Yes, Pop Songs Are Getting a Lot Shorter. Here’s Why.

Technology is changing how — and how quickly — we listen to music

Mildly Useful / Unsplash

You’re not (just) getting old: Today’s pop songs are definitely getting shorter.

But it’s not necessarily a “new” trend, even if the reasons are very 2019. As The Economist notes, the advent of Spotify and other streaming services has made songwriters want to “get to the good stuff sooner.”

With streaming now accounting for up to 80% of music revenue, and artists getting paid per play as long as a listener stays with the song for 30 seconds, there’s a huge incentive to cut to the hook quickly. Nearly 40 percent of chart-topping songs now reach their chorus within the first 15 seconds, or about four times more than in 2000. (Could be worse! Some people believe you only have three seconds to grab people’s attention on social media.)

And today’s pop artists recognize this quick fix. In a recent interview with The Verge, English singer/songwriter Charli XCX (“Boom Clap,” “I Love It,” “Fancy”) explains today modern music culture, which is based around (fast) singles over albums. “Everything’s very rapidly digested, and people want more,” she says.

She also points out the best way to maximize a song’s potential. “If I’m writing a song that is for another big pop artist, I want to play all the games,” she notes. “Chorus within the first 30 seconds. No weird self-indulgent intro… Hook at the top in the intro, maybe even start with the chorus, under three minutes. I think that radio songs should be two minutes, 20 [seconds]. Get in, get out, everybody just get on with your life, you know?”

If this is making you shake your fist and dive back into the latest Tool album (average song length: 10 minutes), relax. Technology has always dictated the length of a song, and eras where singles dominate over albums are going to veer toward shorter, more front-loaded songs. And yesteryear’s longer tracks, well, they had their reasons to exist, too. “Did radio songs routinely exceed 4 minutes because that’s what artists’ inner muses compelled them to do?” asks Matty Karas at ReDEF. “Or was it that radio DJs, back when they were actual people, needed intros and outros to talk over, or time to go to the bathroom?”

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