Geek magazine hacker daily blog

1 year, 11 months ago
Discussion: Why the majority of songs last on average 3-5 minutes

St. Petersburg Baskervil (Peter Baskerville): It is result of technical restriction which became the standard – the industry of popular music accepted it, supported and began to use in commercial interests. As it is possible to give an example the project based by Mac Powell (Mac Powell) and Fernando Ortega (Fernando Ortega).

Everything began in the 20th years of the 20th century when 10-inch (25 cm) phonograph records on 78 revolutions per minute bypassed competitors and became the most popular audiocarrier. Rough methods of drawing tracks on a plate and a thick needle for their reading limited write time duration on each party of a plate about three minutes.

Technical restrictions directly influenced creation of music. Composers and contractors created the songs, considering parameters of the popular carrier. Long time the three-minute single remained the standard of record of a song while in the 1960th years the best technicians of mastering were not mastered, and there were no plates with narrow tracks which allowed actors to increase duration of records.

However, even before emergence of long-playing records, the three-minute standard made for the industry of pop music huge profit. Radio stations which earnings depended on the number of the transferred declarations per hour with pleasure supported it. Producers are everything as one, acted pro the concept of sale of several short songs, but not one long song containing 2-3 parts or the built-in tracks.

Also radio stations broadcast three-minute a song rock'n'roll, oriented to post-war generation of the 60th years which entered portable transistor radio receivers into pop culture. It is possible to tell that songs lasting from 3 to 5 minutes began to define pop music and now are recognized as an archetype.

Discussion: Why the majority of songs last on average 3-5 minutes

It turned out so that technical restriction was supported and began to use in commercial interests, however it does not mean at all that actors and music lovers approved this standard. For example, in 1965 Bob Dylan sang the song "Like Rolling Stone" lasting more than 6 minutes, and in 1968 The Beatles wrote the seven-minute single "Hey Jude" with use of the new production technology of plates with narrow tracks.

They were followed by "Stairway to Heaven" at Led Zeppelin, to "American Pie" of Don McLean, "November Rain" at Guns N' Roses, "Money for Nothing" from Dire Straits, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" Pink Floyd, "Bat Out of Hell" of Meath of Louf, "Won't Get Fooled Again" The Who and "Bohemian Rhapsody" from Queen – all these songs last more than 7 minutes.

Ken Ekkert (Ken Eckert): I will agree with above-written, however I will note that reasons for adoption of 3-minute songs nevertheless a little, and I do not think that each of them separately settles a question. Really, at the beginning the technology of record demanded that songs were 3 minutes long.

This standard defined the direction in which pop music for several decades moved. Nevertheless, why the Victorian engineers just did not make cylinders longer? Edison was not a musician. It seems that there is some arrangement that it is enough three minutes for the majority of records.

I think that the reasons lie in human psychology. Perhaps, 3-4 minutes are that period for which the musical pattern of melodious sounds does not manage to bore (of course, there is an uncountable set of exceptions).

Also I assume that 3 minutes are a convenient period for dances – people do not manage to be tired so that they become need a short break (or change of the partner). For these reasons probably the western popular dance music got to this time span. Besides, it is only my assumption.

Darren Monson (Darren Monson): Technical restrictions definitely influenced creation of music, but I do not agree that the reason only in it.

To improvement of technologies there had to be a transition to songs of that length which is demanded by the market, however it did not occur – we still adhere to the 3-5-minute standard. But why?

The song duration reason 5 and less minutes is covered in its part known as "loss".

Loss, as a rule, consists of eight clock periods and is located approximately in the middle of a song. A loss essence – to change mood of a song that it was not boring for the listener.

The person can save concentration absolutely not for long – in most cases only 8 seconds. In order that the song was easily remembered, it is necessary that the listener could learn it without special difficulties and sing.

The Beetles told how they checked different structures (and lengths) songs on live audience before the optimal variant was found. The three-minute composition with loss is ideally suited for congregational singing with fans.

I consider that even despite technical restrictions which were imposed on early records we all the same would stop the choice on songs lasting 3-5 minutes.

I am the owner of a musical business platform Audio Rokit [it was purchased by the competitor of Music Gateway in February, 2015 – a lane comment], and less than 1,5% of all loaded songs go beyond 3-5 minutes!

Discussion: Why the majority of songs last on average 3-5 minutes

Marcel Tirado (Marcel Tirado): If you speak about actual bottoms / rok-pesnyakh which can be heard on radio today, then there are several reasons of reduction of their duration till 3-5 minutes (rather to 3, ideally to 3,5). Let's begin with the fact that at musical audience concentration duration decreased – to listen to the songs which appeared prior to the beginning of the 80th years enough.

In songs of 60th and 70th there is much more "depth". In the eighties the science came to the musical industry that brought us there where we are now.

Duration of a song from 3 to 3,5 minutes is connected with song structure which exerted serious impact on the musical industry and is considered a standard formula. If you do not know that it, then it looks as follows:

Couplet – the Refrain – the Second couplet – the Second refrain – Loss – the Third refrain

There are different variations of this structure, but, in a varying degree, all of them get to an interval from 3 to 5 minutes. The musical industry is not recognized in it, but to push the song on radio it is necessary to pay – the song is longer, the more money needs to be given.

Let's sum up the result. So, to all fault: duration of concentration of attention of modern audience, influence of radio on reduction of duration of songs (aspiration not to tighten a track to attract new listeners), the cost of reproduction of a song in an air. In the industry consider that the easiest to advance music from 3 to 5 minutes long, however there can be also other factors which I did not list.

Luigi Cappel (Luigi Cappel): Excellent answer, Marseille. Now I study a course of methods of writing of an author's song in musical college of Berkeley. We were taught that though the quantity of lines of a song can change, structure "A couplet – the Refrain – the Second couplet – the Second refrain – Loss – the Third refrain" is the most popular.

The majority of songs which duration goes beyond 3-5 minutes become boring, except for expanded versions of favourite tracks. It does not mean that long songs, for example, ballads, are bad, just key factor is deduction of interest of the listener. Also the fact that the song is shorter is important, the it is simpler to learn words. People like to sing.

There is an immortal classics, for example, of "Thick as a Brick" which in the seventies many people was known word for word, but it is rather an exception, than the rule – I will not be able to remember to a descent something similar, but from modern music.

P.S. In our blog and podcasts we regularly pay attention to interesting features of the musical industry. For us it is attention to what really concerns people and is the cornerstone of music world in general.

This article is a translation of the original post at
If you have any questions regarding the material covered in the article above, please, contact the original author of the post.
If you have any complaints about this article or you want this article to be deleted, please, drop an email here:

We believe that the knowledge, which is available at the most popular Russian IT blog, should be accessed by everyone, even though it is poorly translated.
Shared knowledge makes the world better.
Best wishes.