So, I'm sitting on a Southwest flight to Tampa on a business trip, eating my traditional inflight Milky Way. Funny thing is I only eat Milky Ways when I fly or when I steal them out of my kids' Halloween bags. Before I turned my ipod on to watch some concert video of Clay Aiken, I browsed through the Southwest magazine known as Spirit.
I came across an article by assistant editor Mike Darling (and how many fights did he get in while in middle school with that name?). He was interviewing a guy named George Gimarc who used to manage a radio station in Dallas and who has a great idea about saving radio. His solution? Make the songs shorter.
Huh? Make the songs shorter? How about make the songs better? How about getting rid of the 2000's version of payola which may not involve straight cash for airplay but still involves things like a car giveaways and other perks.
His theory was that people tend to punch a new station in their car about every 2 and a half minutes and that overall song length has grown from years past. He figures by shortening the songs, you eliminate people changing stations and keep listeners longer and advertisers happier. He calls this SASS for Short Attention Span System and has even spent six figures to patent it as a radio protocol. (Note: the article wasn't clear if just the protocol was trademarked or the name as well.)
But here's the deal. Audience listening has dropped 30% and that means people aren't listening at all, not just station hopping. It's because, in addition to internet available music and portable music via ipods and mp3s, people are probably sick of the same old crap. When Clear Channel owns (or has owned) 8 of the top 10 top 40 stations and they play the same songs in rotation over and over by people who all sound alike, listeners simply get bored. In the book The Future of Music by David Kusek and Gerh Leonhard, they say
The Berklee Media division of Berklee College of Music conducted a study in June 2004 of radio airplay patterns across CHR/Rhythmic, Country, Urban and CHR/POP in multiple cities in the US. The study showed that the biggest stations in the biggest markets played the same songs an average of 58 times. When station owners were taken into account, the five top CHR/Pop stations owned by Clear Channel were playing the same songs 78% of the time.
And the songs? I asked my teenage daughter the other day as she assaulted the inside of my car with a Top 40 station "Do all male singers on the radio whine their songs?" Nan says that the women all sing in this kind of whispery voice as if they are trying out for a 1-900 line.
So is the real reason that people have short attention spans? I can still listen to the whole version of Hotel California.
Or is it because there is nothing worthy of keeping their attention. Is 2 minutes 45 seconds of crap really any better than 3 minutes and 45 seconds of crap? The article states that "shorter song lengths translate to a larger catalog of music, giving DJs more freedom to play tracks that don't normally receive mainstream airplay." Yeah right, is there anyone out there that still believes the DJs decide what goes over the airwaves?
I agree with Andrew Whiteman (lead singer of an indie Canadian band Broken Social Scene) who argues against this idea.
It's heinous. Music is not meant to be hook after hook.
Darling thinks the idea is refreshing. Hmmm, about as refreshing as Febreze. It covers up the stink but only for a short time. I think putting real singers with interesting lyrics and strong melodies would be more refreshing.
Gimarc hopes that with the pending sale of 400 of Clear Channel's smallest stations, that new owners might be more open to the idea. Just the fact that Clear Channel has 400 smaller stations to sell is appalling. I should go into how George Bush and TBTP of Clear Channel have done business deals together but this isn't a political blog. (Yet..wait until 2008.) I'd rather new owners be more open to playing new acts who can't afford the high cost of airplay or whose labels won't play it, so that the listening public can decide what they want to hear. Not some program director who talks to his liaison at corporate who is cutting a deal with the label's radio liaison. Gasp! A novel idea, I think I'll call it a radio protocol and patent it.
I'd rather they give the opportunity to real singers like Clay who should be all over the radio regardless of what his dinosaur label thinks. His new Grammy winning producer obviously knows what good music is, but it won't matter in the end if the label doesn't give in to the cost of a top 20 single. And it won't matter how long the song is either.
Clay Aiken,Clear Channel,radio,George Gimarc,Mike Darling,Southwest Airlines
,Spirit Magazine,Milky Way,Andrew Whiteman,Grammy,payola,Broken Social Scene,Hotel California,Febreze,David+Kusek,Gerh+Leonhard,Berklee