Over the last five years, it seems that new songs have gotten shorter and shorter. But you’re not imagining this; a recent report from Quartz finds a change in the average length of pop songs. From 2013 to 2018, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 went from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Six percent of all hit songs were 2 minutes 30 seconds or shorter in 2018, growing 1% from five years previous. In a world with new technology and the ability to create quick, catchy tunes there are a few reasons to speculate as to why this may be.
The first reason in the recent change could be the inability to hold a listener’s attention with a lengthy track. It’s not that artists don’t have enough material, it’s the listener’s attention span that’s in question. The second and most likely factor is the economics of the music industry on streaming music.
Services like Spotify and Apple Music are responsible for 75% of the music industry’s overall revenue in 2018. Streaming platforms like these two operate on a pay per play basis. The low streaming music layouts have caused song length to decrease, and since Spotify pays major artists between $0.004 and $0.008 per stream, this gives artists an incentive to create shorter tracks.
Two of the best examples that reflect this change are Drake and Kanye West’s last two albums. Drake’s average song length is 11% shorter on his most recent album Scorpion than that of his previous album Views. Kanye West followed the same pattern with his 2016 album, The Life of Pablo. The album had eight tracks with each running less than three minutes long. However, his 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy averaged about two minutes per track. With the rise of streaming music, until artists receive better payment based on song plays, it seems this trend will continue.
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