The transformation brought about by music streaming services is undeniable, reshaping our music consumption habits significantly. Over the last two decades, a notable shift has occurred in the way songs are crafted, particularly concerning their length. This evolution prompts independent artists to consider the impact of song duration on their creative process.
Evolution of Song Length:
In discussions on the Switched on Pop podcast by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding, the pervasive influence of technology across all facets of music is evident. Streaming services, driven by algorithmic playlists, dominate the industry, gradually erasing the concept of albums. Concurrently, songs are experiencing a trend towards brevity.
Contrary to assumptions, the trend towards shorter songs is not entirely new. Analysis of 160,000 Spotify songs reveals that, in the 1930s, the average song length was 3 minutes and 15 seconds, slightly shorter than songs in the 2020s. Shorter songs, exemplified by The Chiffons' 'He's So Fine' in the early 1960s and The Beatles' early hits, have appeared throughout music history.
Presently, songs average around 3:15/3:30, reflecting a reduction in length by up to 60 seconds. Notably, genres like rap and hip-hop feature extremely short songs. The changing landscape is not just about brevity but also altering structures, exemplified by the rise of the 'pop overture' structure. This structure introduces the catchy hook within the first 5-10 seconds to engage listeners swiftly.
Why Songs Are Getting Shorter:
- Shortened Attention Span: The prevailing belief is that the average human attention span is decreasing. Vincent "Tuff" Morgan, an Urban/Pop music industry insider, notes a reaction to the culture of soundbites, with producers shortening songs. Short content, celebrated on social media, aligns with this trend, with shorter songs less likely to be skipped.
- TikTok Influence: Short-form videos, particularly on TikTok, contribute to the diminishing gap between a full song and a memorable fragment. Producers and engineers suggest that, for many, the snippet on social media becomes the song, affecting how people engage with music.
- Increased Replay Value: Shorter songs are perceived to have a higher chance of being put on replay. The brevity allows listeners to capture the essence quickly, increasing the likelihood of repeated plays.
- Financial Considerations: Longer songs do not necessarily translate to more profit. Mechanical royalties, performance royalties, and streaming royalties do not consistently reward longer songs. Shorter songs are more likely to be playlisted, leading to increased streams and revenue.
Does Song Length Matter?
While factors favor shorter songs for attention, streaming, and replayability, the decision ultimately depends on an artist's goals. Composing shorter songs might enhance visibility and virality, aligning with industry trends. However, artistic expression and creative freedom should not be sacrificed entirely. Despite industry dynamics, creating music that resonates authentically with the artist's vision may yield long-term satisfaction and audience connection, even if it takes more time to achieve success. The balance between industry trends and artistic integrity remains a subjective consideration for each artist.