Have you ever wondered why albums are with their specific lengths?
Was it always like this? When do we call a group of pieces an “album”? How does one decide when an album is finished?
Before it was easy; the technology would decide it and the “almost maximum length” of the LP/casette/CD/etc.’s capacity would be the expected average by the purchaser. As recording formats developed, a couple of minutes turned into a couple of songs, short collections, lengthy works and we have reached what we call nowadays as the “album standart” which is the average Audio CD length that has reigned the music industry longer than any other technology that came before it. But nowadays albums can go from half an hour to 2 hours, depending on the producer.
When the “average CD length” was ruling the world, an album had to be “long enough” or “short enough” to fit the Audio CD. Overly inspired bands and musicians would provide double CD albums, but for some considerable decades, an average length music album would be approximately 60 minutes, with the usual maximum of 74 minutes, besides a few exceptions of 80 minutes.
But nowadays, without being framed to a defined length by the physical format and technology, there are various ways of deciding on your album’s tracklist length. The way to decide an album’s length relies more and more on the musician’s artistic choices and release strategy in order to reach more audience, rather than mainstream expectations or technological limitations.
There were always books with a thousand pages next to books with less than a hundred pages on bookshelves, and the readers were okay with it, as the price of a book oftentimes altered depending on the length of the book (as much as its popularity). But the very short albums in the physical format would not be “worthy to buy” for most of the fans, since producing the physical copies (not the music but the copies) of a short or a long album would cost almost the same, there wouldn’t be as big a price difference between the two.
But just like the books, today the album lengths are varying more and more and audience are okay with it. Users of music streaming services do not feel a “price difference” in most of the platforms due to the stream economy rules being different than the printed music industry.
So, if your musical journey only requires 30 minutes of music spread through a few tracks, you are more than welcome to produce it in the short length now without the worry of needing to add more tracks to “complete the work”. In fact, short albums are on the rise for a monetization strategy, as they provide artists with more chances of engagement with their audience. Each release means ability to pitch various songs to all major stream platforms; each release means posting for the fans to hear about your new work on all social media platforms and create more engagement; each release means a new album cover design to communicate to your audience in a visual way; and each new album cover design makes your audience become visually aware of you.
If you are making music suitable for the background, providing your audience with a lengthy album can be preferable. Most of the atmospheric music audience like to stay with the same artist if they want the same “sound” to go on. For this audience, lengthy albums of 20 or even 30 tracks, or various albums with similar album cover designs will seem inviting.
Another reason to go for lengthy albums is due to a monetization strategy as well; as once steady engagement is created, your audience can stream twice the amount of tracks from your album if the album consists of 20 or 30 tracks, but nevertheless, we mustn’t skip mentioning that this method is usually applied by well established musicians with at least a couple of million listeners in their die hard fan communities!
And if you are making conceptual albums, a new era has begun where there are no minimums or maximums to your musical ideas, which will be the topic of our next article.