How long should a song be?
Many songwriters seem to get a short tune in their head or a theme for some lyrics, and build some verses and choruses around them. Managers and producers might prune compositions so the final song is conducive to mass broadcast. Most radio shows only play songs lasting 2-3 minutes and many people streaming music over the web or listening to a music player flick to a new track once they’re bored. If I was a radio producer I’d want to play a variety of songs to keep listening figures up, and if I was out running I wouldn’t want a dull song to slow my cadence.
What can be said for more lengthy pieces of music? Has our tendency toward quick musical fulfilment made longer songs inadvisable? Some of the newer songs I’ve been writing last eight minutes. I think they’re progressive and dynamically and musically interesting (think Pink Floyd, Tool, Muse). I wonder where the audience is who will listen to the whole of these songs. If I decide to record long versions who should I market them to? If I decide to shorten it, which section of the draft should I trim? I feel there must be a more refined approach than just omitting a verse.
When do people stop listening?
It would be really interesting to see the distribution of times through a song at which people “switch off” and choose to listen to something else instead. At what points in a song do people get fed up? My inkling is that there is a quick drop off of people who just don’t like something within the first 20 seconds (there must be some reason why iTunes gives people a 20 s sample to potential purchasers). Then there will be some who quit during the first chorus because they’re heard enough and don’t like it. Finally there is a thin tail of committed listeners who stay to the end. I feel this is the kind of topic that must have been studied in music psychology, but sorry to say I don’t know the literature that well. If anyone has any empirical graph they can point me to I’d be very interested in seeing the actual proportion of people who stop listening at particular points through a song.
Over to you
What’s the longest song you’ve written? How do you go about tailoring the length of songs to suit a particular audience?