Should We Write Thirty-Second-Songs?

Whether we like it or not, music consumers are buying mp3 downloads from websites that only play thirty second snippets of songs. If you want someone to buy your song, you have thirty seconds or less to create a spend-inducing impact. But what are the real implications of this dynamic?

The Scarcity Of Scarcity

As mentioned in the previous post, there is now quite a lot of music available online. Music sites are working hard to find a way of filtering this music so that you get to listen to tunes you might actually like.

However, as the availability of music changes, so do our ways of consuming it. Twenty years ago, the cassette tape was still the dominant storage and playback method for music. Because it was linear and analogue, people tended to listen to the entire tape – you chose an album, then listened to the whole thing straight through.

My Music Is Skipping…

In the age of the iPod and Internet Radio, we have more control over what we listen to, and people have adapted their listening habits to this control.

Now, when a song comes on that we don’t like, we skip it. If we know we don’t like it, we can even remove it from our mp3 player or playlists. If we hear a song we don’t like on an Internet radio station, we can thumb it down or prevent it from ever being played to us again… and chances are that we will make this decision in even less than thirty seconds.

Remember The Day

Control and convenience is well and good, but what impact is this having on how we, as a society, will relate to music in the future? Bruce Warila wrote an interesting piece on the cycle of music consumption, which posits the question of whether skip culture is reducing the impact of music in terms of ‘imprinting’ – that is, music fusing with our lives to such an extent that it becomes intertwined with our memories of particular events and times.

I think that music will always be part of people’s lives in a fundamental way, and that certain songs will continue to trigger memories and feelings, regardless of what technology is used to access that music. There may be a danger, however, that too much choice could reduce people’s exposure to new music rather than expand it (in terms of the mainstream, at least – devout music addicts will always do their best to rummage through the available supply, paying little heed to its infinity).

Choose Choice

This talk by Barry Schwartz considers ‘The Paradox of Choice’, in which he examines the modern-day phenomenon of increasing options. In essence, he states that an excess of choices can lead to paralysis – if there are too many options, the mind becomes overwhelmed and simply takes the path of least resistance.

Also, when there are so many choices, people tend to be dissatisfied with the choice they do make – after all, with so many alternatives, surely one of the others must be better? (Time to skip to another song/artist/genre). And in anticipation of such regret, some people don’t make a choice in the first place (stick with the Top 10).

Write Better Songs

So, back to the question – if people decide whether they like a song based on a thirty-second preview, should we write thirty-second-songs?

The answer is yes and no. Yes – because it would be an interesting exercise, and might stimulate some good musical ideas. It might also help you look at some of your existing songs in a new light.

No – because you shouldn’t need to. If your songs are good, a thirty-second segment should be enough to lure your target audience in. Having said that, it was always the case that a song needed to have a strong, immediate impact – this is not something that suddenly appeared with the advent of Internet Radio. So, put your best foot forward – if you have a few songs that make people sit up and take notice, they are the ones you should be broadcasting…


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