There was an interesting article by Dan Kopf on Quartz recently about how popular music is shrinking.
Popular music is shrinking. From 2013 to 2018, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Six percent of hit songs were 2 minutes 30 seconds or shorter in 2018, up from just 1% five years before.
He suggested that Spotify could be the cause. Apparently, Spotify pays the same fee to all songs that are streamed, meaning that, if the songs are shorter, more can be streamed and the artist makes more money. It makes sense and he shows a decrease in song length for several artists, including Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and J. Cole. While I recognise some of those names, I never listen to them and probably couldn’t name or identify a single one of their songs. So, I wondered if the results were relevant to the music I listen to.
I picked the last five bands whose CDs I bought; Cradle of Filth, Nightwish, Powerwolf, Sonata Arctica and Wintersun. They can nearly all be classified as symphonic or power metal with Cradle of Filth being a little bit outside of that. I then looked at all their albums since approximately 2003 and calculated the mean song length as well the standard deviation per album.
As you can see from the trend lines in the graph above, my results were very different to Dan Kopf’s findings. Powerwolf was the only band with a trend for decreasing song durations while all the other bands increased the average duration of their songs. Powerwolf had the shortest and Wintersun the longest songs, on average.
In several cases, there were very large differences in song duration. For example, on Nightwish’s 2015 album Endless Forms Most Beautiful, the shortest song is My Walden, at 4:38, while the longest, The Greatest Show on Earth (including narration by Richard Dawkins), is 24 minutes long! Similarly, while Cradle of Filth’s sung tracks are usually between 5-8 minutes, most albums have at least one instrumental track which is normally not much longer than 2 minutes. Wintersun used to have the same length extremes, except in the most recent album which only has four tracks, all of which are longer than 12 minutes.
We can’t necessarily draw too much from this. Both the Quartz article and my own are looking at a small sample of artists and understanding the reasons behind any change is not a simple task. I am at least happy that I can continue to enjoy my music with long, powerful tracks that really allow one to get lost in the music.