TikTok killed the radio star?


Image from TechCrunch

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In the new generation of popular music, the standard medium for listening to music has shifted to almost exclusively digital streaming. What does this have to do with song length? On average songs streamed on Spotify earn $0.0033 per stream. However, almost all streams are treated the same. 20 one-minute songs would earn 20 times the amount of money for one 20-minute song in the same amount of time. Because of this, it makes sense that artists would be inclined to make shorter songs in order to maximize their profit.

To compare this generation’s popular music to the previous, I took the top three songs on the Billboard charts from the week of December 2nd in 2022 and 1972.  Based on this statistic, popular songs from 2022 are on average 1:06 shorter than they were 50 years ago.

Caleb Bodmer, a sophomore in ISP, has written and performed as a guitarist. When asked why there has been a shift in the music industry, he identified a significant factor.

“Music today focuses on the lyrics, whereas the music of the previous generation was more on the balance of musicianship,” said Bodmer.

Another factor that is correlated with his claim is the shift in what genre is generally considered popular music. According to Spotify Metadata, Hip-Hop has dominated the highest streamed songs, closely followed by Pop which is a term that changes with each generation. 

Arun Ghosh, alumni, founder of the Rock Band Club in 2018, and member of the songwriting club, currently attends Washington and Lee University and records original music. 

“For exploring new songs, the length is not as important to me as hearing a hook in the first 15 to 30 seconds,” Ghosh said.

The hook of a song is a musical phrase or passage that is repeated to catch the listener’s attention and is considered the “catchy” part of the song. Due to the catchiness and recognizability of hooks, popular songs put greater emphasis on these.

TikTok, a social media service has made an enormous impact and influence on the music industry. Many of the most popular songs today made their start on TikTok, and because of this, many have declared TikTok to be “the new radio.” 

With this influence, TikTok has driven the changes in what makes music popular, and what kind of music becomes the most popular. According to a study by WIRED, the most popular TikTok averages between 21 to 34 seconds. If the average person will only hear less than 35 seconds of a song being used, creators have to be selective in what parts of songs to use in that short period of time. And with creators writing songs using TikTok as a platform, it makes economic and logical sense to create shorter songs.