It’s a big moment when an artist releases their first album… But what exactly is an album? How many songs go into an album and who decides what is considered an album, anyway?
9-12 songs (tracks) about 30 to 40 minutes in length is the usual length of an album. The length of an album is unofficial but is based on the physical limitations of vinyl records. Many recording artists embraced the limitations and released groups of songs meant as a single artistic statement.
What Determines If Your Record Is an Album?
Some examples of how Albums are classified:
iTunes considers any record that is 7 tracks or more as an album. iTunes will consider a record that is 30 minutes or longer is 6 tracks or less but 30 minutes or longer,…
Spotify will categorize your release as an album if it is 30 minutes or longer. If it contains 7 or more tracks.
The Recording Academy, known for the Grammy Awards, considers any record that is 5 tracks or more with a total length longer than 15 minutes as an Album.
Why are albums this length?
In the early days of recorded music artists released music on vinyl records of many different lengths.
Record companies (especially Columbia and RCA Victor) were constantly competing with each other, trying to win market dominance for their proprietary music format.
Finally, by the mid-1950s it was common for music to be released on 12-inch (300 mm) 33 1⁄3 rpm LPs that could hold about 40 minutes total (originally 23 minutes each side).
Artists could finally release a collection of songs that could be played continuously on one record without the need to flip sides or change discs.
This music format became dominant for many decades afterwards until the CD started to gain in popularity in the 1990s.
Famous albums: Lengths and # of Tracks:
Here are some of the best-selling albums, ever. Looking at the list, you’ll notice some are quite long, while others just in under 40 minutes.
The number of tracks hovers around 12 for earlier albums, later albums have a lot more tracks (and could be longer).
Earlier albums tended to be shorter, while more recent albums tend to be longer because the record (or CD) could actually hold more songs.
‘Rubber Soul’ by The Beatles 34:55, 10 tracks. Released 1965.
‘Pet Sounds’ by The Beach Boys 35:57, 13 tracks. Released 1966.
‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd 42:32, 10 tracks. Released 1973.
‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson 42:19, 9 tracks. Released 1982.
‘Come On Over’ by Shania Twain 60:06, 16 tracks. Released 1997.
‘Hybrid Theory’ by Linkin Park 37:45, 12 tracks. Released 2000.
‘21’ by Adele 48:12, 11 tracks. Released 2011.
‘The Eminem Show’ by Eminem 77:28, 20 tracks. Released 2002.
How many songs should you put on your album?
If you’re a songwriter or artist, the question will inevitably come up, “How many songs should I put on my album?”
There are so many factors at play that it’s difficult to answer simply. If you’re a new artist without a fanbase the objective of your latest release might be to help market yourself. A more established artist would be looking to have a product to sell and build a reputation.
Does the concept of an “Album” matter anymore in the age of Digital Music?
The idea of an album has been around for so long now (almost 100 years) that it has become part of the culture of consuming recorded music.
Even though there are no physical limitations, digital music is still released as ‘albums’ even though it could be as short or as long as the artist wants it to be.
The market and what fans are willing to buy an album of about 10-12 songs and 30-40 minutes in length, even in a digital format.
As long as that remains the norm, we can count on the album sticking around for some time to come.
How many songs should I write before releasing an album?
By now you’re probably wondering how many songs you should write if you want to release an album.
It could be tempting to focus on writing “10 perfect songs” but it’s very unlikely that your next 10 songs are going to fit perfectly together on an album.
Many successful songwriters are constantly writing songs. When it’s time to release an album, they choose the best collection of songs that fit well together and release those as an album.
This is not even taking into account the “happy accidents” that can happen in the recording studio. Sometimes a song can turn out completely different than originally imagined and turn out to fit better on an album than another song.
So, how many songs should you write? The short answer is: Always be writing songs. Then choose the best songs for your next album.