How Long Should an Album Be? Three Important Things To Know

We’ve come upon a time in music when nearly every aspect of the artistic experience needs to be reevaluated. With the deaths of the record label, radio, and the traditional album format, artists and smart music industrialists are facing a number of crossroads that are pressing them to adjust to the times.

In NPR Music’s column, “A Rational Conversation,” writer Eric Ducker spoke with Pitchfork’s editor-in-chief, Mark Richardson, about an important obstacle that artists need to overcome: the question of album length.

In the Q&A, Richardson urges artists to consider how the listener consumes music as they craft their projects. As the two discuss the modern day truths and the fate of music albums, Richardson brings up a number of relevant, eye-opening points—useful insights for artists who are aiming to adapt to the trends and set new standards for the future of the music industry.

There Exists A Skepticism

With any album that has a running time over 65 minutes, there’s a degree of hesitance from any listener with a tight schedule. Even if they’re hoping to reach the album-oriented consumer, artists need to acknowledge the reality that people simply have limited time to listen to music. Richardson points out, “In general, my immediate response [to an album with a 70-minute running time] is skepticism, and I worry that it will be a chore. I get excited when I see an album that is 38 minutes or something, and I think, They really pared it down to the best stuff. When I see 70 minutes, I start to wonder how often I will be hearing the back half.”

Times Are Changing

When the LP was first introduced, the general rule of thumb was “the longer, the better.” Once digital sharing came into play, albums suddenly became as long as the listener wanted, since they were given the freedom to hand-select the individual songs they wanted in their libraries. But the effort to preserve the traditional format can fall short in the quick-moving reality of the industry’s current climate.

“I think less in terms of indulgence and more in terms of editing and indecisiveness; there is something to be said for trimming things back and leaving the music with the most force,” says Richardson. “Every good band should be allowed a White Album, where everything is kind of tossed in there, but those should really only come every five albums or so, and it should really be when an artist is at the peak of their power.”

Cater To The Listener

Richardson then brought up a good argument about making a product that’s consumer-based versus creating art that’s an unfiltered expression of the artist. He agreed that the answer is highly dependent on the musician’s genre, current fan base, and position in the industry’s social pyramid, but he added this:

“Going forward, smart artists will be thinking about how albums fit into people’s lives, how they actually use them, and will tailor them so their audience really does get to experience them the way the artist intends.”

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