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HutchFan

In Your Opinion, Is There Such a Thing as an Ideal Album Duration?

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CDs became the dominant medium right around the time that I was first getting into jazz, and I remember reading music critics talking about the duration of the format, wondering if a 75-minute (or more) album experience was too long.  At the time, I thought: "What's not to like? You can just turn it off if you lose interest, right???"

As I've grown older, I suppose my thinking has changed.  Partly, it might just be that my attention span has grown shorter -- no doubt about that. (For me, this is true of both music-listening and reading. Age has a way of making that happen. ;) )  But I think the evolution of my thinking is attributable to more than that.

I'm beginning to wonder if an ideal album duration might be more like 35 to 45 minutes -- the length of an LP -- instead of the 65 to 80 minutes that's common with CDs.  Of course, this assumes that a listener is still interested in sitting down and listening to an "album" as a cohesive, unified experience -- rather than just listening to a series of tunes.  I know that "album listening" is WAY less common these days -- but it's still my model for thinking about recorded music.  If someone asks me for a musical recommendation, I don't think about single tracks.  I'm almost certainly going to recommend an album, regardless of format -- whether it's a CD or LP or download.

A possible analogue: A movie that's longer than 2 hours better be pretty darn good -- or your average viewer is going to lose interest. The industry has settled on a convention that says 100 minutes or so is about right, a good movie length. I'm wondering if an 75-minute CD is the approximate equivalent of a 2.5 hour movie. Sure, it can be done. But it better be some DARN good music; otherwise, something is lost. It's hard to maintain cohesiveness and momentum during an experience that goes on for too long. So, just like a fidgety theater-goer in an over-long movie, the music listener loses attention, the mind wanders, and some of the power of the music is sapped.

One last thought: I bet there are some long-time jazz fans who were listening to 78s and felt the same way when LPs came along. ;)  "What?!?!? 35 minutes is too long. Those soloists are just dragging on forever!"  I realize that.  Who knows what's best; there's probably no such thing!  I just wanted share some of my reflections on this interesting intersection between our experience of music and technology.

So... what do you think?

Edited by HutchFan

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I don't claim to be representative of most people, but I have no problem with length provided the  music justifies it to me (of course, totally subjective).   Finishing up a 4CD/5 hour box set of Zoot Money 60's recordings right now, all done in one sitting while I work.  Other things I can't stand 2 minutes of.  

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Now if someone can convince a lot of young musicians fresh out of college that 75 minutes of their originals is all too often a bit too much.

 

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I like them when they’re 40-45 minutes. I think that’s a good length. 

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It depends on the music. Gene Harris Trio +1 was released on LP first if I am not mistaken, and actually does a fade on the last track. Most people who have heard it love this combo of Gene and Mr. Turrentine, even the ones who think Blue Hour is a "snooze".  I think everyone who does enjoy it would not at all mind another 2-3 songs, had it been issued on CD in the first place.

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9 minutes ago, felser said:

I don't claim to be representative of most people, but I have no problem with length provided the  music justifies it to me (of course, totally subjective).   Finishing up a 4CD/5 hour box set of Zoot Money 60's recordings right now, all done in one sitting while I work.  Other things I can't stand 2 minutes of.  

That's interesting, felser. I guess I have a different perspective on box sets.

I usually find it easier to get a foothold on music in box sets when I re-sequence the music back into the albums -- like the music was when it was originally released.  (Obviously, this doesn't hold true for music from the 78 era.)  For example, when I ordered Mosaic's Art Blakey 1960 Jazz Messengers set back in the day, the music was much more meaningful (digestible?) to me when I divvied up the tracks and re-sequenced the music as it was released on the original LPs. I still tend to listen to listen to (and think about) that music as Like Someone in Love or A Night in Tunisia or The Big Beat rather than The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Art Blakey's 1960 Jazz Messengers -- even though I'd never even heard most of that music before buying that set.

Maybe I just have an "album predilection." ;) 

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For me, box sets are a different animal.  In each cd, you're obviously going to get 60 minutes plus and different albums.  In box sets I have no problem with lengthy cds.  

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No, 'an album' is an artificial construct and in the post-physical artifact era an individual piece of music, or collection of such,  can last just as long as it needs to without concern for filling up any particular package.

