciated. Listen to intros, stare at a painting until you think you get it, don't become impatient with something because it hasn't revealed itself fully to you yet. You have to earn that, and when you do it feels much better than skipping ahead.


  1. Great article! Poise and patience are slippery things, easily overlooked and discarded.

  2. Yes! Been saying this for ages, imagine trying to show the average music listener a deep house track, and expecting them to not lose interest in the first 2 minutes of 4x4 drums.

  3. I skimmed over your post till I got to the third paragraph about poeple skimming over storys and through songs. I realized I was doing this so I went back and read the whole thing through!

  4. Really interesting article, and I agree. I myself have been guilty of skipping long intros on soundcloud if the song doesn't start off interesting.

  5. GREAT article! good work...
    I definitely agree with you, everything is going faster and faster...
    people has no pacience =(

  6. Wow, really enjoyed that. Totally agree with you as well on things moving that direction, I went to see transformers 3 in the cinema and towards the end fell asleep due to the fact that it seemed to be a constant hour of explosions and action. Just got boring.

  7. You bastard, this was my response to your last post. Jokes. Honestly how retarded do you have to be to have ever element of everything you are hearing demonstrably change every half beat??? Is your attention span literally 250ms? Madness I say!

  8. Kyran - very nice article. You mind if I post a link to it on my blog?