Joeboy’s Baby is easily one of my favourite songs from 2019. The lyrics are catchy and Joeboy performed it to absolute perfection. But the first time I played it, just when I was processing it, the song ended. At two minutes and forty-six seconds (2:46), Baby is short.
Another Joeboy hit single, Beginning, is even shorter. The song clocks in at two minutes and thirty-eight seconds (2:38). Both songs are in the top 10 of Boomplay’s hot 100 Nigerian songs. Combined, the two songs have accumulated over 5.5 million streams on Spotify alone.
In fact, Baby is Joeboy’s longest song from his last five. The rest are below two minutes and forty seconds. But Joeboy is hardly the only one doing this.
Am I a Yahoo Boy and Soapy, both hit songs by Naira Marley, the controversial artist, are under three minutes; the former was two minutes and thirty seconds. Kizz Daniel has released seven songs in 2019, only one is above three minutes.
Alternative music artist, Adekunle Gold’s last three songs are under three minutes. His recent hit songs, Before You Wake Up and Kelegbe Megbe are just under three minutes. Both songs have been played over 3 million times on Spotify.
Mr Eazi’s 2019 hit song Doyin which has over 2.4 million streams on Spotify is just two minutes and thirty-four seconds. In fact, his 2018 album Life is Eazi Vol 2, he had 15 songs, but only three songs are more than three minutes long.
Burna Boy is arguably one of Nigeria’s biggest artists presently. African Giant, his hugely successful album, was released in July. The 19-track album averaged three minutes per song (3:04). But it was shorter than his 2018 album, Outside, a 12-track album that averaged three minutes and twenty-one seconds (3:21).
So is this a new trend? Why are Nigerian songs getting shorter?
Shorter attention spans
The first explanation has to do with attention span.
A general problem on the internet, people’s attention span is reducing as the digital era continues to overwhelm them with content. According to research by Microsoft, people now lose concentration after only just eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in the year 2000.
“Before the streaming era, what we had was something I call ‘physical music’ which was that you had to buy physical CDs,” said Sess, a popular Nigerian music producer who produced Adekunle Gold’s recent hit singles: Before You Wake Up and Kelegbe Megbe.
Back then, “you were at the mercy of the radio stations and the DJs, and your exposure to music was limited,” he added. This scarcity helped to create loyal fans, “people that were fans of artists because they buy albums, they are attached to albums.”
He explained that in the past, “people had the patience to listen to albums, to listen to a body of work and to actually follow artists.”
But with streaming and the digital era, everything changed. “With streaming, you had millions of songs at your disposal and this shortened the attention span of the average listener,” Sess explained. “Nobody has the time to listen to three, four minutes of music anymore.”
In Burna Boy’s last album, the longest song, Another Story (four minutes long) had the least number of streams (1.7m streams); that’s excluding a one minute skit which had 992,000 streams.
This reality, Sess explains, has affected how he produces songs too. “How do I capture the essence of a song as quickly as I can?”
“I don’t believe there’s a set rule or structure [for music],” said Daniel Orubo, senior editor at Zikoko “but I’ve realised that the longer a song is, the more likely it is to lose steam towards the end.”
So “artists tend do dive right into the verses for shorter songs, instead of kicking off with the chorus,” he concluded.
Which brings us to the second reason some Nigerian artists may be shortening their songs: streaming.
Shorter songs = More streams and revenues?
To gain more streams and more streaming revenue, Nigerian artistes may want to shorten their songs. To be clear, the economics of streaming is relatively complicated and different across streaming platforms. But universally, a 30-second play counts as a stream.
Different platforms pay artists different amounts based on a number of factors including users’ location, free or paid subscriber, and the stature of the artist. Depending on the platform, Sess estimates that one million streams could fetch an artist between $8,000 and $10,000.
Burna Boy’s album, African Giant, has been streamed 117 million times on Spotify alone. His single, On The Low, recorded the most streams with a whopping 33 million plays. The song is just a little over three minutes. In fact, his most streamed songs are under three minutes and fifteen seconds (<3:15) each: On the Low (33m streams), Gbona (14.6m streams), Anybody (11.8m streams) and Gum Body (10.8m streams).
Estimates say Spotify pays between $0.004 and $0.008 per stream. If we use that calculation, Burna Boy’s album has earned at least N169 million ($468,000) so far from just Spotify. Other platforms offer higher rates: Napsters ($0.0190), Tidal ($0.0125), Google Play ($0.0068) and Deezer ($0.0064). African Giant is available on all of them.
This is stunning, especially for Nigeria where piracy has affected the creative industry. Whether it’s a book, a movie, a software or an album, pirates including websites that support free downloads have made it difficult for creatives to earn from their work.
Because of this reality, record sales are not a major revenue stream for the typical Nigerian artist; instead, their money comes from concerts and endorsement deals. Unfortunately, these are limited markets, and concerts are quite stressful and are a financial gamble.
Streaming offers an entirely new opportunity for Nigerian musicians. “Streaming is the future,” Sess shares, “for an artist to survive in this age you have to look at streaming.”
But should the focus on streaming make songs shorter? Sess says no. “I don’t think that the streaming platform should determine how long your song should be.”
He shares that while artists should consider the playback value of their songs, the length of their music should be at their own discretion and what they want to achieve.
Sess explains that: “if you are an alternative artist, your music is different. You may want to create an experience, a 5 minutes song that tells the story. So it all depends on what you want to achieve and you might still get millions of streams on that.”
“And trust me, Nigerian artists are making money off this,” he added.
This is true for big Nigerian acts like Wizkid and Davido who have the clout and the fan base willing to listen to all the lyrics of their songs. But for others, shorter songs is a rewarding creative effort that could earn them more streams.