I grew up in the era of vinyl. Cassettes were in use, but I bought vinyl. I wasn’t being pretentious, it was what everyone did. “Everyone,” and by everyone I mean everyone at Canyon High School in my peer group, also loved Top 40 radio. When the only other choices were country or beautiful music instrumentals, Top 40 was the go-to radio format. On AM, of course.
Radio played songs that compelled me to listen late into the night, hoping to hear “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by The Eagles or “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson or “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John one more time before I turned it off. When I still couldn’t get enough of the songs that really spoke to me, I’d go to Hasting’s Books and Records to buy the full album so I could listen to that song, discover the other great songs on that record, and let the record play on repeat over and over again until the 6 or 7 songs on that side of the album became a “suite” to me that needed to be heard together to be enjoyed fully. I put in a lot of time with albums on my turntable, playing while I studied or playing while I looked at the album art and song lyrics (if I was lucky enough that they had been included) and the song’s writers and musicians.
Just like times had changed from 50 years before when friends gathered around the piano to sing the popular songs of the era from the latest sheet music, my method of music absorption morphed into the iPod and then the iPhone and Pandora, Spotify, and a personal downloaded collection of MP3s. Anyone who listens to music on a digital device is used to skipping songs that they don’t like, don’t know, or have heard too much of lately. Skipping is the norm according to the statistics kept by Spotify. In general, listeners skip on to the next song almost 50% of the time. A full 25% of listeners skip on to the next song within the first 5 seconds of a new song playing. We no longer have the “forced” listening of radio to make us hear a song all the way through, time after time, to make it become more recognizable and familiar to us. When I think back to those days, I distinctly remember songs that I absolutely hated, and then learned to love with a little more exposure. “La Grange” by ZZ Top, “Baby Hold On to Me” by Eddie Money, and “Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson spring to mind. We don’t allow songs to mellow anymore and get into our subconscious in the same way. With a plethora of song choices, maybe we don’t need to. Maybe we can find the songs that speak to us in the first 5 seconds and focus on them.
As a Music Designer here at Mood, this new way of listening has an effect on how I think about my programming for restaurants, stores, cable music channels, and other ways we deliver our music. Some of it can only be my gut instincts as to how the listener is going to perceive the music they are hearing, if they are hearing it consciously at all. When programming for a business, I take into consideration the age demographics of the customers or employees that will be hearing the music. Older music listeners, like me, may have a longer attention span for the music and a better ability to listen through a song of a reasonable length. And they have more songs in their massive musical memory that have associations to their lives, good and bad. Generally, if the song is familiar, but not overly played familiar, it can still be a background sound, but leave the customer with a strong, warm connection to the song and to the business. For a younger demographic, more of the music, whether it is a new release or not, is unfamiliar to the listener and their short attention span may fuel the anxiousness and the need to skip ahead. This increases the importance of relevant songs that do have a connection to their limited musical history so they will have those positive connections with the songs that have been played more often in the past decade, but it is important to provide new discoveries that will pique the interest of the newest generations to keep them involved and listening.
I anticipate songs getting shorter and shorter in the future. We’ve become accustomed to the 3-minute pop song that began when 78 rpm records could only hold one 3- to 4-minute song. Radio continues to prefer the short songs so more could be played giving the illusion of “more music.” Now we often have the extended mix or a the long version of a hit song that goes against that philosophy, but with the short attention span, skip-to-the-next song mentality, I think the short song is going to be the next “innovation,” giving us just enough of a taste of that song to encourage us to go in search of the longer version. Or it might just long enough that we will tolerate it until the next song comes on.
Programming a branded sound has so many elements to consider… the clientele, the speed of their visit, the mood that needs to be created, and the type of music that can deliver. But, more and more, in a world of attention deficits and a generation that never sat in their bedroom late at night listening to one full-length album over and over, we will put more thought into song length and ear tolerance.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design