Three minutes and forty seconds or 3:40, the commercially recommended maximum song length.
Why? Back in the heyday of music in the 60’s and 70’s the musicians controlled the industry because they 1. Refused to give up their publishing rights to the record companies and 2. Because they had the music buying public wanting to listen and buy what they were selling, long songs were not only accepted but longed for by us back then.
Just think of the songs we would not have today if the current industry standards were applied
- Stairway To Heaven
- Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
- Hotel California
- Southern Man
- Can’t Find My Way Home
- Light My Fire
- Wooden Ships
- And don’t even mention Dylan
The list could go on and on of fantastic songs we would be missing out on if the songwriters and artists back then had been restricted to 3:40 … a sad case indeed.
Sometimes to tell the story or get the message across or to embellish a song musically to a level that feels appropriate to the artist, it took longer than 3 minutes 40 seconds … it just did. We loved it we danced to it those long jams like on Light My Fire were fantastic.
Today’s industry controlled “radio friendly” music is bland, lyrically meaningless and derivative, musically uninspired and grossly repetitive … “here is the formula do this and we’ll play it”. To quote Joni Mitchell when asked about today’s music “There’s no imagination. Even in the ‘50s, all the songs that made it on to the airwaves sounded different. The Every Brothers sounded different from Elvis. Everybody went for their own unique sound. But now everybody wants to be like something else. There is just no concept of … the individual is dead, that’s all. Culturations just don’t want individuals. They want worker ants and that’s what they got”. I have to agree with that today’s commercial music is for the most part uninspired and uninspiring.
Whilst I don’t listen to commercial radio I understand they want three and half minute songs because they need to get a commercial in every 6 or 7 minutes so it suits. We had FM Radio back then they would play the whole side of an album without any commercial breaks. That is how we found out about new music … and a lot of other ideas and opportunities, concerts, artists and bands. We didn’t need to know or care about the new blah blah blah for sale at blah blah blah. Just play that new album from The Band.
It also brings in to question another matter the music industry claims the attention span of the average listener is 3:40, what does that say about the “average listener”? Has the human mind been choked down to a point that one can not apply attention to something for more than 3:40 … before they have to check their phone or send a twitter about what they are hearing or eating.
True the music may not be worth listening to for more than 3:40 but this lack of attention span can be seen in more areas than music, but music is a great example. In our day you bought an album because you wanted to hear the whole of the artist’s work, there was bound to be a gem or two in there besides the title cut. Today you download a single for 99 cents because why, you can’t be bothered listening to a whole album of basically the same song over and over or the concentration is too much to bear and you have to move on to another song that the industry has instructed you is a “good song”. So you take the music industry path because they must know what good music is and besides it’s only 3:40 so I can take it. Troubling to say the least.
Then of course there is the video … you don’t even have to listen you can visually take in the sound along with dancing and prancing and graphic illusions … as long as it is not longer than the accepted 3:40.
What about the lyrics don’t they mean something well they might if you could understand them. The fact that most lyrics in commercial radio music are mumbled by vocalists leads to two possibilities the lyrics are meaningless and all that is clear is a repetitive “hook” line (note even the term “hook” is crass more like advertising than music) or the vocalist doesn’t have the ability to enunciate the words … or maybe they just don’t work well with auto-tune.
Sad really that it has come to this, yes the music industry wrested control of the music (two very different things whose paths sometimes intersect) away from the artists in the late 70’s early 80’s disco, MTV, the internet and other assorted distractions along with the watering down of education and self reliance of the population generally.
There is one thing to be thankful for though that all the great music of the past, the long and the short, has been recorded and is there on CD, Vinyl, saved in record collections, found in the archives and the bins of the great retro record stores like Amoeba and all the little record / music shops around the world and yes much of it available on the internet … please buy the artists work no matter who it is you listen to.
To be sure there is some great inspired music out there from real quality, inspired, inventive musicians but it generally does not fit the commercial formula so it doesn’t make the airwaves cut. It’s there not only from new younger artists (Larkin Poe is a perfect example) but some of the greats like Jackson Browne are still putting out some brilliant music.
I, in this blog, am not being critical of anyone in particular it is just that this is what it has come to, the reasons they are many, but the result is what it is.