Music Industry

Spotify is having some weird effects on music–and not what you’d expect, either

The form and methods by which music is distributed have always had a major effect on the nature of the music for itself.

Before recorded technology came along in the late 18th century, music was unconstrained by time. Songs and compositions were as short or as long as they needed to be. But then came along Edison’s wax cylinder with its capacity of about two minutes. Suddenly, a song had to be finished within a prescribed time. The nature of songwriting and it the performance of music had to be altered to fit the cylinder.

Things changed a little big when Emile Berliner released his rotating flat disc. The capacity of a 10-inch 78 RPM record increased to about four minutes–and, unlike it a cylinder, it had a second side, doubling the overall capacity. The disc pretty much cemented the average length of a popular song at under four minutes.

In 1948, Columbia introduced the 12-inch LP, increasing capacity to around 22 minutes per side, something that opened up all kinds of compositional possibilities. Things expanded even further with the advent of tape (especially the cassette) and, of course, the 74-minute-plus CD.

Now we’re in the digital era, where we’re completely unconcerned about song length. But this new delivery mechanism has resulted in new twists that no one saw coming. Because it’s so easy to skip unfamiliar songs, writers and producers are doing whatever they can to hold our attention until the magic 30-second mark, the time when Spotify pays out for a stream. Choruses are being put up front. Intro times are being shortened. Multiple hooks are used when one used to do just fine.

And take song titles, for example. This is from

Song titles become less meaningful

With the death of record storesradio, and to a lesser extent, iTunes, the unit of music delivered to customers has shrunk. From the album, to the song, to now, the stream, music has been disentangled from it’s larger context. As such, we would expect that the names of albums and songs are uncorrelated to their musical success. One way to measure this is the number of unique words in a song title. Although there does appear to be an art to naming a hit song (or say book), the longer tail of music means more random song titles chosen by artists instead of record executives.

Number of unique words in song titles from 2000–2008 = 2113

Number of unique words in song titles from 2009–2017 = 2512

There were 19% more unique words in song titles in the post-Spotify era. In addition, the number of words in a song title has evolved.

There’s a lot more worth reading here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

Alan Cross has 38343 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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