In early October, Lil Yachty uploaded the 83-second track “Poland” to SoundCloud, along with an angry message: “Stop leaking my shit.” “Poland” features two keening hooks and some lingering rhymes; One veteran publishing executive calls it “a thought, almost a tweet,” more than a song.
Either way, it’s a hit – it reached No. 40 on the Billboard The Hot 100 — and it’s part of a larger trend: The average length of popular songs has been steadily decreasing over the years. 2018 study by San Francisco-based engineer Michael Tauberg concluded that the songs on the Billboard Since 2000 the Hot 100 has dropped from 4:10-ish to about 3:30 in about 40 seconds. average length of top 50 tracks BoardThe year-end Hot 100 in 2021 was even shorter, a mere 3:07. (While this is a simple average, Tauberg’s calculation was weighted by the number of weeks spent on the chart.)
“Everyone knows about it – it’s a reaction to the culture of soundbites we’ve moved towards,” says Vincent “Tuff” Morgan, Vice President of A&R at indie publisher PeerMusic. “I have the producers in the studio this week shortening the songs.”
In this environment, according to analytics company Hit Songs Deconstructed, the writers set out to dig out a third chorus and a pre-chorus — the musical alle-op that sets up the slam dunk of the hook. And the share of sub-three-minute Top 10 hits has grown from just 4% in 2016 to 38% by now in 2022. And 30 seconds or even two minutes, ”says katrina nasr, Senior Manager of A&R at Elektra Entertainment. “Artists feel like they can express themselves quicker.”
Short songs are not exactly a new trend. In the early 1960s, brief wonders like The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” (1:52) topped the Hot 100, and The Beatles achieved international fame by releasing a series of snub-nosed pop missives. Most recently, Pico-Taro’s “PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen)” made history in 2016 as the shortest Hot 100 entry ever (45 seconds). The following year, XXXTentacion’s 17, who sings 11 songs in just 21 minutes, became a streaming sensation. In 2018, Travis Scott effectively mashed three 90-second songs in the massively successful “Sicko Mode”.
If the focus on brevity was driven by the speed of AM radio in the early 1960s, the streaming economy exerts its own pressure on song length. One theory holds that a short track is more likely to be heard by many people. “The attraction to a short song is because the person repeats – play it again, play it again,” according to mitch allenA longtime writer-producer (Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson).
The other side of the same coin: “People are acutely aware of skip rates and how it relates to success on streaming services,” he says. Talya Elitzer, a former Capitol Records A&R who co-founded the indie label Godmode. Tracks with a low skip rate are preferred by the platform, and Elitzer believes that “a shorter song is less likely to be skipped.”
Most importantly, the song snippets resonated with a generation of listeners who were used to short-form video apps. “For me it really started with the Vine era and Instagram,” says the writer-producer David Harris (HER, Snoh Allegra). Brief clips have achieved a new level of commercial resonance in the music industry thanks to TikTok, where users repeatedly seize pieces of unfinished singles and incorporate them into videos, making fun of the idea that a popular track must contain a poem And a hook.
“Usually a song that pops off on stage is based on a small moment,” says Elie Rijk, a writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist (Mazzi, Remy Wolf). “Subconsciously you think about: ‘Let’s make a track packed with moments and try to hit the jackpot.’ I don’t feel the need to repeat a section three times – they’ve already heard that section; it doesn’t matter.”
What’s the difference between an explosive moment and a song? Since 2020, if not earlier, a plethora of young acts have gone viral with the former and then scrambled to convert them into the latter – to build a full track around the snippet that captivated TikTok. Examples include Will Paquin’s catchy “Chandelier” (85 million), David Kushner’s sad “Miserable Man” (73 million), and Avenue Beat’s goofy “F2020” (54 million).
As singles get shorter, the distinction between a song and a hooky piece begins to lose meaning. “For many people, I think the snippet [they encounter on TikTok] song,” says Bart SchodellA longtime engineer and vocal producer (Pop Smoke, Selena Gomez).
well magicA producer and DJ with over 11 million TikTok followers, agrees. “If you go to a club and you see people dancing, they dance only for 15 seconds to the famous song on TikTok,” he says. “For the rest of it, they just sit there.”
For now, platforms like Spotify count 30 seconds of listening as one full play that triggers royalty payments, so expanding a musical idea to that length makes sense. But the original generation of TikTok may not even need 30 seconds to connect with the music. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine that the length of singles will continue to decrease.
When a short poem goes viral on TikTok, “If the artist wrote this and it is being used [on the platform], Who can say it is not a song?” asks Daniel Sander, chief commercial officer of music-technology company Feature.fm. “The question is: How do you monetize it differently?”