September 26, 2022

Does Album Length Impact The Success of Afrobeats and Amapiano?

I had a bulletproof theory about album length, so I spoke to some experts.

Mayuyuka Kaunda

I was listening to Asake’s "Mr. Money With The Vibe" the other day and was stunned at how seamless a listen it was. The sequencing of this fusion-led affair was so smooth and brisk; the songs temptingly crafted - begging for a revisit. It was in stark contrast to articles I’d read over the years, bemoaning how albums were getting longer. I’d agreed with this sentiment as I’ve always thought 13 was a lucky number for albums and that amount of songs was the sweet spot. I decided to go through all the afrobeats albums I (and a lot more people) enjoyed this year, and I noticed a pattern. These albums were quite successful and had between 10 and 14 songs: all under 45 minutes: 

Fireboy DML Playboy - 14 songs, 43 minutes

Adekunle Gold Catch Me If You Can - 14 songs, 41 minutes

Asa V - 10 songs, 30 minutes

Falz Bad - 12 songs, 31 minutes

Simi TBH (To Be Honest) - 11 songs, 31 minutes                          

Omah Lay Boy Alone - 14 songs, 37 minutes

CKay Sad Romance - 12 songs, 37 minutes       

Asake Mr. Money With The Vibe - 12 songs, 30 minutes

So far my theory was holding up pretty well, but I thought of doing a comparison with the continent’s other buzzing genre; amapiano. While the afrobeats projects were brief listens, I vividly remembered a couple of amapiano records color almost my entire afternoon. Amapiano favors a longer format in both the number of songs on, and the length of an album. I hadn’t any recollection of an amapiano track debuting at number 66 on the Billboard Charts from a debut release, an artist from the genre snagging a Grammy or a sold out show on another continent. It’s at this point I had even more texture to my theory - in addition to afrobeats’ shortness beating out amapiano’s sweetness; I could now confidently state that the fans, charts and concert curators agreed. I (confidently) reached out to some industry experts with the expectation that my hypothesis would be rubber-stamped. "I would have to disagree with this sentiment,” marketing and entertainment entrepreneur Phil Chard says. “I don't think the issue is about length. It's about addressable market size and market development.” I’m gobsmacked, having constructed a bulletproof theory with what seemed like great analytics behind it. He continued:

“Afrobeats as a genre is well into its second decade of existence. Its founding artists like 2Baba, D'Banj and P-Square are now legacy acts. They can tour and sell tickets based on a catalog that is a decade old. Amapiano acts cannot. During the years of its development, Afrobeats has been forced to develop its systems from the ground up. They've built touring and distribution networks across a massive West African diaspora network that spans from Lagos to London, Abuja to Atlanta, while also growing on the continent. The result is Afrobeats as a genre being able to have sold out shows at the Barclays with a partnership from Tidal. Or Davido being able to justify a show at State Farm Arena. Burna Boy is currently a Grammy winning artist on a world tour. Amapiano simply isn't that mature as a genre or a movement. Not on the international scale. It was only 18 months ago when people like myself and a chorus more were asking why Amapiano artists weren't performing internationally? We've seen artists like Focalistic, Major League DJz and DBN Gogo begin touring beyond Africa's borders, but they're literally a decade behind Afrobeats. Amapiano is the sound de jour, whereas Afrobeats has been developing its audience for years. Arguments about the size of Nigeria's population (both domestic and diaspora) aside, I think song length is of little consequence when you actually dig down into the mass appeal Afrobeats has. If length was the only bottleneck then Afrobeats and Amapiano would be generating roughly the same numbers on Tiktok. Run the numbers, it's not a fair fight at the moment.” - Phil Chard

Though dejected, I enjoyed the reference to TikTok as it forms a critical part of my argument. In my view, TikTok has influenced the reduced lengths of songs and thus affected overall album times I maintain. In a combination of tailoring sounds to dance challenges and appealing to audiences with a myriad of distractions, songs have to be crafted with appealing snippets optimized for each social platform firmly in mind. I took a look at some popular amapiano albums released this year and apart from Venom & Shishiliza’s "Love Is Pain" whose 13 songs clock in at 36 minutes and Sha Sha’s "I'm Alive" carrying 12 songs over 56 minutes, there was no evidence of shortening happening:

Loxion Deep Children of The World - 19 songs, 2 hours 18 minutes 

Mr JazziQ All You Need Is Love - 18 songs, 2 hours 5 minutes 

Kabza De Small Koa II Part 1 - 18 songs, 2 hours 11 minutes 

Abidoza Black Child - 27 songs, 3 hours 19 minutes 

Busta 929 Undisputed Vol 3 - 17 songs, 1 hour 46 minutes

Tyler ICU Buya Nini - 12 songs, 1 hour 16 minutes 

MDU aka TRP Two Sides of My Story - 25 songs, 2 hours 45 minutes

Kweyama Brothers Piano Over Poverty - 12 songs, 1 hour 18 minutes 

I was quite interested in this discrepancy because amapiano and afrobeats artists are both quite successful on TikTok (although to varying degrees) - but the reduced lengths of songs is only happening in one of the genres. I reached out to another source in the business, this time mixing some curiosity into my ironclad observations. “I don’t think retention or attention is being driven by the length of the songs in either classification,” the source says. “I am not sure the data supports your assertion to be honest. The sound and culture is more of a determinant.” I’ve heard this before, and I’m somewhat prepared so I press on about why there is a relative mismatch on the charts.

“The basic premise of your argument is true - the average song length in the times of radio was 3 minutes 30 seconds and last I checked the average song nowadays is around 2 minutes 8 seconds - but I’m not sure it holds for these specific genres. Yanos has a lot of hooks as a genre; which tends to give it that TikTok-ability. But if there is a drop off on the charts (not sure there is), it might be due to a whole lot of other issues with the activation of the genre, rather than the songs themselves. A lack of videos and lack of push in specific territories for instance. At a macro level… which afrobeats songs would you say blew up these past 12 months? Compare that with yanos songs that blew up in the past 12 months. I’m not sure the top 10 in each genre showcase that different a picture in terms of penetration.” - Music Industry Insider

While a few holes have been poked through my theory, it’s great to know that correlation isn’t necessarily causation. Perhaps social media platforms should accommodate genres instead of the other way round? Maybe tech should adapt to artists and perhaps my theories need more solid data points. In conclusion, it’s fair to say amapiano is merely the younger genre than afrobeats and so, while its chart successes may not be about song or album lengths, it is just a matter of time.

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