Shorten The Songs. Help Radio. Help The Music Industry. Done.

Written Jul. 17, 2009 by Larry Rosin in Content + Marketing + Research with 7 Comments

I have made this point for years, and no one ever has taken it seriously. Now, with radio struggling, and the record industry struggling just the same, I'm going to try it again.

If we want to help music radio -- stations should shorten the songs. If we want to help the music industry -- music companies will help radio stations by sending them shorter versions of songs.

I'm sure many reading this are saying "Huh"? And I know of course that this alone can't solve all our problems. But think about it.

Over the last forty years, the average length of pop songs (or country songs, or most rock songs etc.) has grown from a tight two minutes to an ungainly four. This has effectively cut in half the number of songs played per hour. Actually, it's worse than that of course, because spot loads have grown over the years too.

So what is the net effect? Vastly fewer songs are played. Radio stations get killed for not having enough variety. Music companies can successfully promote fewer songs, and the pool of what can become a hit is shallower. Way fewer novelty songs are played, because there is simply no room for them, thus radio is less fun.

Four minute songs have created a vicious cycle where fewer, safer songs are played more and more because they are the only ones that can rise to the top. Having risen, they just keep playing as recurrents and gold.

Music companies should think of what they send radio stations as 'trailers' for the full song that appears on CDs or as downloads. "Want to hear the whole, long version? Go to..." Radio stations should be thrilled. Shorter songs means they can play more songs, have more variety, please everyone. Stations should cut their older songs down in length at the same time.

I am aware that there was some kind of effort to market a Top 40 with shorter songs last year -- I'm honestly unaware of what happened with that. But regardless...we need this to happen. And frankly, how many times do we need to hear John Meyer sing "Say What You Need To Say" in one song? The version played by radio has this lyric FORTY times. Could we live with twenty?

So Radio and Record industries...what do you think? Anyone with me for this radical approach?

Reader Comments

Your 2¢, in chronological order — add your comment below.
1  Will LaTulippe on July 20, 2009 5:08 PM

You post a lot of goofy stuff. Four minutes is the average length for a pop song? Huh? Only two songs in the Top 10 this week are four plus, "I Gotta Feeling" at 4:02 and "Knock You Down" at 4:09. Several current big hits are far shorter, such as "Waking Up In Vegas" at 3:05, "Don't Trust Me" at 3:12, and "Lovegame" at 3:30. "I Know You Want Me" runs 3:37, and I've heard an even shorter version on some stations.

The average runtime of those six songs alone is 3:35. That's fine.

2  Ricardo on July 20, 2009 5:29 PM

If we're just talking about Top 40 radio and its offshoots, then that's perfectly fine. If we're talking about more "progressive" formats, not so fine. We all have to remember why the Album Rock format began in the first place.
Just my two cents.

3  Ben Shaton on July 20, 2009 8:45 PM

I doubt that the average song player 40 years ago was much less than 3 minutes if not more, unless the stations used edit versions or speeded up the turntables. MacArthur Park and Hey Jude both exceeded 7 minutes. The edit versions of songs didn't always do songs justice in the past, and won't now either.

If they do chop up the songs, I've gotten to expect that the same songs will be put on even higher rotation, with increased spot loads to take up the slack judging from recent actions of the current players in the industry.

5  Jeff Garrison on July 24, 2009 3:51 PM

100% AGREE!!! Right on Larry!!

6  Jaye Albright on July 27, 2009 7:31 AM

Don't sell yourself short, Larry. In country, it does seem that someone is listening. As you may know, this has long been a cause of Regent VP/Programming Bob Moondy as well as many others for a long time, and so I was surprised to see a bit of movement in the right direction in the country format.

An active library analysis shows that the average country current is 3:25 this week.

The average run time for country recurrents is 3:38 and active golds is 3:36.

Just for fun, I also looked at the average length of pre-1994 golds which remain in active play and the average length is 3:06, so in spite of current movement in the right direction, we still have a ways to go to get song length back to where it was when country had its highest audience shares in history.

7  Michael on November 2, 2009 1:36 PM

I agree that pop songs are getting longer. My dad, who grew up in the 60's tries to time the length of a trip by the number of songs played on the radio. He's always way off because he still thinks pop songs must be 2 minutes long. When I told him the average length for my music library on iTunes is 3:51, he was shocked. To me, a two-minute song is much too short to be a mainstream pop song. It sounds like a novelty song, or a statement song. There are a lot of good 2 minute songs out there, but if a song isn't at least 2:45 it feels like it's over too quickly for me. I'm like... "That's it?" Nearly all of my songs are in the 3-5.5 minute range. Most being exactly 3:05-5:15. The mean is 3:51, the average 3:52, the median turned out to be 3:48. Most 11-13 song albums have like 5 songs in the 3 minute range, 4 songs in the 4 minute range, 2 songs in the 5 minute range, and sixer and a twoer. Most artists I listen to have never made a song under 3 minutes.

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