30 Seconds is All You Get

Apple set the limit to 30s. That impacted music forever.

Thursday January 4, 2024


Apple iTunes changed the music industry forever with one simple decision: the preview of a song should be 30 seconds long.

This little change dramatically altered how music sounds today. I’ve recently listened to some bangers that were only 90 seconds long. They left me hanging.

Enjoy the music while it lasts

Why was my song so short? Because nobody gets paid after 30 seconds.

  1. Apple’s decision made artists want to have more interesting 30 seconds in the iTunes Store
  2. That evolved into: an artist doesn’t get paid if you don’t listen at least 30 seconds. And they don’t get paid any more if you listen 31 or 900 seconds. In fact, they get paid more if you listen to two songs, 30s a piece.

Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, Apple, etc all pay based on views. They each define views their own way, but they need to negotiate with the labels who already decided to agree to Apple’s 30s schemes in the early 2000’s. They may have different payment schemes, but some have a scheme of “take all revenue, distribute it according to the artist’s share of views.” So if I pay $10/mo for Spotify and don’t use it, my money goes to someone I didn’t listen to.

So how do small artists compete? They’ve got to build their following. Proportionally, the major artists (rather, their labels) soak up all the streaming royalties.

What would be more fair is if my $10 went to the artists I actually listened to, as if I bought their music.

Why does any of this matter? Algorithms. Optimization. Monetization.

Incentives drive outcomes. How we designed our music payment incentives altered music forever (try to be super catchy for 30s). Now, with AI, music can be created much faster which will dilute the pool.

In the end, one simple decision changed billions of lives. 30s? That’s all you need to get paid.


Bryan lives somewhere at the intersection of faith, fatherhood, and futurism and writes about tech, books, Christianity, gratitude, and whatever’s on his mind. If you liked reading, perhaps you’ll also like subscribing: