More on the Question “Why Are So Many Popular Songs Three Minutes Long?”

Two posts (here and here) back in July postulated on why so many popular songs are roughly the same length, i.e. about 3 minutes. Why did we all settle on that length? Mashable has decided to explore the question, too.

In the early 1900s, the most common way to release music was via a 10-inch record. The 10″ usually played at a speed of 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), which measures the frequency of a rotation.

Early 10″ records could only hold three to five minutes per side. Twelve-inch records were also used, but they only held about four to five minutes, according to the Yale Music Catalogue.

“If it went longer than that, the grooves became too close together…the sound quality went down,” explains Thomas Tierney, director of the Sony Music Archives Library, in an interview with Mashable.

Thus, musicians in the first half of the 20th century were artistically bound by technological constraints. The limitation meant pop artists had to create quick tracks that fit the mold if they wanted a song to be released as a single.

A short single could be played on the radio and become a hit song, wholly unlike the DIY aesthetic that allows modern artists to get famous via social media, blogs or music sites likeBandcamp or Soundcloud.

“In those days, if you recorded a song that was longer than three minutes and 15 seconds, they just wouldn’t play it,” Tierney says.

Naturally, there were exceptions, but they were reserved for other genres. Duke Ellington could record longer songs, because jazz had different rules.

There’s more. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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