Brevity or eternity, how long should a song last? The rule of thumb, by professional songwriters in Nashville, is three minutes. The number three is not set in concrete, but I've heard that number pop up consistently at writing seminars. So why get hung up on a number? No reason to, except that a pro (someone with a track record) is trying to say, "If you go over three minutes, it had better knock a lot of listeners' socks off, or it's doubtful it will break any airwaves beyond a garage studio wall."
The most-recorded song of all time, "Yesterday," by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, is 1:04 minutes long. One of BMI's highest-sales songs is "Gentle On My Mind," 2:56 minutes, written by John Hartford. Then there is the marathon No. 1 hit "Maggie May," 5:46 minutes, by Rod Stewart and M. Quittenton, that launched Stewart's career in the U.S. A good story song can get by with more time on occasion.
Another rarity is a vocal such as Keith Whitley's. He was usually involved in the production of the songs he sang and often went over three minutes. His eleven songs on his Greatest Hits - Keith Whitley album averaged 3:34 minutes per song. A great song with a great vocal can make a difference, but 99 times out of 100, the vocals of most demos are not as good as Keith's. Usually, your best bet is to tighten up a song towards the magic three minutes or less (brevity) and you will avoid the listener thinking, "Will it ever be over? (eternity) for a song that seems too long.
NSAI Songwriter Seminar is March 13-15. Don't miss it.
The last line of "Earl's Pearls" for February was inadvertently omitted. He was encouraging attendance at the above-mentioned NSAI Seminar. The paragraph is reprinted here in its entirety:
NSAI's Silver Anniversary Symposium will be held in Nashville, March 13-15. This is the ultimate experience for aspiring songwriters. For the price of one or two good demos, you may learn more than three or four years on your own.