Why You Should Make More Short Songs

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Photo credit: BandLab

Let me start by saying, you can do whatever the heck you want as a musician.

But this post is about the growing trend of short songs, why you may or may not want to make more short songs, and seven examples of timeless short songs.

Let’s Define “Short Songs”

Before we talk about the benefits and downsides of making short songs, we have to define what a “short song” is. For the purpose of this article, let’s define a short song as between 30 seconds and 2:30 minutes.

We’ll say at least 30 seconds because that’s the minimum stream length required for Spotify to pay out a song. And we’ll cap it at 2:30 because we want it to be below the average song length of just over 3 minutes.

The Average Song Length Is Going Down

Since the 1990s, the average song length has been going down, settling at about 3:15 today, according to The Washington Post. And it may continue to decrease because “social media is nudging song lengths downward.”

“The attention span for any entertainment has changed a lot,” said Erika Nuri Taylor, a Grammy-nominated songwriter. “People are interested for two minutes and then they want to switch to the next thing – the next song, the next video, the next TikTok. It’s constant scrolling and bouncing around.”

For example, at this year’s Grammy Awards, 28 of the 144 nominated songs were under three minutes long. That’s 19% of the songs nominated. While in 2023, 14% of the songs nominated were under three minutes.

Now, I know the Grammy Awards are not the best representation of the music industry as a whole. It’s mainly just famous artists patting each other on the back. But it does somewhat match the downward trend of song length.

Are You Stuck…Or Is the Song Done?

As a songwriter, you have a folder on your phone or computer (or maybe a paper folder if you’re old-fashioned) with unfinished songs. I know this because I am also a songwriter. This is what songwriters do – start songs and only finish a small portion of them.

But ask yourself, did you get stuck on those songs? Or are some of them actually done? Who says a song has to have two or three verses, a chorus, and a bridge? Maybe the song just needed a verse and a chorus. Maybe it just needs a verse, refrain, verse, refrain. Maybe it’s simpler than you think it has to be.

These are really interesting questions to ask yourself. Because, as full-time indie artist Nic D says in the video above, the most common hangup for songwriters is trying to write one more verse. That extra verse can cause a song to stop dead in its tracks and never see daylight. Usually, it’s verse two that’s the obstacle.

Music has guidelines, but not rules. You can structure a song however you want. But you should never write more of a song just for the sake of making it “long enough.” Maybe the song is done, and maybe you just wrote a short song. Free yourself of the hard-and-fast rule that a song must be a certain length.

As the famous saying goes, “Done is better than perfect.” This means finishing something is better than working on it forever until you think it’s perfect. Perfect will continue to move away from you as time goes on because your taste will keep improving. So you will never reach perfect.

The Downsides of Short Songs

Now, there are some downsides to writing short songs (30 seconds to 2:30 minutes). Let’s briefly talk about them…

Less time to tell a story

If you’re a storytelling songwriter, you may feel constricted by short songs. It may feel like there’s less time for you to tell a story, and that can definitely be true.

Less time to build the song

Short songs mean there’s less time to build the song the way you may want to. If you want it to go from quiet and gentle to big and epic, it can be hard to do that in under 2-and-a-half minutes. So the musical journey may not feel long enough at times.

The Benefits of Short Songs

Now let’s talk about how short songs can be good for you as a songwriter and artist.

Can be more creatively fulfilling

I don’t need to tell you this because you already know it, but finishing a song feels so good. Even if it’s just an okay song, it’s rewarding to finish creating something that didn’t exist before. And writing a short song is easier to achieve and can lead to feeling more creatively fulfilled more often.

Could lead to more repeat plays

Short songs leave the listener wanting more if it’s a good song. So what do people do when they want more? They stream the song again.

Satisfies shorter attention spans

The average attention span is shorter than a goldfish. And short-form content seems to be shortening our attention spans too. For better or worse, short songs fit right in with the human attention span.

Can be more memorable

A song’s memorability is based on good, catchy songwriting. But if a song is shorter, that means it probably has fewer parts for the listener to remember. And this can increase the chances of a short song being more memorable.

Successful Artists Who Make Short Songs

Let’s look at some artists who are putting out short songs and succeeding, both independently and on a label.

Nic D

Indie artist Nic D shares his thoughts on short songs in the video above. He has about 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify. And he regularly puts out short songs, according to our definition. It’s rare to find a song of his over 3 minutes.

Connor Price

At first, artist/rapper Connor Price was a student of Nic D, learning from him how to succeed as an indie. But he’s since surpassed Nic D in monthly Spotify listeners at give or take 7 million. And like Nic D, he puts out a lot of short songs.

Dan Reeder

Dan Reeder is a visual artist and songwriter who makes his own album covers, instruments, and recording gear. Phoebe Bridgers cited him as an influence, and her band covered one of his songs.

And he has no problem putting out very short songs, many times 1 minute or less. He’s doing alright too, getting about 135,000 monthly listeners on Spotify with his top song currently at 4.7 million streams.

Grindcore music

There’s a genre called Grindcore that combines elements of heavy metal and punk, and it’s common for bands in this genre to experiment with song lengths. Bands will make songs that are double-digits long. And many bands, like Pig Destroyer, write very short songs, sometimes under 1 minute.

Lomelda

Hannah Read, AKA Lomelda, releases plenty of short songs. Currently, seven of her top 10 songs on Spotify fit our definition of “short.” And she has over 650,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Short Songs That Have Lasted Generations

There are so many short songs that have become classics, even being covered by more modern artists. Here are seven examples…

Nick Drake – “Pink Moon” – 2:04

Paul Simon – “April Come She Will” – 1:47

Aretha Franklin – “Respect” – 2:27

Ray Charles – “Hit the Road Jack” – 1:59

Louis Armstrong – “What A Wonderful World” – 2:19

Fleetwood Mac – “Never Going Back Again” – 2:14

The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Daydream” – 2:19

What’s the Takeaway Here?

The main point is, don’t be afraid to write, record, and release short songs.

You obviously don’t have to, you can do whatever you want. But it could be a fun experiment in creative limitation. Limiting yourself to a 2-minute song could force you to get to the point in your lyrics, write only catchy melodies, and create a song people will listen to over and over.

At the very least, try writing a short song as an exercise. Just see what happens. You don’t have to release it, but see what you end up with.

Lastly, it’s not about the length of the song that determines its success. What causes a song to do well is whether or not it makes people feel something they want to feel. So focus on feel first, length second.