If you’re a songwriter, you must understand that there a lot of factors to consider when writing a song. The lyrics and chord progressions are always important at delivering the mood and message, but a factor that is often overlooked, especially by beginner songwriters is the length of the song. Well, how long should a song be? Should we be setting these types of limitations on ourselves as songwriters in the first place?
The short answer to these questions is that it all depends. While the industry standard currently has hit songs usually around 3 to 3 1/2 minutes in length, we’ve seen a lot of good and successful songs that are both longer and shorter. There are no one-size fits all rule to the length of the songs you write because every songwriter has different styles, ideas, and goals. To help you figure out how long you should be writing your songs, here are 5 things to consider when it comes to the length of your songs.
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1. What Your Fans Expect From You
The first thing you need to consider is your fans since they’ll probably be the first to hear your new original music. What are your fans more accustomed to when it comes to listening to your music? How would they react if you changed your songwriting formula? Are you at the point of your career where you have more flexibility in the type of music you create or do your fans have an expectation of what they want to hear from your songs? These are some questions you should ask yourself when thinking about your fans.
It’s up to the artist in how they put together their original songs, however, if they want their music to be successful, they’ll need to pay attention to their fans. If you feel like you can be more flexible with the length of your s0ngs without upsetting your fans, go for it. It can definitely be a nice change that your fans will appreciate. At the same time, if you notice that your fans enjoy your music because they’re short and straight to the point, then don’t change what’s not broken. Keep creating songs that work for you at the point of where you are currently in your music career.
Always remember that the songs you create are your art, but make sure to keep your fans in mind when putting them together.
2. Are You Aiming to Be on the Radio?
Another thing to consider is if one of your main goals is to get your songs on the radio. It’s very unlikely for you to get on mainstream radio, however, if that’s your ultimate goal, it’s best to understand the formula now. Become accustomed to the formula of the songs that go on the radio.
The average song length of music that goes on the radio is between 3 to 5 minutes, however, it’s closer to 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. To understand why it’s like this, we have to discuss the history of music and the radio.
History of Music and the Radio
Between 1858 and the late 1950s, flat records called a”78″ were made. These records spun at 78 revolutions per minute, limiting the length that a song can be due to storage limitations. There were two sizes, a 10-inch disc that could hold three minutes of music and a 12-inch disc that held four minutes.
Around the mid-1950s, the RCA introduced a 45 rpm disk, which quickly took over the 78. There were made of vinyl instead of shellac, making them more durable and portable. Also, they were cheaper to make and buy, making them easier to market to teenagers at the time. However, just like the 78, the storage limitation was the same, limiting at about three minutes of music. Radio stations used 45s to broadcast music live. This meant that if bands and artists wanted their songs to be radio-friendly, they’d have to comply with the song length limitations.
This is what influences the song length limitations of what goes on the radio, even today.
As technology gets better and better every day, especially in the music industry, you would think that the 3-minute limitation is but a thing of the past. However, this isn’t the case. Songs on the radio are still around 3 to 5 minutes in length. While this is mainly true for mainstream radio stations, there are other options. Nowadays, you could get your music on online radio stations thanks to streaming services and platforms. There are also local radio stations that might not be as strict on song lengths. You can find these stations in your local community and colleges. It’s much easier for musicians and artists to get their music heard by a wider audience.
3. Can the Song be Split into Two?
If you put together a longer song, ask yourself if it’s possible for your song to be split into two. When we get into the groove of writing new music, it’s easy for us songwriters to get caught in the moment. We’ll just keep on writing like there’s no tomorrow, resulting in a longer song. It can be tempting to leave it as it is, however, a good approach would be to see if it’s possible to split the song into two separate ones. If it is possible, then you get yourself a win-win situation, having two new original songs in your arsenal. However, if you feel that it’s not possible, don’t force it as you might be doing your song more harm than good.
Of course, if you do decide to split the song into two, it does create more work. You’ll have to make new musical adjustments to both songs which will take more time, however, in the end, it will all be worth it.
4. Do You Need a Longer Song to Deliver your Message?
Similar to the previous topic we’ve discussed, try to figure out the best way to deliver your song’s message. Like I’ve already said earlier when we get into the flow writing, we might write too much than needed. The message of the songs we create is just as important as the music and the lyrics. What makes songwriting so fun is that there are so many ways that we can deliver our message through our songs. It is possible to have a song with as many verses and choruses as you want, but is it absolutely necessary for your message?
This why editing and going over your songs are important. After all, it’s a part of the songwriting process that you should never skip. If you can deliver your song’s message in less time, it can be more beneficial. Listeners will have an easier time listening to your song. Nowadays our attention spans are shorter, making it harder for us to dedicate our attention to longer songs.
A shorter song can be just as effective as longer songs. It pushes us to write more impactful lyrics that deliver the ultimate messages we are trying to tell people through our songs. Always keep in mind when writing that sometimes it’s possible to tell everything you want in fewer words. You just might have to think more creatively when putting your song together.
5. What Will Make You Happy?
Of course, one of the most important things you need to consider is your own happiness with the songs you write. Songwriting is a very personal art form where we can pour out any emotions that we are feeling into music and lyrics. It’s a great way for us to truly express our thoughts. While following a specific song formula to achieve the most success is important, never neglect your own happiness and satisfaction.
If you shortened a song just to fit the mold that the music industry has created but feel unsatisfied with it, don’t be afraid of going back to what it was. It’s very easy to forget that we create songs not just for other people, but also for ourselves. It’s important that we also give priority to our own satisfaction when writing songs.
There are also downsides of always trying to limit yourself to certain song lengths when songwriting. It can be creatively draining, which can lead to songwriting burnout. Always remember that it’s important that you are happy with the songs you create.
As you can see, answering this question isn’t as it easy it sounds. Every song we write has a different approach that might result in a shorter song or a longer one. If there’s anything we’d like for you to take from this article, its that you can still have an impactful song that is shorter in length. At the same time, a song that is longer still has the potential of being successful in a musical world where 3-minute pop songs are dominant thanks to all of the new platforms available for musicians and artists.
We hope this article has helped you figure out how long the songs you are writing should be. Best of luck on your songwriting and we hope you continue to put out music that you’ll be happy about.