Social Question

Ivan's avatar

How, and when, did we all come to the agreement that a song should be roughly 5 minutes long?

Asked by Ivan (13384 points ) October 23rd, 2010

Obviously there are plenty of exceptions for this, but typically songs (especially those that air on the radio) are 3–7 minutes long. When did this become the standard? Is there some fundamental reason why we prefer songs to be this length? Why does it seem odd for a song to be 30 seconds long? Why do we often dislike songs that are 10+ minutes?

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15 Answers

kenmc's avatar

Ever since there was that doggie in the window.~

Basically ever since music became the norm as something to listen to for recreation.

I’d give the credit to musicians in the 20’s. If you’ll listen to blues musicians of those times, their songs are pretty much universally short of 6 minutes. The shortening of songs for them took place because of the recording technology of the time. Basically, it became easier to record the popular music of the time (the shit people wanted to here, aka *pop*ular music).

Before that, you needed a full symphony to record a track, simply because of the technology of the times.

So blame it on the banally recorded blues musicians that influenced the entirety of Western popular music.

DominicX's avatar

Most of the popular music songs I have are 3 minutes long, or at least between 3:00 and 3:59. 5 minutes seems long to me for popular music (maybe it’s because I listen to more pop and dance as opposed to rock?)

As a classical fan, I’m used to movements of symphonies that are over 10 minutes (or like the 5th movement of Mahler’s 2nd that is 35 minutes long).

Plucky's avatar

I think it originally had something to do with the engineering limitations in the 1920’s. Before the 5 min average ..it was standard to have songs around 3 min. This was because playing 3 min songs on the radio, left more room for advertising. Radio stations made much more money advertising those days.
The 5 min average stayed pretty much for commercial reasons. You can fit a reasonable amount of 5 min songs on an album. It stuck and became the norm.
If I find any links that describe it better than I can ..I’ll post it. I hope I made some sense ..lol.

Ivan's avatar

When I say 5 minutes, I mean as opposed to 1 or 50, not as opposed to 4 or 6.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I am all for songs that beat the 7 minute mark, I think it became the standard because it made it easier for radio stations to schedule commercials so it would be easier to bill for them (they know how many commercials they will have in a an hour in general).

YARNLADY's avatar

I thought it was as @Hypocrisy_Central says, the number of commercials you could fit into one hour.

genkan's avatar

It has to do with the attention span of listeners. I find that I can’t listen to a song for more than 4 minutes before I’m itching to press ‘Next’.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@genkan Maybe you need to listen to better bands? ;-)

kenmc's avatar

I love how answers that don’t answer the question get the GA’s but ones that do are ignored. F YEAH GENERAL SECTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

lillycoyote's avatar

The 5 minute song length was set by The Council of Trent (1545 to 1563). See also this link regarding some of the musical issues The Council of Trent had to deal with. I realize my sources don’t mention them addressing and codifying the 5 minutes or less song length specifically, but they obviously had a lot to deal with and it was a relatively minor issue.

Austinlad's avatar

All I know for sure is that as much as I love “The Long and Winding Road,” I couldn’t bear listening to it any longer than it is. ;-)

El_Cadejo's avatar

I think its because its long enough to get into the song but if its something you dont like, its not too long to force you to change the station.

That said, I try and play songs that arent 5min on my radio show. I opened up last week with a 16 min song :P

Zyx's avatar

Not all long songs lack variety either.
I’ve also heard some good songs that were only 2 minutes long or less.

What you’re seeing is a tip of the iceberg that sunk “Good Things” (now we can’t have it). People insist on having everything: movies, music, tv, books, paintings, photos, a life. That is a lot and you can only have so much and if you only have a little you’ll never get good. So “5” minute songs are a product of the fact that people are doing other stuff before, after and while listening to music.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Ivan Here’s a long list of long songs for you. They’re all songs that are 15 minutes or longer. I came across this and really thought that most of the really long songs would be from the late 60s and 70s but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

J0E's avatar

Yeah, I like what @uberbatman said. If it’s a song I don’t like I know it will be over in a few minutes, so I won’t change the station. Also, I think a lot of songs have radio versions that are shortened, but if you buy the album they would be in their regular length.

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