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Dealing With an Audience with Short Attention Spans

Updated on February 4, 2018
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Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

As the older generations ride off into the sunset, the torches are passed on to the younger generations to carry things forward. When you are a musical performer, you will notice that your audiences, over time, will increasingly be comprised of people younger than you. You will also see less of the older generations. This is a normal occurrence but nowadays one new factor comes into play and that is the shortening of attentions spans.

Numerous studies have shown that attention spans of the upcoming generations are getting shorter. Those same studies claim that some of the causes are too much television viewing as children and the playing of video games. Eventually, these same people get older, go to various venues and will be a member of an audience you may have to play before. So what do you do to try to keep the attention of people who have short attention spans and are easily distracted? Hopefully, I may have some ideas that may help. But first let me tell you what you are up against.

Examples of Short Attention Spans at Shows

A friend of mine recently went to a rock concert. He went to see a classic rock band that has been playing for decades and still maintains some popularity. They even have younger fans attending their concerts. So the audience was generally a good mix of people from multiple generations. Even though they were all there to see the same band, the way the different generations behaved while the band was performing was varied.

You see, members of the older generations that were in the audience basically gave their full attention to the performance of the band that was performing. However, the younger ones behaved differently. Many of them would be texting non-stop on their various hand-held devices while the band was performing. They were easily distracted and preoccupied. It’s funny to me that someone would pay so much money to attend a concert but spend most of his time texting people on a hand-held device instead of paying closer attention to the performance of the band.

This is basically what you are up against these days. If a major act has trouble receiving the undivided attention of an audience member, what chance does a local bar band have? My guess is that the local band will have a harder time and I can give a few reasons as to why I think that is.

Reasons It’s Harder for a Local Band to Deal with This Problem

A popular band that has been playing stadiums and other large venues for years has many obvious advantages over a small local bar band. They obviously will have a larger production. So you probably have a nice, elaborate light show accompanying the music. They also have a crowd full of people who probably listen to them somewhat frequently, are familiar with their music and have an appreciation for it. As a local band, you will not have the same familiarity and some people go to the same bar all of the time regardless as to what band is playing there. So they may not necessarily be there specifically for the purpose of seeing you and for some, the only reason they are at that bar may just be because it is the closest one to home.

Many people go into a situation with preconceived notions. They may think that since they are going to a bar or small venue, that the live entertainment is just a local band that is probably mediocre. After all, if they were any good, they would have made the big time. Now I am not saying that everyone thinks like that but a lot of people do. There will also be varying degrees of that frame of mind. So, to some extent, you may have to fight harder to impress those sort of people and may have to fight harder to keep their attention as well.

How Shorter Songs May Help

I have always theorized that shorter songs can help to retain an audience's attention. I believe that for a few reasons actually. First of all, if your songs are generally shorter in length, you will be able to fit more songs into a night’s performance. More songs creates the impression that more was experienced by the audience throughout the night. Ten minute extended versions of songs means that you will be performing less songs during the night and may create the impression that less was experienced by the audience throughout the night overall.

Too many extended jams can be monotonous. I have seen a number of bands go off on an extended jam backed by a two or three chord progression and after a while, it gets a bit tiresome. Especially if they do it with numerous songs. It can be very easy to lose the attention of an audience if it is done too much. So if you keep this to a minimum, when you do have a song with a somewhat extended jam, it makes it a bit more special and you’d be more likely to keep the audiences attention.

A Variety of Music Can Help

I don’t care how many songs you know, there will be a million songs people will want to hear that you don’t know. It’s just the nature of the beast. However, the more you know, the better off you will be. Also, the more of a variety you have, the more likely it is that you will play something throughout the night that a given audience member will recognize and/or like. You will obviously then be more likely to capture and/or retain their attention.

There are a number of songs out there that are probably played by most bar bands. Many are cliches. Let’s face it, if you are playing the same songs as everyone else out there in your local area, there really is no reason for anyone to specifically want to see you. You’re just not providing anything they haven’t seen or heard a million times before. So playing something a little different and providing a good variety of music should help you stand out from the rest as well as capture your audience’s attention.

Good Musicianship Can Help

There are so many bands out there competing against each other for gigs. I have heard of one estimate that claims that there are ten bands for every paying gig. So what makes you so special that someone should hire you? One reason for hiring you could just simply be that you are a great musician. You play well and are a bit more polished than your competition. But not only would good musicianship help you to get more gigs, but it can also help to keep the attention of an audience.

Just let me state, though, that not every song should consist of an amazing blistering lead solo. There is such a thing as overdoing it. If you do the same tricks over and over again, it can sometimes get old real quick. Also, you don’t want to have all of those show-stopping tunes right next to each other. You will want to spread them out a bit throughout the night. It will make them even more special.

Varying Dynamics and Tempos Are Important Too

Try to have a mix of songs with various tempos. Playing too many songs in a row with the same tempo, whether they be fast or slow, can be monotonous. Mix it up a bit. Songs with changing dynamics are great too. A song that starts out slow that builds up to a fast climax can be very theatrical and entertaining.

Summary

There will probably always be someone in your audience sending out one text message after another from his hand-held device while you are performing. It happens. But, with any luck, you may be able to keep the attention of a good number of people in your audience when you are playing. I hope I have given you some ideas that would be helpful for those purposes.

© 2018 Bob Craypoe

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