So I'm working on a new song with French Kiwi producer Monsieur E and was excited to receive his first draft last week. The tempo was increased and this, plus a judicious edit, had lopped 20 seconds of the song taking it down from 3' 42'' to 3' 22". I liked the effect and commented that the 'sogginess' had been taken out.
But exactly how long should a song be? Is there a preferred length for recorded music?
While there is no doubt that songs are short form works in miniature, average song length has varied throughout recorded musical history and it is undergoing change right now.
Firstly, songs are getting shorter. From 2013 to 2018, the average length of song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3'50" to 3'30". Secondly, a significant number of hit songs (6%) were really short - 2' 30" seconds or shorter in 2018, compared with just 1% in 2013. Thirdly, this is happening across the genres. From rap artists Drake, Kendrik Lamar and Kanye West through Nicki Minaj and J Cole to current country artists Eric Church and Jason Aldean, the trend is well documented.
The change in song length seems to be hand in hand with the change in music distribution with streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music claiming 75% of all revenue in 2018 compared with 21 % in 2013. Furthermore, Spotify pays the same fee per song - no matter what the length. Some artists are putting more songs on their albums, but that's by no means ubiquitous.
There are arguments put forward about the diminishing attention spans of young people but delivery format has always played a part in popular music. The entire idea of an album of songs became really possible with the LP and when compact discs arrived at a whopping 78 minutes without a flip of the disc, album length increased. 1960's Motown radio mixes were short and to the point around 2' 30" or 2'40" so perhaps the reversion 50 years later to a more compressed song length has something to do with grabbing our attention now that we're inundated with content choices. And playlists maybe more critical than albums in the very near future.
It is rare that I see newbie songwriters turn up with a bunch of tightly packed short songs. It's not unusual to have tracks of 5 minutes and more forwarded, and that's not the dance mix! While it's hard to be the judge of your own music, it's a good idea to learn how to get to the point in your song and not outstay your welcome. In fact, it's fashionable!
Talk more soon
PS Had a blast working with these guys at Songwriters Retreat Akaroa!
Hi, I'm Charlotte Yates and I can help you get better at writing songs.