Less Is More

Listening carefully through our Listening Post this weekend, my ear was drawn to “The Blind Side Of Love” by Jupiter Falls – aka Steff Lane – because of its squidgy synth groove and a hookline which stuck in my brain like one of Shaun Keaveny’s earworms. The trouble was that by the time it finally started fading out four minutes later, both the groove and the hook had worn a bit thin.

Brian Eno once wrote in his diary “I wish almost all songs were shorter” and I simply couldn’t agree more. Sorry to keep hammering on about this – it’s not that there’s anything wrong with longform music. Artists like Zun Zun Egui, Jono McCleery and Jacob Yates And The Pearly Gate Lockpickers have all made great singles that effortlessly held the attention for well over seven minutes. But all too often these days, artists have an interesting idea and then stretch it out too thin

The culprit is digital recording – if you’ve got a decent-sounding backing track, it’s all too tempting to loop and extend it into an arrangement that outstays its welcome. Whatever length your song is, surely your aim is  to leave listeners reaching for the replay button rather than losing the will to live. Good examples of the former: Liam Lynch’s United States of Whatever or White Riot by The Clash

Steff’s fine oldschool nod to David Bowie has a lovely groove (0:15), a decent verse (0:30) and a bridge that successfully rings the changes without losing the vibe – always hard to pull off – at 0:59. But we don’t actually hear his hook about “The Blind Side Of Love” until about two minutes in. Whereas he could have easily wrapped the entire song up without losing any of its key components in 2:30 flat

But wait, what’s this… visit the Jupiter Falls Soundcloud page and you’ll find newer, shorter ambient pieces by Steff. Hiraeth, for instance is exactly 2:30 long – it’s already notched up over 500 plays and attracted 18 comments from fellow Soundclouders. It’s a powerful argument for Less Is More – and for giving full rein to your musical instincts rather than always trying to go for the pop jugular.

To be honest, this obsession with brevity may just be a personal hobbyhorse of my own. Apart from the aforementioned Mr Eno it doesn’t seem to worry anybody else much – and pop history is littered with classic singles that captivate people’s interest for four, five or even eight minutes.  Even my own single “War Baby” was exactly the same length as “The Blind Side Of Love” – so maybe I’m just talking bollocks. After all, the number one requirement for getting people’s attention is  – and always will be – a gobsmackingly great song.

Contrary to what the pessimists say,  if you’re determined enough people probably will listen to your song – but probably only once, and for about 15 seconds. So if you do have a great song up your sleeve, it may be worth getting in there quick, saying what you have to say, and getting out again.

Leave your listeners wanting mo…

 

Tom Robinson

London-based broadcaster & songwriter, born 1950. His best known songs are 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay and War Baby; he has also co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. Read More…

4 Comments

  1. I completely agree Tom! In my latest project I have attempted a set of 6 short songs which have a combined running time of just 15minutes. It’s called Tel Aviv and you can hear it at http://soundcloud.com/shanebeales/sets/tel-aviv

  2. Tom

    Cheers Shane – why not pop your favemost track over to us on Monday when our dropbox reopens for Batch 4: http://freshonthenet.co.uk/submit
    T x

  3. I agree completely. You’ve got three minutes to get into people’s consciousness so there’s no space for padding – especially with joe public’s ever shortening attention span. If you have a great idea then a short song can keep it in the spotlight throughout, without diluting it at all. Less is more reflects our whole approach really!

  4. HI Tom –

    Thanks for the tip – I have just uploaded a track from Tel Aviv for your consideration! – Have a great week!

    Shane

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