Size Matters

By David Kidd, BPR

You probably already know this but new songs are getting shorter. 20% of the nominated songs in this year’s Grammy Awards came in at under three minutes.

Since 1990, the average length of a song on the Billboard 100 has decreased from over four minutes to around three…. and this is regardless of genre.

Chart courtesy of the Washington Post

According to Joe Bennett, Professor of Musicology at Berklee College of Music in the US “Song lengths have always fluctuated with technological and cultural changes. You’ve got artists and technologies working in tandem and then artists responding to other artists. … That’s how the culture and the songwriting craft evolves.”

For example, the amount of music that would fit on one side of a vinyl 45 rpm single, combined with the format of traditional radio programming, established the now-familiar three-to-five-minute length. A 45-rpm single could hold only about five minutes of music. Exceeding this often meant lower sound quality.

In the 80s, tapes and CDs didn’t have the time limitations of vinyl and allowed artists more flexibility in songwriting. The average song length peaked at 4 minutes 21 seconds in 1992.

In 2024, streaming platforms are setting the standard. On platforms such as Spotify, artists earn royalties only if a listener stays engaged for at least 30 seconds, making songs with instantly engaging hooks dominant as it ensures that the listener doesn’t just skip on to the next song. Shorter songs encourage more replays and …you guessed it…. more replays mean more revenue.

Taylor Swift has followed the trend. The average song length on her 2010 album “Speak Now” was just under 5 minutes; on her 2022 album “Midnights’ it was just over 3 minutes.

This has broader implications for radio than just being able to play more songs per hour. It means that your station’s content must be COMPELLING at all times. But what does compelling actually mean? Let’s start with the dictionary definition. Something is “compelling” when it “makes you pay attention because it is so interesting and exciting.”

Compelling content is not just entertaining…. compelling content makes you think…it makes you feel…. it makes you tell your friends…it makes you keep listening in case you miss any more compelling content. Compelling content captures and maintains the attention of the audience.

Each song should have a great research score to make it on air, every piece of talk content should be engaging, every contest should have an entertainment value attached to it, negatives/turn offs must be minimised or eliminated…and if you don’t know what those negatives are in 2024, do some research.




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