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The Ten Second Society November 6, 2008

Posted by markgeil in Music.
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I think you won’t be hearing Bebo Norman’s new song, Britney, on your local Christian radio station. Not because it’s particularly controversial, though the topic is a bit avant-garde for today’s radio. Not because it’s a bad song; on the contrary, it’s a catchy tune with a lazy beat that explores a contemporary subject with welcome insight. Here’s why you won’t be hearing it:

It does not compress into a 10-second “hook”.

I just heard the 10-second sample of the song that’s being sent to radio listeners as part of stations’ listener testing. The sample is from the chorus, and taken in isolation it’s just not that good. It only gives you this little bit of lyric:

“I know love goes around the world we know,
and you never see it coming back,
you never see it coming back.
I know love goes around the world we know,
and you never see it coming back

It’s repetitive, fairly dull, definitely doesn’t pop out of the speakers. It’s confusing, because the title implies (correctly) that the song’s about Britney Spears, and the lyric seems pretty meaningless in that regard.

How very disappointing. If it was me, I would have sampled the opening verse. Consider these lyrics and measure the differences in your reaction to the song:

“Britney I’m sorry for the lies we told.
We took you into our arms and then left you cold.
Britney I’m sorry for this cruel cruel world.
We sell the beauty but destroy the girl.”

Intrigued? Want to hear more? Buy the CD. What you just read is a twenty-second portion of the song. Far too long for any listener testing.

The fact that songs live or die based on 10-second samples is a testimony of our culture. There are so many songs out there, and they’re so ubiquitously available that we couldn’t listen to them all, now could we? In our information age we compress and compress until time for appreciation is gone.

Before I disparage the radio stations, I must put myself in their position. We complain that we don’t like the songs they play, so it’s good that they’re soliciting listener feedback. We complain that they don’t play enough songs, but I’ve also just complained that listeners should give feedback on whole songs, not 10-second samples. I can’t have it both ways. If I’d like them to get feedback from a bunch of listeners on a bunch of songs, the concept has suddenly exploded into seven-hour listening marathons that surely wouldn’t give reliable data.

I don’t know how to run a radio station. I’m sure if I tried I would run it right into the ground. But I do have some ideas that could move us beyond this 10-second shackle. I wouldn’t mind letting program managers make more “educated guesses” on songs we might like. They know their local markets, and they (presumably) know music. Maybe our tastes will coincide. I’d like to hear more “weather balloons” – new songs that have either not tested at all or tested poorly. Give them a chance, in their entirety, to germinate a bit. I like gimmick themed request hours, a la, “Call in with your requests for songs with people’s names in the title.”

I’d call in, and I’d request Britney.

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