Music Is Made Differently Now That We're All Streaming It

The way streamers track success and pay artists has shaped songwriting
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 1, 2023 3:05 PM CDT
To Keep Pace With Streaming, Songs Are Shorter Today
Streaming services are shaping the music industry, including how songs sound.   (Getty / grinvalds)

Streaming has revolutionized the music industry in countless ways, including how songs are penned, the Wall Street Journal says. Hit songs are being written to keep pace with how sites like Spotify track success and pay artists, resulting in shorter tracks. The Journal cites analysis from blogger Michael Tauberg, who concludes that hit songs have shrunk by more than 30 seconds since 2000 (when top tracks were often over 4 minutes). Today, two-thirds of hit tracks are under three minutes. This rewards musicians, who are only paid for a stream after a song reaches the 30-second mark. When the tune is shorter, it's more likely the listener will finish it and reach the next track's payment threshold.

"All your songs have to be under three minutes and 15 seconds," Grammy-winning producer Mark Ronson laments to the Guardian, "because if people don't listen to them all the way to the end they go into this ratio of 'non-complete heard', which sends your Spotify rating down." The 30-second rule has also all but erased long instrumental opens, with the hopes of hooking users by stuffing a bit of chorus in right away. Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding of the "Switched on Pop" podcast dub this phenomenon the "pop overture," and Nilay Patel of the Verge likens it to a mini movie trailer playing before a trailer.

Other trends observed include an increase in the number of songs on an album, which the Journal notes has been mocked by bands like Pocket of Gold, which released an album with 1,000 songs that lasted a little over :30 each. Ronson, who produced hits with Amy Winehouse, also observed that a modern banger is made "so it sounds competitively as loud as possible coming" on an iPhone or on Spotify. "Amy wouldn't have let that s--- happen for a second, which makes me think how Back to Black would have been received," he said. "Or how it would have probably performed badly on Spotify playlists if it was released today." (Spotify, meanwhile, isn't too happy with Harry and Meghan.)

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