Pop Songs Duration are Getting Shorter

Let’s compare the duration of several songs in the top five Billboard Hot 100 versions in 2000 and 2018.

The first position of Hot 100 in 2000 was occupied by country pop singer Faith Hill with the song Breathe. The duration is 4:04 minutes. Switching to Hot 100 in 2018, rapper Aubrey Drake Grama or nicknamed Drake came first with the song God’s Plan. The duration is 3:18 minutes.

Shortening the duration you will find in the comparison of other songs that are in the fifth to third ururan.

Everything You Want (Vertical Horizon) lasts 4:17 minutes, while Rockstar (Post Malone) is 3:37 minutes. I Wanna Know (Joe) is 4:56 minutes, while Havana (Camilo Cabello) is 3:36 minutes. Likewise Maria-Maria (Santana) is 4:23 minutes long and Meant to Be (Bebe Rexha) 2:43 minutes.

Big data scientist Michael Tauberg once analyzed the phenomenon of shortening and he published it on the Medium channel in April 2018.

Aisha Hassan and Dan Kopf in their report for Quartz referred to Tauberg’s research because they were interested in the methodology. Tauberg first crossed track duration data in the Spotify streaming application with how long the song lasted on the Billboard Hot 100.

Billboard Hot 100 is used as a reference because Tauberg has focused its attention on pop songs for nearly the last two decades. After the data is collected, Tauberg only analyzes the change in duration per year, from songs from 2000 to 2018.

The results can be formulated in several important points. First, the average duration of Billboard pop songs is getting shorter and shorter. In 2000 pop songs lasted an average of more than 4 minutes. 18 years later the average figure dropped to only 3.5 minutes.

Second, in the last few years the number of songs on the Billboard Hot 100 list with 2.5 minutes has increased dramatically, from around 1 percent in 2015 to more than 6 percent in 2018.

Third, referring to the results of Tauberg’s previous research, the title of the song also experienced a shortening. Two decades ago the title of hits was composed of three words. Today’s popular songs on average only contain two words.

In another report for Quartz, Kopf mimics Tauberg’s comparison method for researching the duration of pop songs between 2013 and 2018. The results are generally the same.

In that five year period the average duration of the Billboard Hot 100 song shortens from 3:50 minutes to 3:40 minutes. Furthermore, if in 2013 the percentage of songs with a duration of 2:30 minutes or less was only one percent of the total songs, in 2018 the figure rose quite sharply to six percent.

Kopf looked specifically at the two rap albums from Compton, Kendrick Lamar. First, the good kid album, m.A.A.d city, which was released in 2013. All songs have a minimum duration of 3:30 or more. If averaged, the duration of all songs in the album is 5:37 minutes.

Kopf compares it to the DAMN album. which Lamar released four years later. He noted the shortening of the average song duration compared to the average song duration of the good kid album, m.A.A.d city, which is 3:57 minutes.

“DAMN. won the Pulizer Award for music, which shows that this trend does not necessarily indicate a decline in the quality of music, “Kopf noted.

Lamar is not alone. Drake’s latest album, Scorpion (2018), has a total duration that is longer than the total duration of the previous album. However, the total duration per song is getting shorter. Kanye West’s album, The Life of Pablo (2016), too. There are eight songs that all last less than three minutes.

Streaming Domination
Kopf and Tauberg end each note with similar conclusions. The phenomenon of shortening the duration of contemporary pop songs is thought to be caused by the dominance of music streaming service applications that have experienced a sharp increase in popoularity in the last few years.

Spotify, for example. When it was launched on October 7, 2008 they experienced instant success due to working with Facebook. As of April 2019 the Swedish-based company already has 217 active monthly users, including 100 million paid users.

Perhaps it is no exaggeration if streaming services such as Spotify have changed the landscape of the world music industry.

At first they were quite successful in reducing the practice of music piracy because it provided free music access (and a number of other benefits if they wanted to subscribe). As streaming channels become more popular, more and more musicians are counting on them as a source of income.

Citing Kopf’s data, the total income of US musicians from streaming channels in 2013 was 21 percent. In 2018 the figure will jump to 75 percent. Musicians are competing to make songs that, quoting Kopf and Tauberg, are “streaming friendly”.

Why? Because the Spotify-style music royalty payment system is based on how often the song is played by users, not the length of the duration. Thus, in terms of business, it would be more profitable if musicians make short songs with large numbers rather than long songs with small amounts.

The situation could be an explanation why the total duration of the album Drake, Kanye and other musicians is now longer but consists of songs that are shorter in duration than their previous work.

The Verge’s editor-in-chief recently Nilay Patel discussed the same topic with music writer Charlie Harding and music expert Nate Sloan.

Harding explicitly agreed that the duration of pop songs had indeed been getting shorter since the 1990s, and one of them was due to the dominance of streaming music.

“One of the main changes is how paid people influence how the song is created,” Harding said.

He continued in 1995 musicians were paid per album or single, so it didn’t matter if the song lasted more than four or five minutes.

Nowadays physical selling is only cared for by fanatics, musicians rely on streaming services that are only paid if people listen to their music for at least 30 seconds. In short: the fate of a song is determined in the first 30 seconds.

Shortening the duration then affects the change in song structure. Still related to the first 30 second formula, Harding and people in the music industry call it the opening of pop or pop overture.

“When at the beginning of the song will play a little chorus leak in the first five to 10 seconds to make the listener interested, and hope the listener will last until the first 30 seconds when the chorus is really entered in full.”

Sloan said the formula was similar to a movie teaser trailer. This trailer was intentionally made to provoke the audience’s curiosity by providing all-round leakage that hopes to be able to maintain the interest of the audience until the trailer is actually released.

But Sloan does not agree if the new format is considered to make musicians only focus on working for the first 30 seconds. Even though the duration is short, he thinks the musician still cares about the song as a whole because it is still based on profit considerations.

“On Spotify, if a customer hears one song in full, the song has a higher possibility to be played on a larger playlist. The impact is more clicks, aka not something harmful,” he explained.

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