Songs are getting shorter

This article explains why songs are getting shorter, and what’s getting cut out.


I’ve heard the phrase: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!”
My favorite pop song lately is from a Sonic commercial:
Sonic 2 for $5 Menu
Only 30 seconds long!

Hmm…, have you heard what’s in the charts right now? I think it’s worse now than it’s ever been…

On the plus side, there are so many great bands out there that you can find on bandcamp, YouTube etc etc

Rick Beato had a lengthy discussion on that but I can’t find it.

I feel like there’s also a categorical difference between types of modern music.

Take pop music vs video game scores. Plenty of strong composers are scoring video games. Video game scores need to set a mood and build tension, they need continuity. Pop songs have always mostly been simple, sing along bops or background noise. I bet if you looked at a lot of streaming data in detail you’d see a ton of it is department stores etc. just mindlessly streaming pop hits in the background as a replacement for elevator music because it’s so readily available.

Now we have a lot of music that is functionally just scoring your social media story to create a vibe you want to project, that music is gonna be short format. Each segment of your Insta story might have a different track segment. Each of your tiktoks has some background sound you chose, and these often get repeated because it’s basically part of a meme getting reworked or reposted.

I think you almost have to categorize music by its function to get any sort of reasonable picture of trends, and that was always the case - it’s just much more noticeable because there are a wider variety of functions for it to serve. So I’m not sure “songs are getting shorter” is really giving a good picture as an overall statement, I’m not sure it’s even true. It’s that pop music now has this sub-function as everyone’s personal backing tracks on social media. Music chasing the exposure and ad revenue etc. related to that has opted for a shorter format.

Side note though - Are charts even relevant anymore? If say, Google were to come up with a complex metric of song popularity indexing across the internet, Youtube, Twitch streaming, Spotify, apple music, background in videos and gaming etc, that comprehensively captures how music is consumed now - I might consider it relevant. But I’m not sure Billboard charts are very good at it.

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Well, it’s true that the average length of a song on Billboard’s Hot 100 has declined by 40 seconds over the past 20 years…
I’m old and remember when pop songs tended to be less than 3 minutes long. Two minutes and change worked fine. (Some album cuts were edited down to that length for radio airplay.)
So, there was a lengthening that lasted a long time (perhaps disco started it?) before the recent shortening.
As a reaction to disco (and other overwrought ‘70s music) early punk songs were short bursts. Some classics are under 2 minutes long. Heck, Wire’s “It’s So Obvious” was under a minute long and so was Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge” and Redd Kross’ “Self Respect.” The Minutemen’s “Double Nickels on the Dime” has 20 songs under 2 minutes long! But to be fair, those were nowhere near Billboard’s Hot 100. :rofl:
As for songs in TikTok videos (Instagram, etc) many are full-length songs of which only a short segment is used. That’s not the same as a whole song that is short.

My point regarding the billboard charts was that they don’t really mean the same thing anymore, and that I think 30 years ago saying the average song on billboard charts is 40 seconds shorter would imply something categorically different than saying it today.

When I see someone reacting to shortening song length, they often automatically take it to mean there’s been some change in individual attention span. Which can be true, but isn’t a very accurate picture. Attention span correlates more directly to the context in which the song is experienced.

Overall time spent listening to music is higher year over year. Availability of music is astronomically higher than it’s ever been.

I’m not really convinced that the billboards even remotely map to or represent the average persons listening habits
a) because music consumption is no longer monolithic - so many listening mediums exist that they simply aren’t a very relevant metric and insofar as they are, they measure something different than music popularity or even enjoyment at the individual level
b) because the range of subgenres is so much wider and more available, and the way people consume new music they are exploring (YouTube, twitch etc.) is different than how they are consuming familiar music passively
c) because even including streams in billboard metrics is misleading because of how many streams are coming from non-individuals such as offices, bars, stores etc and are counted

My further argument is that often billboards pretty much end up just circularly measuring the ad spend on music that ended up getting pushed to radio play and in your local Kohl’s/Target/Walgreens etc. So if that feedback is used by top music producers to try and game their content it’s just a self fulfilling prophecy.

So saying that music is getting shorter may not say as much about listening habits of individuals as it might imply. I just think there are a lot of assumptions tied up in attempting to infer anything about consumer preferences from billboard charts in their current state.

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True, I’m not even sure how they collect data, or whatever it is they do, to determine what charts at what position… but that’s a whole different topic that I really don’t know much about…

Billboard never claimed to gauge the average listener’s habits. (AFAIK, NOBODY claims to measure the average listener’s listening habits: how might that be done? And who is the average listener?)

Billboard Hot 100 rankings are based on sales (physical and digital), radio play, and streaming. It’s the industry standard.
You may devise a better system but until you do, this is what we’ve got.

Idk this kind of analysis is pretty good

As far as how you might get an understanding of listener habits. i guarantee its already done. Off the top of my head - if you were say, hypothetically, Google, sure you wouldn’t measure the average listener’s music habits (you’re right, what is an average listener?) so much as you would analyze and cluster online user into demo groups based on profiles which include your phone, email, country, gender, your playlists and probably info gathered using third party cookies which can track your behavior across multiple websites and be used to infer more general demographic info like age or even possible health conditions.

Then they would compile listener trends from say a service they own like Youtube premium, and perform some analysis to figure out what times of the day songs are listened to most and for how long, how much that listening length is influenced by skipping past songs, what percentage of songs are listened to 90+% through. They would look for any interesting data clusters that might indicate the listener is spending the time exploring new music or actively listening versus keeping it on in the background by noting perhaps the listener is searching specific artists, cross referencing that against say who’s been mentioned on Pitchfork or who some of there followers/people they follow also search or listen to.

Then buy and sell similar analysis from Spotify, Pandora, iTunes etc and compile that.

I’m assuming this is already done in a much more sophisticated way by these companies but not available to the general public.

Well, this agrees with the original article in saying the lengths of popular songs have shortened. It just casts a narrower net. It doesn’t measure sales of physical recordings or radio play but reaches the same conclusion. Of course, it’s JUST talking about Spotify. (I’ve never listened to Spotify.)

Anyway you now agree that popular songs have grown shorter. (They may grow longer again.)

I think we’re done here. :man_shrugging:

that settles it maybe we are getting faster we just dont realize it. :drum: :stuck_out_tongue: NOT! :laughing:

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