The answer depends on who you ask. In the 80s, a song’s length was considered in a similar, but more subtle fashion to the length of a movie poster.
I asked for “16 bars” of this song, but it was a little confusing for most people
“That is an awful lot of songs,” a reporter with the Chicago Tribune once said. “It is just not a useful measurement… You really don’t need 16.”
By the time the ’80s ended, the music industry was in a panic. The American press was obsessed for years with the length of music and the number of albums sold. The same people who were screaming about the length of songs were also pushing for the release of albums that were more than 20 minutes long. While these efforts never amounted to much, a few of them were successful, like the “Shawty Lo” music video by Jodeci, or the album-length movies (which, to the best of my knowledge, only came out in ’81 and ’82).
And by 1988, I started calling a song “overlong” as opposed to “short.” The average length of American songs had gone down to 12.2 seconds, according to the music industry statistics, which became the standard for measuring “overlong” music for the rest of the decade. The press continued to refer to all songs as “overlong,” even though a few songs were actually very short. A quick Google search, “how long is this piece of music?” turns the results up a couple of pages.
And then something interesting began to happen: The American music industry began to embrace the metric system once again, and its marketing department decided to go a step further and change the word “overlong” to “averagely long,” making the most of its extra space on a song page at the end of the first three bars.
In other words, the record companies were once again going for the longer song. By ’87, the average length of a music album was 11.4 seconds, making the number of tracks shorter by about 3 percent. The average length of a song, for an album, was 11.4 seconds by 1988, though the record industry data on this wasn’t very precise. Most of the album length was attributed to the first three bars.
Still, many of the albums released between 1988 and 1991 still had a song’s average length between 11.4 and 14 seconds. At the time, this
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