Updated: Oct 20, 2019
A song (or a movie) is only as long as it should be. Right? Not really, it turns out.
On 5 Oct 2019 a piece in the The Economist warned that the ''economics of streaming'' is resulting in pop songs "getting snappier, with shorter intros and earlier choruses". The article went on to explain that royalties (to singers and songwriters) have always been linked to sales but streaming platforms such as Spotify now account for nearly half the music industry revenues of $19.1 bn. In America that share is 80%.
We're told that artist revenues are a fraction of total music industry revenues. Even to make that fraction, a song ''needs millions of plays''. Millions!
Not just that. Opaque algorithms are picking the tracks that ''make the playlist''.
Songwriters are quickly learning ''what the bots like'' and adapting to what they (songwriters) think (feel?) will work.
Choruses now appear quicker.
Apparently among songs that top the Billboard the ones that hit the chorus within 15 secs have more than doubled in the last two decades.
Bots are rewarding the ''repeat'' button.
It's unclear how this logic is affecting streaming of movies. Are they becoming shorter? Say, as opposed to traditional box-office measures of ticket sales in cinema theatres?
But even within the music world, is the logic of rewarding the merely ''popular'', good news?
Is the Billboard always right?
We're human, after all.
When it comes to movies and music, our first judgements aren't always correct.
Frankly, in matters of music I don't mind being proven wrong. And I have been, on far more occasions than I care to remember.
I've moaned about a song soon after the first hearing only to play it in a frenzy after a second or third.
When it comes to music some of us just don't know what's good for us, let alone the ''MUST listen'' that we scream to the rest of the world.
The author of a fascinating book "How Art Can Change Your Life: Life Lessons From Artists Past and Present" once sent me a few song recommendations. Among them:
George Ezra's Budapest
Paloma Faith's Only Love Can Hurt Like This
Passenger's Let Her Go.
To my shame and eternal regret I breezed past them that first time. Or my state of mind during that first hearing just wasn't right.
I say ''eternal regret'' because a year or so later when I stumbled upon those songs again, I was moved beyond words at the sheer power of the voices, the tunes, the lyrics - kicking myself for not ''listening'' that first time around. For having lost a year of enjoyment when I could have been doing just that - listening!
So I wonder.
Can we trust ourselves enough to decide ''once and for all'' whether a song appeals to us?
Are ''we'' fully present, ''fully'' there every time we hear a song for the first time? When listening to a new album, for instance, that's nine or ten times.
Is that first time the right time? Should it be, the only time?
Movies require ''us'' to be present for longer than 2-3 mins. Many movies demand our complete attention for as long as 2-3 hours. Who is to blame if our minds are scattered three quarters of the time?!
Like it or not, we're so layered as human beings that a song that appeals at breakfast may fade at lunch only to take complete hold again by dinner.
A movie that drove us insane with irritation in our teens may move us to tears with its beauty when we hit our thirties. The flipside may well be true, but you get the point.
Singers, songwriters like scriptwriters, producers, directors don't create for the moment but for a lifetime. The former get only those 2-3 mins to hold attention. We owe it to them to find more sensible ways of rewarding (or punishing?) them for their time, their effort. For singers and songwriters at least, these methods have got to be more enduring than what ''makes the playlist".
Sadly, I have no bright answers, only the conviction that we must try harder............for our own sake as well.
We're a click-happy generation never tired of saying ''wait for it''. But how often after dismissing a song outright do we return to ''give it time''? Do we ever wait for a song or piece of instrumental music to ''grow'' on us'?
Years ago a dear friend, Krishna, sent me an audio tape (remember those?) of Joe Satriani's rock-guitar instrumental album The Extremist. Up until then my favourites were John Denver, Nat King Cole, Glen Campbell and not much else. Still, Krishna was audacious enough to insist.
I took the tape home and heard it a couple of times. When I took it back to him a week later I said quite firmly, ''Not really my thing, although that one brief piece Tears In The Rain is nice. Thanks, anyway.''
Krishna looked at me. He knew the album had 10 pieces and was 47 mins long. He also knew that the piece I'd singled out for ''mention'' was all of 1 min 17 secs. My words to him were not even close to the modern-day equivalent of a ''like'', ''reply'' or ''retweet''. He nodded but didn't accept the tape. Instead he pushed it back into my palm saying, ''It doesn't matter. Keep it for a while''. I did.
Krishna died the following year. I never got to thank him properly. But before long - and to my embarrassment - I was scouring the streets for pirated versions just to see if I could rip off one of Satriani's ''new'' albums. At the time I couldn't even afford new tapes! The shady joints would do it (quick and dirty tape-to-tape recording) while you stood there.
Later, I graduated to buying my own VHS tapes of Satriani playing ''live in concert'', full-blown audio-CDs of "new" releases and much later DVDs of his G-3 performances with Steve Vai and Eric Johnson. Today my shelf and online collection of Satriani is, to die for.
I still listen to Denver and Cole but I'm equally at home immersed in Eric Johnson's Manhattan, Steve Vai's For The Love Of God, John Petrucci's Glasgow Kiss, And with songs, I've no trouble recommending that blistering duet of Calum Scott, Leona Lewis - You Are The Reason.
My musical taste is still narrow. But it's wider than it was. And I'm grateful to everyone who helped widen it just that little bit more each year.
I still get it wrong - frequently. Songs I've rejected, artists I've long ignored, now favourites.
How I wish I don't make judgements too soon, no matter how tempting. How I wish that listeners ''of the day'', ''this week'' don't decide the fate of a song or instrumental piece. For every million who are feverishly voting a song into a playlist, there's a billion that ''Marketing'' haven't yet reached.
Those notes, those chords, those words, those moods reach us all - at different points in our lives. They not only reach us differently each time, they are different each time. Because we've changed. We're changing. That's a good thing. Right?
So go ahead. Show me I'm wrong. Tell me I'm wrong. I'll thank you.