Get to the point

It was Billy Joel, I think, who addressed the issue most directly:

It was a beautiful song but it ran too long
If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05.

But that was 1974; in this era of InstaEverything, even 3:05 is an eternity. I once put together a compilation CD with no songs over two minutes, which if nothing else makes for rather more variety: 42 tracks in just under 80 minutes. Radio wouldn’t dare do this.

Well, actually, they would. Enter Radio SASS (Short Attention Span System), which unapologetically edits your standard classic-rock tracks down to the essential stuff. Purists, of course, will be horrified. Stations, they say, should be delighted:

Records that were 2:00 — 3:00 minutes long have been replaced by repetitive epics. It’s not unusual for today’s recordings to regularly cross the four or five minute mark. The immediacy of radio has ground to a musical dawdle. While TV, newspapers, movies and other media have sped up, radio has fallen out of pace with today’s rapid lifestyle. Button pushing listeners and competition from new media is fierce. TSL is down.

A return to shorter songs is essential. Will listeners object? The answer is no. Several focus groups conducted by Harker Research show that most people don’t even notice. When a song begins, the average radio listeners pays attention to the beginning then makes a snap judgment. Do I know this? Do I like it? Then it’s punch or play. They seldom reflect on the song as it ends. Most people use radio as wallpaper, a background to their daily activity.

I sampled some SASS, and I think I’d notice that they’d boiled down Manfred Mann’s take on Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light,” which runs around 7:05 in its LP incarnation and 3:48 as a single, to a startling 1:45 — but it would take probably half a minute for it to sink in, and by then they’re a third of the way through the next song.

So I’m inclined to think this would work better than you’d think. Try to imagine Iron Butterfly’s infamous psychotrope “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” in two minutes flat. I did.







10 comments

  1. ms7168 »

    2 March 2007 · 9:58 am

    OMG. A travesty I tell you! And yet just as it says chances are very likely that most people won’t even notice. After all it did cram the most sanguine parts in. Only =one= verse though! Wow.

  2. Scott Chaffin »

    2 March 2007 · 10:53 am

    The guy who’s running that operation is George Gimarc, and he’s kind of a Dallas radio legend. My wife did an interview with him not long ago, too.
    http://finelinelive.com/2007/01/01/inside-the-mind-george-gimarc/

    He’s a pretty sharp cookie, and you might be interested in hearing about the olde days of Dallas radio, Charles.

  3. CGHill »

    2 March 2007 · 11:09 am

    Gimarc was the guy behind the Edge, right? I have no doubt he has lots of stories to tell.

  4. Silflay Hraka »

    2 March 2007 · 11:14 am

    Short Attention Span Theatre

    Presenting the 1:45 version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. I feel somewhat unfulfilled. But I also want to hear a 2:10 version of Alice’s Restaurant, now.

  5. McGehee »

    2 March 2007 · 2:18 pm

    The only long version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida I’ve found that approaches the whole-side-of-the-LP track I remember my brother having, was a live version that actually moved faster in the excerpt I listened to than the recorded single-size version I ultimately downloaded.

    And the version I downloaded just doesn’t sound like the LP version either. The keyboard hook is too clean, for one thing.

    Charles, I’m guessing you transferred the song from the LP onto digital, am I right? Otherwise, where did you find the original-sounding version you worked with?

  6. CGHill »

    2 March 2007 · 2:48 pm

    Actually, this started out as a CD rip of the 45 version of the song, which ran 2:52. I loaded it into Audacity and threw away the middle.

    I have an LP dub, but I figured it was easier to start on a smaller file. The seventeen-minute version is also on the Atlantic Rock & Roll box set, although the opening organ riff is clipped slightly.

  7. unimpressed »

    2 March 2007 · 4:13 pm

    That’s a station (and format) I’ll avoid like the plague.

  8. McGehee »

    2 March 2007 · 5:34 pm

    I may actually have my brother’s LP. If I do, that means I have the right to possess the 17-minute version! Which should mean that you should be able to make a copy of your dub for me and it should be legal.

    But that would be too sensible. Alternatively (assuming I’m remembering right), how much is involved in being able to make a digital copy from an LP?

  9. CGHill »

    2 March 2007 · 5:51 pm

    Not so much, really. Assuming you have some sort of recording software — most sound cards come with it, though integrated audio usually doesn’t, and check your CD/DVD-burning software while you’re at it — you need to connect the turntable (with preamplifier, if you have a magnetic cartridge, as most decent ones do) to the Line In connection on your sound card (a sorta-cheap adapter will likely be required). If you don’t have a separate preamp, the tape-output jacks of your amplifier or receiver will work just fine.

    Audacity, which is my default sound editor, is a freebie from the open-source realm. It’s clunky but effective, and saves to its own format or exports to WAV, MP3 or Ogg Vorbis.

  10. Emalyse »

    5 March 2007 · 1:44 am

    This is no doubt a side effect of the ipod generation stuck in life’s shuffle mode.Few people sit and listen to an album start to finnish anymore because most digital formats just allow you to skip to the songs you like best. I suppose this move is innevitable and geared to keeping as many listeners as pos from skipping the station.Combine this with the jack radio format and it’s going to sound like someone quickly sampling their music collection.

RSS feed for comments on this post