Should Pop Radio Force Every Song To Clock In At Under Two Minutes?

Everybody’s got a crackpot scheme to save the music industry these days—giving away songs for free, sending people on wild goose-chases, just giving up and waiting for the current global mess to blow over. One radio analyst has thrown his own proposal in the ring, and it not only plays to the shortened attention span of the modern age, it eliminates the possibility of piracy from home-taped radio rips! Edison Research co-founder Larry Rosin thinks that programmers should turn pop radio into an endless stream of sub-two-minute “trailers” of songs, so that hits would be both distilled down to their essence and only available in full to people willing to pony up 99 cents. Hmm. It sounds so crazy, it just might work! Let’s hear more!

Over the last forty years, the average length of pop songs (or country songs, or most rock songs etc.) has grown from a tight two minutes to an ungainly four. This has effectively cut in half the number of songs played per hour. Actually, it’s worse than that of course, because spot loads have grown over the years too.

So what is the net effect? Vastly fewer songs are played. Radio stations get killed for not having enough variety. Music companies can successfully promote fewer songs, and the pool of what can become a hit is shallower. Way fewer novelty songs are played, because there is simply no room for them, thus radio is less fun.

Four minute songs have created a vicious cycle where fewer, safer songs are played more and more because they are the only ones that can rise to the top. Having risen, they just keep playing as recurrents and gold.

Music companies should think of what they send radio stations as ‘trailers’ for the full song that appears on CDs or as downloads. “Want to hear the whole, long version? Go to…” Radio stations should be thrilled. Shorter songs means they can play more songs, have more variety, please everyone. Stations should cut their older songs down in length at the same time.

But would increasing the number of songs really help audiences feel more in tune with the top 40, especially now, when so much of the problem facing pop music seems to be the data smog resulting from all the non-back-announced songs that are pretty much only identifiable if the listener has a Shazam-equipped device? I kind of doubt it. And maybe I’m a pessimist about the willingness of program directors to experiment, but I’d think that this “cut everything down” movement would only serve to reinforce radio’s hegemony, not cause it to diversify—after all, what better way to reinforce the status of a “hit” than to squeeze it into a playlist even more times over the course of an hour? And what of the songs that are slow-builders, or that do something totally crazy on their bridge—won’t those be cut out as well? What section of Maxwell’s four-minute-plus “Pretty Wings,” for example, would make this cut, and would showcase the song’s steady burn?

Perhaps you disagree, and could see a world where radio is the equivalent of Movietime? Which, wait a second, doesn’t exist anymore, so perhaps that isn’t the best analogy.

(Also, despite Rosin saying that stations should go back into their catalogs and do some editing, I’m going to assume that this approach wouldn’t be used on album-oriented rock stations, whose listeners cling to their canons in a way that’s almost as fervent as your average Comic-Con attendee’s.)

Shorten The Songs. Help Radio. Help The Music Industry. Done. [Infinite Dial; HT scroll]

  • LostTurntable

    It’s not so crazy it just might work, it’s so crazy that it will fail hysterically. The only thing worse than hearing the same 40 songs all day would be hearing 2 minute samples of the same 40 songs all day.

  • Chris Molanphy

    After the (momentary) success of Jack five years ago, someone — maybe even this guy — was selling this same idea as the next big radio-format idea. Only it was packaged as a kind of ’80s-’90s gold format in which songs were all shaved down to two minutes. You could sample it online and everything — i.e. the programmers’ seamless edits of well-known pop hits. It was creepy how they managed to turn a song like, say, Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” into a kind of Phantom Edit simulacrum of the song (you’d get a verse, a chorus, a reduced bridge, maybe a repeat of the chorus, and done). I found it effective but evil. I don’t think any major-market station tried it. This was at least three years ago.

    Anyway: the only thing that seems new here is the attempt to sell it with contemporary material. But all of your objections are valid. Imagine three or four Black Eyed Peas plays per hour instead of the 1.5-to-2 we’re already enduring now.

  • theendofirony

    Have you ever heard radio stations do this? It’s fucking annoying! Usually DJ will play about two minutes of the song, scream a random word or phrase, and then it’s onto the next song.

    Hot97 actually does it from time to time…

  • Audif Jackson Winters IV

    Wasn’t this more or less the format of TRL when it came to the videos?

  • Halfwit

    @theendofirony: Yeah, this sounds like basically every college station’s “Dancehall Hour.” Talk over the song with your local announcements, then fade into the next one after 90 seconds or so.

  • CaptainWrong

    They could always dial back the number of commercials they play and then they’d have plenty of room for more songs. That’s so crazy, it just might work.

  • Thierry

    This sounds like Simon Cowell’s idea of radio – a verse and two choruses (with a change of key for the money note), like the Idol performances. Now, this is fine if you’re the singer/frontman, but what about the rest of the band’s solos/instrumentals? Also, couldn’t this mean wildly different versions of multi-part songs (like “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Baba O’Riley”, to name just two) on different stations?

    That being said, this sounds so ridiculous that it might just become the new trend.

  • k-rex

    That’s a great idea. Sell the whole song and sell the two minute snip from the radio. They some genius will start making one minute snips. Eventually some dean-lister will play the entire song, and we’ll be able to do the ’70s all over again.

    I do look forward to T.I. songs with all the T.I. cut out.

  • theendofirony

    Very few “bands” get onto the top 10 of the radio charts these days. It is already all about the singer. The guitarist is (usually) just a hired gun for the track.