This article features a small number of highlights and takeaways culled from the Hit Songs Deconstructed Trend Report. The full report provides you with a detailed look at the key hit songwriting trends that define all of the songs that land within the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 each quarter. Each report spans a one-year period across 25+ categories. To read the full report, click here.
The third quarter of 2014 saw 20 songs charting within the Billboard Hot 100 top 10. Amongst them were the chart-topping new arrivals Fancy, Rude and All About That Bass, as well as the multi-quarter mainstays All Of Me, Happy and Problem.
There were a number of key hit songwriting trend shifts that took place during the quarter, spanning categories including song form, primary instrumentation and lyrical themes, to name a few of many. Three of the most pronounced, however, were shifts in song length, intro length and first chorus occurrence.
As you’ll see, these trend shifts are all interrelated and support the “fruit fly factor.”
The average length of a top 10 hit reached its lowest level in over a year, dropping from 3:52 in Q2 down to just 3:33 by the end of Q3. This is due, in part, to the influx of shorter songs such as All About That Bass, Bang Bang and Maps, which caused the 3:00 – 3:29 range to skyrocket.
On the flip side, only two of the new top 10 arrivals landed over 4:00 in length (Anaconda and Latch), in contrast to the eight that dropped out by the end of Q2. This caused the 4:00+ range to nosedive from a 44% majority in Q2 down to just 20% by the end of Q3.
The average length of a top 10 intro also reached its lowest level in over a year, decreasing from twelve seconds in Q2 down to just nine seconds by the end of Q3. This was due to songs such as Bang Bang (0:02), Shake It Off (0:06) and Break Free (0:07) entering into the top 10 for the first time. As a result, the 0:01 – 0:09 intro length category skyrocketed from just 25% of songs in Q2 up to a record setting 53% of songs by the end of Q3.
Just as interesting was the drastic drop in songs that feature their intro landing in the moderately short (0:10 – 0:19) range. Following a one-year plus peak of 70% back in Q2, it plunged down to just 41% by the end of Q3. Note that this is the first time in over a year that this category has not been in the majority.
The reason for the drastic decline was partly due to 10 of the songs that charted within the top 10 during Q2 (but didn’t make it back in during Q3) having their intro fall within this range. This, coupled with the fact that only three of Q3’s new arrivals did, left a deficit of seven songs during the third quarter of the year.
Not surprisingly, the one thing that remained constant over the past year (and then some) was the minimal amount of songs that have their intro landing at or over 20 seconds in length. During Q3, Wiggle was the sole representative, with an intro length of 24 seconds.
By the end of the third quarter, first choruses on average were occurring earlier than they had been all year, dropping from 0:42 in Q2 down to just 0:33 in Q3. The three categories that saw the most stringent shifts were the moderately early, moderately late and late first chorus occurrence categories.
The moderately early (0:20 – 0:39) category skyrocketed over the past couple of quarters, increasing from just 15% of songs back in Q1 up to an astounding 47% by end of Q3. Note that this is the first time that this, or any other category for that matter, has been more popular than the moderately late (0:40 – 0:59) category all year.
On the flip side, the moderately late (0:40 – 0:59) and late (1:00+) first chorus occurrence categories hit their lowest level in a year, dropping down to 26% and 5% of songs, respectively. Latch was the only song during the quarter that has its first chorus landing over one minute in length.
Engaging the “Fruit Fly”
Shorter intros, shorter songs and earlier hitting choruses all equate to one thing – writers are in tune with the ever-increasing “fruit fly” attention span of their intended audience. Getting to the “meat” and “payoff” of a song as quickly as possible is more important than ever, due to easily distracted wandering minds.
Keeping songs on the shorter end of the spectrum means that all of the “good stuff” is crammed into a smaller package, which helps to keep the listener engaged at all times. Before they know it, the song is over, and they are left with the “false ending” – a technique found in many mainstream hits which leaves the listener “hanging” and wanting more.