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Songs are Getting Shorter and It’s Not Your Imagination

One of the most viral TikTok songs to date is Paul Russell’s Lil Boo Thang. It’s catchy and fun, until you get to the end you start thinking, “Is that it?” Yep. The song is just 1:54 in length.

And you are not imagining it. Songs over time have become shorter and shorter in length, since 1990.

Data scientists in UCLA, gathered data over the years to compare song length and popularity over the decades and speculate that the average attention span of listeners in general have decreased over the years. Technology was a big part of this shift in attention span. From being able to skip through tracks to cherry picking through song lists, and advanced searches, listeners are able to cater to their specific musical wants and needs.

Taylor Swift’s song “All Too Well” runs for 10 minutes. Will this be an exception to the Swifties’ shorter attention spans?

Extended intros are also becoming a thing of the past and the sooner the “hook” is introduced in a song the higher the engagement. This is due to streaming services that pay artists based on the number of plays. To qualify as a play, the listener must listen to the song up to the 30-second mark. If the “hook” is not introduced sooner the listener may choose to move on to the next song. But this is usually not enough. Listeners need to listen to the song until the end for streaming services like Spotify to recommend a song and/or similar songs in the future.

As Mark Ronson, producer and Grammy-awardee puts it bluntly: “All your songs have to be under three minutes and 15 seconds 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 ratings down.”

So the question is which came first…streaming economics or TikTok generation’s shorter attention spans? It’s quite hard to say. But in the interest of keeping this post, ahem…short, here’s the list of the shortest songs ever released:

  1. Napalm Death - You Suffer (1.3 seconds)

  2. Queen - Yeah (4 seconds)

  3. The Smashing Pumpkins - (17 seconds)

  4. Linkin Park - Empty Spaces (20 seconds)

  5. The Beatles - Her Majesty (24 seconds)

  6. Pink Floyd - Stop (30 seconds)

  7. Green Day - The Ballad of Willem Fink (32 seconds)

  8. Jonny Trunk - Ladies’ Bras (35 seconds)

  9. Minor Threat - Straight Edge (45 seconds)

  10. Coldplay - Parachutes (46 seconds)

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