Will we ever hear a modern a classic like Bohemian Rhapsody again? Songs are just getting shorter and shorter. The Economics of Music Streaming Leading to Shorter Songs Has streaming impacted not only the way we consume music, but the way we create it as well? Data examining the evolution of track length suggests so. According to the data presented on Quartz , songs have in fact been getting shorter. A clear pattern is evident when contrasting prior and new releases of some of the biggest current music stars. The disparity between Kendrick Lamar’s breakout 2013 album and his newest work is stark; the average track time has gone from nearly six minutes to nearly four. Similarly, Drake’s tracks are getting shorter despite the album length increasing, and Kanye West’s tracks show a near 40% decrease in length. The examples are numerous and display a clear movement to short, easily digestible songs. Interestingly enough, the average song length on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds over the last 5 years. But how does the rise of streaming impact song length? The answer may lie in the per-play value of each track. According to the mid-2018 statistics published by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) , streaming accounted for 75% of the entire industry revenue. Equally impressive is that streaming revenue has grown by 28% since the start of 2018. The key factor in play is the lack of incentive to make long, complicated tracks. The music industry is a business; creative choices are influenced by market dynamics. The rise of streaming as a source of revenue has thus lead to artists adapting to the pay-per-play mentality. As revenue is not proportionate to track length, the creation of longer pieces is becoming economically unsustainable. The monetary award to be gained is disproportionate to the amount of effort required for the production of Bohemian Rhapsody standard gems. What this new economy rewards are short tracks with a high replay value. It is evident that the streaming era has intruded upon song writing by giving artists an additional factor to consider in their creative process. The dilemma between creative freedom and optimisation of streaming is inescapable, and the path artists chose to follow will be of great interest, particularly over the next decade. This is not to say that shorter track lengths are of lesser quality; notably, Lamar’s newest album DAMN, while featuring shorter tracks than his earlier work, won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Whether the rigid economics of streaming will impact creative decisions in the long term or whether this medium will evolve to allow for rewarding long, ambitious projects remains to be seen.
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