Is streaming making songs shorter in Aus, or just the USA?
Short attention spans aren’t what they used to be.
Here’s a problem that producers and songwriters face in this era of streaming.
Problem 1: a track is not eligible for royalties unless it’s been played for at least 30 seconds.
Problem 2: Give that streaming services give millions of tracks to choose from, and given that most streamers are doing two or three other things at the same time, over three quarters of music fans who start a new track seldom last that distance before they click on to the next one.
24% press “Next!” in five seconds, 29% take ten seconds and 35% make it to 30 seconds.
Problem 3: if a track does get a full play, Spotify won’t automatically spin it to a playlist, which will generate more airplay.
Solution: songwriters and producers, therefore, are leaning to grabbing a listener by the throat from the get-go, hamming hooks and choruses right up front.
This week Billboard declared in a report “Quick hits are ruling 2019”, finding that the Top 10s in its Top 100 chart this year are on average 30 seconds shorter than in 2018, clocking in at 3:07, in contrast to last year’s average of 3:37.
The glaring example was Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’, which has been at #1 in the US for nine weeks.
The original version was 1:59 — the shortest #1 in the US since 1965, the magazine said — while the Billy Ray Cyrus remix was 2:37.
Elsewhere in the Top 10 were Post Malone & Swae Lee’s ‘Sunflower’ (2:38), Post’s “Wow.” (2:29) and Sam Smith and Normani’s “Dancing With a Stranger” (2:51).
Hip hop, in particular, showed a parachute drop in 2019, to an average length of 2:48, down 51 seconds from the 2018 average.
Hip hop top 10s had actually grown by 38 seconds from 2015 to 2017 before dropping by 12 seconds in 2018.
Billboard also noted that songs under three minutes account for 39% of all Hot 100 top 10s in 2019.
That’s a big leap from 4% in 2016 to 9% in 2017 to 12% in 2018.
However smaller song lengths seem not to have been significant to be noted in Australia.
“No, I’ve not heard or noticed any trend of songs getting shorter due to streaming,” says Jaime Gough, managing director of independent publisher Native Tongue.
Clive Hodson, founder and managing director of Perth-based Perfect Pitch Publishing, agrees, saying, “There’s only one track in Spotify’s Top 20 under three minutes, and that’s Panic At The Disco at 2:54.”
Australian singer-songwriter Monique Brumby recalls, “There was this catchcry around when I was making my first records in the mid-90s, that you didn’t want the song to be over 3.5 minutes.
“But honestly I think that limiting a song’s length just for the sake of making it shorter for reasons like radio airplay or limited consumer attention span is just bulldust.
“Some songs need more verses if they’re a narrative like a Dylan or Patti Smith tune and some songs don’t need to repeat over and over if they’re not saying anything new.”
Before responding to TMN’s inquiry, Brumby looked at the triple j Hot 100 and at the collection of female pop records she’s currently listening to (like Joan As Police Woman) and found that few were less than 3:5 minutes.
“I don’t think tracks are getting shorter but I think contemporary pop music has become more tightly arranged, maybe due to songwriters and producers making more songs concise and compact arrangement-wise, pleasing the listener.”
It should be noted that some Australian hits have hardly tipped two minutes.
Spiderbait’s ‘Buy Me A Pony’ (1996), the first ever Australian track to top the triple j Hottest 100 countdown, ticked in at 1.41.
The Vines’ breakthrough ‘Highly Evolved’ in 2002 emphasised its 1.35 lengthy in its video, “A lot can happen in 90 seconds.”
One of the first rockers, Johnny O’Keefe’s ‘Own True Self’ (1959), remains the shortest Australian chart topper at 1:44.
Others who cracked the charts with less than two minutes were Spiderbait’s ‘Calypso’ from 1997 (1:51), Frenzal Rhomb’s ‘Mum Changed The Locks’ from 1998 (1:43) and Butterfingers’ ‘Jesus I Was Evil’ from 2006 (1:47).