Is the Notion of the Song Due for a Shakeup?

Let’s speculate for a moment on the future of songwriting. This comes from Medium.com.

In songs, we get new, and repeated, information doled out to us in an engaging way that makes it stick in our heads. We learned language like this — we sing the A,B,Cs — and in many ways pop songs are like nursery rhymes for adults (“A, B, C/ It’s easy as 1, 2, 3/ As simple as do, re, mi/ A, B, C/ 1, 2, 3/ Baby you and me, girl” — The Jackson 5). They both seek to satisfy us on a basic, neurological level.

But, in watching the industry dissemble and recombine, I’m reminded of how much the delivering technology has also been at play.

  • Song length was affected by the amount a wax roll could hold
  • Song intros were a certain length so DJs could give call-out letters, traffic and weather
  • Song length has been a determining factor in radio airplay (too long = no play)
  • The LP limited the amount of material that could be released; the CD expanded it, in some cases beyond what an artist had to say. (One of my students pointed to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium as a release that suffered from having too much available space to fill.)
  • From a fidelity standpoint, the MP3 was a huge step down, but it was a function of the pipes that could get the music to the listener. Larger pipes mean things like Tidal are possible, but only after the technology has been figured out. Whether or not the service takes root, song quality is affected (depending on what you’re listening on, of course).

There are many more examples of technology influencing song form, of course. But it’s crazy to witness the hangover from previous technologies that now are being declared dead. For instance, if the CD is dead/dying rapidly, why are people still making 10-song buckets of three-minute songs? Well some aren’t, that’s true, but the rethinking has not yet taken hold in a full-fledged way. Most of my students are making five-song EPs, which is also a holdover.

Intrigued? Keep going.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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