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In the pre streaming world, how was an album (LP, and then CD) be an artificial construct? There was only so much music you could put on the medium then being used.  In the streaming era, you may have a point, although the amount of music may be dependent on how much music the artist wants to release (how much will the buying public want to hear) or the label (unless self released) thinks should be released.  

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In the LP days, I was very content with 35-40 minutes.  Now with box set CDs, I'm good for about 60 minutes; then I need something entirely different.

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In the old LP days, 25-30 minutes per side was a luxury. Miles Davis CBS releases used to regularly deliver on that (good old Teo).

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Brad, I remember when Bob Dylan said (maybe mid-'90s) that most people had an attention span of only 20 minutes, and that length would be suitable for an album!

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43 minutes ago, GA Russell said:

Brad, I remember when Bob Dylan said (maybe mid-'90s) that most people had an attention span of only 20 minutes, and that length would be suitable for an album!

In the internet age, where you have a lot of information (too much, in my opinion, because how can you consume it all), I'll bet that number has gone down. 

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In a sense, they are too long nowadays.  You wonder if Kind of Blue and Brilliant Corners would be quite so classic if they ran to 70+ minutes. 

It's not uncommon for me to break a CD into three listening blocks, even the really good ones.  Maybe some of this due to being conditioned to not simply original album length, but SIDE length.  And few people today can muster a long attention span even for the things they love.

 

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1 hour ago, Brad said:

In the pre streaming world, how was an album (LP, and then CD) be an artificial construct? There was only so much music you could put on the medium then being used.  In the streaming era, you may have a point, although the amount of music may be dependent on how much music the artist wants to release (how much will the buying public want to hear) or the label (unless self released) thinks should be released.  

It's "artificial" 'cause it's based on a physical unit of commerce, not on any musical consideration.

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38 minutes ago, danasgoodstuff said:

It's "artificial" 'cause it's based on a physical unit of commerce, not on any musical consideration.

I really have no idea what that means. Could you please elaborate. 

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Too many CDs wander on for too long. I think chunks of music the length of LP side are just about perfect.

If you really want to get to know a piece then 78s make for really concentrated listening. It's usually all over in 3mins , then you've got to decide flip it over, play it again or play another disc. My sense of wonder and appreciation for what Satch did on his Hot 5s and 7s improved massively with playing them on 78s.

 

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13 minutes ago, Brad said:

I really have no idea what that means. Could you please elaborate. 

Not sure how I can explain any better, maybe someone else can take a shot?  An LP or CD is a physical thing you sell.  A piece of music (or related bunch of pieces) is a conceptual thing realized in a particular performance and/or recording.  The latter may or may not fit (comfortably or at all) on the former.  Two different things that's all.  Perhaps 'artificial' wasn't the best word, 'synthetic'?

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I now understand what you mean but the physical and other considerations (financial) always affect the music. Nothing operates in a vacuum. 

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1 hour ago, Simon Weil said:

As long as it takes.

:tup

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24 minutes ago, jlhoots said:

:tup

And that's 22:30 for side A, 21:40 for side B.  Or else! :angry:

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There's quite a few now-classic albums" that are classic to me for one side of an LP.

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

There's quite a few now-classic albums" that are classic to me for one side of an LP.

Good point.  I came of age in the lp era and 35-45 feels about right for me, although when I still play lps, 18-20 minutes seems to fly by.  For me it is an attention span thing and a perception (not by any means a fact) that beyond say 50-55, you are throwing some filler in there.  Lately I have been grooving on the relatively new Bill Evans set called "On A Monday Evening" which comes in at 48 or so and seems perfect.  If I want more, I just play it again :)

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

There's quite a few now-classic albums" that are classic to me for one side of an LP.

And an old cliche is the double album "that could have made a great single album".  And a full CD is a double album in length.  Of course, some of the sprawl of double albums was part of the thrill, but there are a lot of 75 minute CD's that don't have that artistic sense.   2 LP's of the Mothers of Invention's "Freak Out" had a purpose, as did Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde", the Allman Brothers's "Live at the Fillmore East" and "Eat a Peach", the White Album, the Byrd's "(Untitled)" etc etc etc regardless of what you thought of the purpose.  

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