On average, listeners skip over a song roughly every four minutes. Oh, these sad, distracted times!
Nearly a quarter of all songs on Spotify get skipped within five seconds of starting. More than a third are skipped within 30 seconds. Nearly half of all songs are skipped at some point.
At the other end of the spectrum, I've decided to give myself a little course in Bruckner because I have never really gotten to know his music and it has been intriguing me. So I have been listening to all the symphonies in order. Just got up to the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major. Here is Sergiu Celibidache in a famously leisurely performance some 80 minutes long:
Other conductors briskly trot through in a mere 60 minutes.
It gets me thinking: with pop music, what is it that either grabs or turns off the listener in the first five or thirty seconds? Let me pull up a few clips at random:
That had such a nice piano intro that I would have kept listening.
That one caused severe boredom after twelve seconds! It's the particularly annoying drum track back beat.
Yeah, fifteen seconds of that was enough!
I see that pop musicians have a real problem: if you don't have a compelling opening, people are just going to skip over. But if your opening is too interesting, people are also going to skip over because they will think it is "weird". What do the big names do?
Spacey synth sounds, no pulse, diamonds, water, smoke, naked woman and when the song finally arrives it has an interesting harmonic progression, so it does make you listen a bit longer just to see what is going on. The Beatles paid a lot of attention to how songs began:
That's a famously weird chord that begins that one: a diminished dominant: D, F natural, A, C and G sharp. But they don't give you any time to mull over its weirdness as they jump right into the chorus.
But symphonic composers are not under the same pressure to totally hook the audience in the first ten seconds. Bruckner essentially spent his whole career as a symphony composer working out the implications of how Beethoven wrote his Symphony No. 9, with its famously spacey opening:
Sometimes a composer tries very hard to be as minimal as possible in the opening, because that can be very compelling:
Shostakovich actually said to the quartet preparing to give the first performance: "Play the first movement so that flies drop dead in mid-air and the audience leaves the hall out of sheer boredom". The opening adagio movement is followed by five more--all of them also adagio!!
Don't quite know how to end this meandery post, but here is Bernard Haitink conducting the Symphony No. 1 by Bruckner with its march-like first movement: