How many songs should an album have?

How Many Songs Should An Album Have? Analysing the top 500

So you’ve written a few songs and you’re wondering if you have enough for an album. Or maybe you have a lot of songs, but you’re considering whittling down to just the best ones for your album. I remember being in this exact situation as an aspiring musician but could never get a decent answer. So, I reviewed the top 500 selling albums worldwide to find out exactly how many songs should an album have?

An album should have a minimum of 5 songs, but ideally between 9 – 12 songs. Using research from Chart Masters, I reviewed the track listings for 470 studio album sales with more than 5 million sales and found that albums with 30 million or more album sales had no fewer than 8 songs, while only 2 had more than 12 songs. However, when including albums that sold more than 5 million copies, 4 albums had just 5 songs, while one had as many as 30. However, the majority had between 10 and 14, with an average of 12.

If we explore this information in more detail, we find some interesting lessons about how to construct your album

Most Popular Album Tracklist Length in Top 500 Songs

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 their track listings on Spotify and Discogs, I used the original track listing rather than a deluxe re-release.

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 clearly successful by most peoples measuring sticks.

The table below shows the number of album with different track quantities and the total album sales for each album length.

Songs On AlbumNumber of Albums with that many songsAlbum Sales by Album Length
5447,660,000.00
6212,650,000.00
7644,810,000.00
827277,665,000.00
947535,030,000.00
1078851,060,000.00
1165751,480,000.00
1285928,700,000.00
1344421,215,000.00
1439391,730,000.00
1523228,995,000.00
1629351,410,000.00
1711124,720,000.00
1810118,270,000.00
19445,630,000.00
20987,720,000.00
21111,600,000.00
2217,450,000.00
23115,745,000.00
24112,730,000.00
2500.00
26131,300,000.00
27217,065,000.00
28112,600,000.00
2917,130,000.00
30237,625,000.00

If you’re more visual like me, here’s a graph that demonstrates the results more clearly.

Most popular album length for songs with more than 5 million sales.

Very clearly, from this information, we can see that between 9 and 12 songs is the most popular, but some have as few as 5, while others have as many as 30.

While this data shows popular convention for album track listings, I wanted to go further to explore if the number of tracks impacted on sales.

Is There a Correlation Between Album Length and Record Sales?

From table 1, we found the total number of album sales for each track length. Furthermore, by dividing the total album sales by the total number of albums with each track list quantity, we could find the average sales by albums with each track listing. See the results in the table below.

While there is a notable spike for the album with 26 tracks on it (Pink Floyd’s The Wall was the only album with more than 16 tracks and over 30 million album sales), there is unfortunately, no correlation between album length and record sales.

To be honest, given everything that goes into writing, making, recording, promoting and selling a record, it would be surprising if album length was a significant factor in the sales performance of an album. However, there are some best practices. Indeed, the number of songs does have some impact on the ability for an album to generate more sales.

Does the Number of Songs On Your Album Impact Album Sales?

Amongst 470 studio albums with more than 5 million sales, the average album length was 12 songs. 4 albums had just 5 songs, while The Beatles’ (White Album) has the maximum 30 songs. However, most albums were between 10 and 14 songs.

To further investigate the impact of album length on sales, I segmented the listing into the following categories:

  • 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.
SongsTotal30 million +
Sales
20 – 29 million
Sales
10 – 19 million
Sales
5 – 10 million
Sales
Max3026203029
Quartile 31412141514
Quartile 1109.5101010
Min58555
Average121111.51212

I have laid out the results in the chart below:

No. of Songs by Album Sales Box Plot Comparison Chart.

As you can see from the data, the albums with more than 20 million sales were generally shorter. While the average across the 470 albums I analysed was between 10 and 14 tracks, only 2 of the 15 albums with 30 million + sales had more than 13 tracks, with most having between 10 and 12.

Additionally, while 19 albums had more than 20 songs, only 2 of those albums generated more than 20 million sales. However, most of the best selling albums were also not too short, with only Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here wielding less than 8 songs amongst the top 130 best selling albums

(Pink Floyd have by far the most interesting data in terms of track quantities, let me know in the comments if you would like me to share my finding in another post).

What About Streaming Albums?

Of course, by looking at album sales, we’re ignoring the most prominent way to listen to music nowadays and that’s streaming. The data for streaming is more complex. However, when analysing the top 25 most streamed albums on Spotify, I found that there was a much higher median album length of 17 songs. Below is the equivalent data for the most streamed albums:

Top Streamed AlbumsMinQuartile 1Quartile 3MaxMedian
No. of Songs111419.255317

Given that streaming quantities of albums consider the total streams across all songs on an album, this data is unsurprising. Ed Sheeran’s รท (Deluxe) is the most streamed album on Spotify with 12,055,474,893 streams. However, Perfect and Shape of You account for 43% of the total album streams, while Eraser accounts for just 1.6% of total streams. Therefore, the streaming data will favour longer albums.

Indeed, many record labels aim to capitalise on this by including a number of bonus tracks on the Spotify listing. This could be demo versions, live versions, original mixes, or pretty much anything. It’s because any additional streams generate revenues, and while the most popular songs on the album will account for most of the streams, these are quick wins that will generate additional streams from users.

Conclusions For Constructing Your Album.

The data tells us that your album should be between 9-12 songs, but your album can be any number of songs. However , considering everything that goes into selling an album, the number of songs is just one component.

While selling more than 5 million copies should be considered a successful album, those that sold more than 20 million copies were most commonly between 8 and 12 songs.

There are some statistical anomalies in terms of both short and long albums, however these were not usually the artist’s best selling or first album. These were released once the artist already had an established following who might buy their album based on their name alone.

In addition, album length is not only defined as the number of songs, but also the run time of the album (you can find out how many minutes your album should be here). For example, if you are a prog band that writes 8 minute songs, then 5 songs will be fine. If it’s your first album, you can always revisit additional songs for your second album. And if you’re listing it on Spotify, then add demo versions, live versions and alternative lyrics to your albums to boost the number of plays.

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Resources:

Chart Masters Album Sales: https://chartmasters.org/spotify-most-streamed-albums/

Chart Masters Spotify Streams: https://chartmasters.org/2017/10/best-selling-artists-albums-and-singles-of-all-time/https://chartmasters.org/2017/10/best-selling-artists-albums-and-singles-of-all-time/