The median length of Billboard Hot 100 songs dropped from over four minutes in 2000 to around three and a half minutes in 2018.
Music is changing because the way we consume music has completely changed.
Streaming is now king.
It's the biggest source of revenue in the music industry and a way for artists to bring new attention to their work.
So some music producers are changing the music they create to work the system in their favor.
But can chasing stream counts produce good music?
I'm Eduardo Araujo.
This is Quartz.
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The way an audience listens to a song has shaped the music of every era.
Radio spreads new sounds directly into our homes.
The invention of the smaller forty five RPM record gives birth to the single that we know today.
Cassette tapes with their portability and ease of overdubbing gives birth to the mix tape.
And now we are here.
Streaming makes up nearly half of all music revenue in the world.
With 232 million monthly listeners on the leading music platform Spotify, there is an unprecedented amount of data on who is listening and what they're listening to.
Now you have so much streaming data and information around, not just how many plays they're getting but what territory people are listening to them in, right, what their audience looks like.
Is it Millennial, is it older, right.
Like you can really use data to figure out who you want to get in front of, who you want to focus on in a way that you never could before.
We have engineering over here, this is Max, creating the products of the future.
Jeff Ponchik is the co-founder and CEO of Repost, a company that helps artists use data to get more streams and followers.
So was that like one of the first things you did was get yourself a great programmer.
Is that step number one?
Repost has only been around for three years and hand selects the artists it wants to work with.
Repost functions like a distributor.
Distributors used to sign deals with labels to act as middlemen between the label and the record stores.
But now companies like Repost help them reach an audience on their own.
Via places like SoundCloud or Spotify or YouTube.
Jeff estimates that less than 10 percent of Repost's clients actually live off their music revenue.
But it does open a new door to artists that wasn't there before in the age of the record label.
Like not everyone is going to be the next Beyonce, right?
But you might be able to make five ten thousand dollars a month then, you know, make a living doing what you love and not have to work at Starbucks anymore.
One way to maximize profit from streaming is understanding how payments are made.
The amount artists receive on a single play is minuscule.
Jeff says that on Spotify that number is somewhere around 0.004 cents per play.
To make any real money they need millions of streams, and that means playlists have become the gatekeepers to being heard.
On Spotify, it's all about getting in those big Spotify playlists, right?
That's how you get discovered.
Getting your first playlist is definitely very exciting.
It's just crazy like you never really expect that.
And all of a sudden your song gets a bunch of streams and you're like wow this is, this feels good, finally my work kind of paid off.
Some people are hearing it.
Twuan is a lo-fi hip hop producer from Salt Lake City.
He started making music at home in high school.
Now he's working with Repost and says he's living entirely off of his streaming revenue.
Getting on a playlist takes luck and strategy to catch the attention of a human curator, or game an algorithm.
But there's something simpler artist can do to increase profits.
Make songs shorter.
If you upload a song to specifically Spotify that's an hour long or you upload a song that's a minute long, the amount of revenue you're going to get for either/or is going to be the same per listen as my understanding.
You release an album with a ton of songs on it that are really short, so it can cycle through as many tracks as quickly as possible.
It's kind of a way to hack more revenue.
It's a matter of math.
Sixty one minute songs will make 60 times as much as a 60 minute song.
The structure of the song matters, too.
Spotify only pays for songs once the listener has passed the 30 second point.
This means the first 30 seconds are crucial.
What we hear in the first 30 seconds of the song has become almost an overture if you will.
If we were talking about a Broadway production, and we'll hear certain themes that we may hear reverberated again throughout the rest of the song.
While there are certainly deviations, traditionally songs are written in ABABCB structure.
But one tactic artists use to keep people engaged is to move that B, the chorus or the hook, to the very top of the song.
So that listeners are always waiting for the catchiest is part of the song to come back around again.
And you can hear the effects of that in modern pop.
Like with this song.
And this song.
And this song.
But beyond the data and the money, there's the craft of actually writing songs you're proud to put your name on.
For many artists, balancing true creativity with market driven needs is crucial.
I do see and acknowledge cynically that I could use different tactics to make money, but I don't want to spend my time thinking that way.
I think the biggest danger with streaming services is that artists aren't going to be encouraged to make commercially viable, challenging work because it's not how they make money.
Streaming music has utterly transformed the music industry.
It has transformed the music that we hear.
And it has transformed the way that we discover and consume music, in general, in profound ways that I think we're only just beginning to understand.
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