How long should an album be? In minutes

How Long Should Your Album Be? In minutes.

Sometimes, you have written 5 great songs, but they only last 15-20 minutes. You don’t want to reduce the quality of the album by including filler tracks, but is your album long enough? I’ve wondered this question myself many times, so I looked to data to answer how long should your album be?

Your album should be at least 30 minutes long, but ideally between 40-48 minutes. Using data from Chart Masters, I analysed the top 500 best selling albums and their run times to identify the optimal length. The shortest album was 27:55, while the longest was 136 minutes, and the average was between 41 and 59 minutes.

However, this information only tells part of the story, presenting the most popular album lengths rather than necessarily the best. So, let’s explore the impact that album length can have on the success of your record.

The Most Popular Album Length

Using data from Chart Masters, I compiled a list of 500 songs with more than 5 million album sales. Once I removed compilations, live albums and movie soundtracks, I had a complete list of 470 albums. Then, by looking up the albums on Spotify and Discogs, I used the original track listing rather than a deluxe re-release to give me the run time for each album.

While the data on album sales from Chart Masters will never be complete and does not include every album with more than 5 million sales, by analysing 470 albums, the statistical error is less than +- 5%. And ultimately, any album that sells more than 5 million copies is successful by most peoples standards. So it provides a good list to analyse the optimal length.

Amongst the 470 albums with more than 5 million sales, the most popular length is 43 minutes and most albums are between 38 – 50 minutes. After excluding the 3 outliers that ran for over 93 minutes, the chart below presents the number of albums with different run times (rounded to the nearest minute).

As you can see, nearly all of the albums are between 37 and 66 minutes long, but many are between 40 – 48 minutes. Of course, while this tells us a lot about common best practices, it doesn’t help us find the optimal album length. For that, we need to consider the impact of length vs sales.

Is There Correlation Between Run Time and Sales?

Unfortunately, there is no direct correlation between the length of an album and the sales that album made. The chart below shows the average number of sales for albums of each track length.

As you can see, all run times on the list produce an average number of sales between 7.6 million and 16.5 million sales. Given the low quantity of albums below 37 minutes and above 78 minutes, it’s difficult to draw any real conclusions from these numbers.

And this makes sense. To think that with everything that goes into making an album, it being 43 minutes long will mean it is more likely to sell more copies does a huge disservice to the song writing, production, marketing and distribution of albums.

Does Album Length Impact Sales at all?

While there is no direct correlation between album length and sales, I wanted to see if there was any impact at all.

For this, I categorised the albums into 4 segments and see if the top selling albums were of more common lengths than others:

  • Albums with more than 30 million sales
  • Albums with 20 – 29 million sales
  • Albums with 10 – 19 million sales
  • Albums with 5 – 10 million sales.
No. of Album
MaxQuartile 3Quartile 1MinMedian
30 Million +8056.1542.354048
20-29 Million7760.7543.7253648
10-19 Million13262.541.73348
5-9 Million13658.442.12848

While the data still shows that there is little variation in the majority; the median is the same for all 4 categories, there is much less variety in the albums that sell more than 20 million copies. As you can see in the chart below:

While the boxes are around the same size, the total range of different album run times is a lot wider, suggesting that longer albums could sell 5-19 million albums, but are unlikely to sell more than 20 million albums. Indeed only 1 album longer than 62 minutes sold more than 30 million copies.

Of course, when you’re getting to these levels, I don’t think anyone would be unhappy with only selling 5 million copies.

So, does the length even matter?

Conclusions For Your Album Construction.

While the research finds that most high selling albums are between 40-48 minutes, there’s no correlation between the run time of your album and the number of sales or any other measure of success.

Provided your album is longer than 37 minutes and shorter than 62 minutes, I can confirm that it has every chance to sell more than 30 million records. And you can do what you would like to with that information.

While the data doesn’t answer the question of why albums should be a certain length, there is a good chance that it is to do with the length of time it takes for a band to create an album of a certain length, the attention span of the listener, and the opportunity to sell more additional records.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you might also like my analysis of track listings where I answer the question of how many songs your album should have.

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