I had some questions instantly arise, and we both wanted to engage with our readers (that’s YOU!) in stretching out the discussion on this recently-uncovered data! So much about art and money, ethics and motivations are involved, and lines could be drawn in a variety of arenas.
Chris is a statistician and a singer/songwriter/musician, so he’s got plenty of “skin in the game” and expertise all over the place in both disciplines, so he’s the perfect person to have present as we see how you feel about this rapidly-evolving art vs commerce debate.
Here’s Chris’s article that started it all! The video below (which features Chris being interviewed) is also embedded within his article, so you can view it there, if you’d like!
Did Max Martin start short intro-ing BECAUSE he noticed the $/streaming ratio, and purposely wanted to (understandably) capitalize?
Or, was he writing short intros, anyway, and that happened to luckily coincide with the onset/popularity of streaming?
Are artists and music fans of the past 2 decades content with the recent “Martin-izing” of the songwriting craft?
And, if a similar songwriting constraint (“ooh, get that intro down to 7 seconds,” etc) existed in the ‘60s and ‘70s, say, how many classic songs might we have been robbed of hearing?
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Thanks for the share, Brad. I think Martin is like any other songwriter in that he has his own tastes. Many of those happen to line up with commercial appeal but I don’t think it’s much different in the abstract from the Motown machine decades ago.
Hey. I skimmed the article. I hope to read it properly later/over the weekend. Very interesting. I like the topic. However my initial feeling (I still need to process this so I may change my mind after reading properly) is that 'pop' music has always been driven by at least two fundamental underlying factors (at least two!). They are commerce. And technology. And both have shaped 'pop' music for decades. So this is nothing new, Spotify is both combined, technology and commerce all in one. And there has always been a cultural pushback against commercial pop music (that's why the Indie labels originally appeared). To give just one (of many examples)... a pop song in the 50s and 60s (and on into the 70s and 80s) had to be 3 minutes (maybe 3.30 longest, but better 2.30) because you could not realistically get a longer song on to one side of a 7 inch vinyl 45 rpm record and maintain the audio quality. There was no other reason for a pop song always to be 3 minutes, it was due to the limits of the technology of the time. And of course also due to pop radio DJs - you needed a short, powerful intro so that your song stood a chance to get play listed, and they would fade songs after about 2.30-3.00 minutes anyway. So record companies would push artists to use arrangements that fit into this format... a short intro but long enough for a DJ to talk over, get to the first chorus ASAP to plug the hook, the earworm, keep long solos for album tracks, etc, etc... And of course there was always the counter culture to all of this homogenised pap - think ProgRock in the late 60s and 70s, with meandering arrangements and vastly long solos...
Very interesting discussion. I still need to read the article and watch the video, but as a preliminary comment, I think the times influence the hits as much as the hits influence the times.
If you analyse the biggest hits in the US in the last, say, six or seven decades, you can roughly outline certain patterns, which are distinctive to each particular moment in time. One characteristic I think they all share, regardless of the decade, is that major hits tend to be both innovative and relatable. The average consumer needs relatability (we all know how powerful the influence of certain processes such as identification can be, not just in music -- e.g. advertising, film, etc.). But the biggest hits always manage to bring something else (in the past it used to be something “from the future”, or at least, from the future collective masses imagined). Then it was the retro element: bringing something from the past. I feel nowadays it shifts back and forth. In sum, what pulls people the most seems to be an improved/embellished/reimagined version of themselves.
That, to me, is key. Then, on top of that, there are of course tendencies or trends (the magic of 3 minute long hits, which duration now seems to have become shorter courtesy of narrower attention spans courtesy of social media platforms). Of course all that has a huge influence. But I insist that, to me, at least, the basic ingredients are relatability with a pinch of innovation.
‘Ain’t no sunshine’ by Bill Withers. No intro. First line is the hook (so you have hook by 6 seconds), third line is also the hook. First verse, all the hooks, done and dusted by 25 seconds. Genius.
Perhaps an unpopular opinion, and my own experiential prejudices - 15-30 second intros grab me - I can live with shorter, but I want the intro to establish something - harmonies, vibe, groove, whatever. Past 30 seconds just misses the point of an intro IMHO. That’s what instrumental breaks/interludes are for, again just my opinion - get to the vocals, then let the guitarist/drummer/keyboardist/brass/orchestra whatever have the spotlight for a bit - thrill me even, then get on with it!
Thanks Brad for posting these. Huge amount to unpack, but to me the obvious thing is that these analyses miss whole categories of music which were once dominant forms of music, and which are still important to a lot of people (classical, jazz, blues, progressive rock, to name a few). Just looking at the history of American pop, the shortening of the intros is only one part of an overall flattening of songwriting innovation. See my article on this topic:
Am I biased? Yes. I listen to classical music and jazz, and love blues and progressive metal. You won't find any short intros there. To answer your questions 3 and 4: Yes, audiences appear to be content, not only with shorter intros, but with a steady diet of similar-sounding songs. (Obviously this does not apply to fans of modern classical, jazz, or progressive rock). And yes, if the 7-second rule had been in effect, you can erase Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Prince and David Bowie. Think about the magnitude of what is lost.