How streaming affects the length of songs

Pop on hosts Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan participate Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel to unravel how technology changes the distribution, production and sound of popular music.


Here is an excerpt from songwriter Charlie Harding and musicologist Nate Sloan who explains why songs get shorter in the streaming era.

This interview has been slightly adjusted for clarity.

Nilay Patel: Of course, streaming services are everywhere. Algorithmic playlists are everywhere, the album as we know it falls apart and the forces of the universe seize. Songs become drastically shorter with time. If you ask, "What has technology done with music?" Is this so specific to refer to. Songs have become slower by more than 30 seconds in the last 18 years.

Charlie Harding: Yes. One of the most important trends we see in music and the streaming economy is that songs have become shorter from the & # 39; 90 to the present. The average number has decreased over time and we see many more numbers that are extremely short. Spotify was released in 2006, but only recently has music streaming become the dominant force in spreading music and now we have seen changes in how people write songs.

One of the most important things that has changed is how people are paid and it affects how numbers are written. In the past you were paid if you sold an album or a single. In 1995 we had numbers that came in after four minutes and thirty seconds. Nowadays the numbers are only three minutes and 42 seconds, due to the difference in how artists are paid now. Instead of being paid by physical sales, you are paid in a stream, which only counts if someone listens to 30 seconds of a song. It actually makes sense if you can stream multiple songs at the same time, which means that you want to pack your album full of much shorter songs. So if you have an album like Drake & # 39; s Scorpio, which is a very long double album that comes in after almost 90 minutes, he has a lot of really short songs there, because he is paid for every song you listen to, whether or not you listen to the entire album.

Songs are not only getting shorter, but the way artists introduce their songs is changing. Gone is the era of long intros that slowly bring you into the song. Nowadays we not only see that songs are getting shorter, but there is also a kind of new song structure that we have seen and that we called the pop-overture, where in fact a song at the very beginning is a hint of the chorus in the first five to ten seconds so that the hook is in your ear, in the hope that you will hang around until about 30 seconds when the full chorus finally arrives.


Nilay Patel: It is similar to how movie trailers now have mini trailers before the actual trailer.

Nate Sloan: Yes, exactly. This is the audio analogue thereof.

Nilay Patel: You say that songs get shorter due to streaming services and how the artist is paid when a listener hits 30 seconds and then everything after 30 seconds is not worth it. And they just want to lead you to the next song?

Nate Sloan: No, there is still an incentive to listen to the entire song and that may also be part of the shortening process. You don't want to risk losing someone's attention. The payout may not be monetary, but at least on Spotify if the listener listens to the entire song, this increases the chance that the track will appear in a larger playlist. On Spotify, they do take into account that if someone listens to the entire track, you will be paid more, but if a song is placed on a playlist, this can even result in more clicks. So you want someone to listen through the whole.

Charlie Harding: What really changes is the rapid increase in numbers under three minutes. There is a growth, especially in hip hop. We see songs like "Gucci Gang" from Lil Pump, which comes in within two minutes and four seconds. If you look at his record, 14 of the 19 songs are less than three minutes long. Ten of them are less than two minutes long.

But Nate & # 39; s point is good, you want someone to get through it all the way. You don't want anyone to skip your song altogether, so there's a kind of this healthy balance. I don't think we're entering an era where numbers will be exactly 35 seconds, because there are all sorts of forms and conventions to work with. You have to get someone in and you have to make sure they listen to the whole thing and then go to the next song.

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