Keeping in mind how quickly a listener can change songs today, has technology been changing the standard length of a song intro?
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Technology has been catering to the short attention span of humans, and it’s only getting worse (or better, depending on your view). It took considerably more effort 30 or 40 years ago to change records if you didn’t like what you were hearing. You were far more likely to just choose something, drop the needle and listen to it. Today, however, it’s a matter of seconds – the length of time it takes to click a mouse or tap an icon – to change your mind. The question is: has this affected how hit songs are structured?
Every time a new technology has come along, music has been affected. A great example is the impact that the new recording industry of the early 20th century had on ragtime music. Famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin always admonished that ragtime should never be played quickly. But the 10-inch disks used in the early 1900s, with their maximum recording time of about 3-and-a-half minutes, necessitated quicker tempos so that the song would fit.
So I wondered what the effect of today’s technological advancements, specifically the ease with which listeners can click off of one song and onto another, might be having on the way songs are structured. Have itchy fingers and impatient listeners changed the standard length of the pop song intro?
The answer might surprise you. Forty years ago, the year-end Billboard charts of 1971 saw Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” at the top of the charts. The average length for song intros of the top 10 in that year was 10.9 seconds.
Here in 2011, Adele is at the top of the charts with “Someone Like You” off her enormously successful album 21. I was expecting song intros might be a little shorter, reflecting the concern producers might have over the ease with which listeners can click to a new song.
However, you’ll find that it’s not the case. The average length for song intros of the current top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart is 14.1 seconds.
But two of the songs currently in the top 10 – “Pumped Up Kicks” (Foster the People) and “Party Rock Anthem” (LMFAO) have intros considerably longer than the average, both over 30 seconds long. So taking those two songs out of the equation gives you an average song intro length of 9.6 seconds, only about 1 second shorter than hits from 40 years ago.
So in the final analysis we find that impact of technology on the length of a song intro has been minimal. In general, it remains a fairly constant guideline to get into Verse 1 before the 15 second mark. (Half of the current hit songs have intros that are 13- or 14-seconds long.)
The other important structural concern for songwriters is the length of time it takes to get to the chorus. An analysis of hit songs today shows us that getting to the chorus by the 45-second mark is the ideal.
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