In Futurehit.DNA, I discuss various strategies on how long an artist should make a song to perform well in today’s digital world. As YouTube has grown, the importance of having your video perform there has also increased. So, in a YouTube environment, what is the ideal length for your video? We can now thank Billy Chasen for some strong insight to that question.
Billy, the founder of turntable.fm, decided to find “the perfect YouTube video length”. He wrote a bit of code to pull the duration of the top 950 videos on YouTube. The answers should not be surprising to my long-time readers. Many of the popular videos are about 4 minutes in length.
The interesting thing is that the four minute length seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The most popular videos are at 4 minutes because they are music videos. And the most popular songs in general are about 4 minutes in length to still conform to radio needs. So it’s hard to tell if the average viewer finds 4 minutes as the ideal length, or if the music rules and relative popularity on YouTube are responsible.
Perhaps the more interesting bit of information is what Billy calls a “less defined wall” at about 2 minutes. When he takes out music videos, he finds that many popular videos are around that 2 minute mark. His suggestion is to make music videos 4 minutes long, and non-music videos about 2 1/2 minutes long.
But that 2 minute wall actually has a lot more to it. I’ve often seen and discussed the two minute point being a factor when it comes to music as well. Outside of a song’s intro, the time I’ve found people are most likely going to stop listening to a song is about the 2 minute mark. More specifically, it’s usually right after the second chorus, which often occurs at about that spot. This is why songwriters often stress the need for a compelling bridge at this point. If you fail to re-engage the listener here, they may not stay listening to the whole song. I also refer to this as the “mix tape mentality” whereby kids are accustomed to hearing about 2 minutes on a DJ mix before it goes into a new song.
My suggestion based on this data is to pay close attention to both points of the song and the video. The YouTube data is strongly suggesting the audience fatigue at this moment, so make sure you do things in your song and video at that point to re-engage the audience. Also be very cautious about songs going longer than 4 minutes. I still advocate for longer songs, but be cautious on how much longer. And if your song is 3:20, don’t worry too much about alienating if you extend it to 3:50 (unless it’s clearly a boring extension).
It’s great to see new data reinforce the ideas I’ve been looking at for several years. Pay attention to these metrics and you’ll certainly increase your odds of succeeding in the new music paradigm.
Special thanks to Shamal Ranasinghe for bringing Billy’s post to my attention.