They Happen Too Fast!

I was convinced that one-minute songs would be the perfect format for an age of decreasing attention spans.
I was wrong.

Upon listening to the first ten songs of One Human Minute (my album of 60 one-minute songs), one long-time fan remarked, “They happen too fast for me to follow them.” Ok, this was my mother, so I had to take it seriously.

We were visiting my parents for lunch, waiting for my dad and daughters to return from a little bike trip along Lake Michigan. (He still bikes at almost 88!)

I asked her, “Are you listening to them on your computer?”


“With headphones?”

“No, I’ve never listened on the computer with headphones.” She said this with an air of finality. There was no way, at this point in her life, that she was going to start listening to music, or anything, on her computer with headphones.

“You should listen to it through your sound system.”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“I’ll set it up.”

“Do it when dad gets home.”

My dad got home, and we completely forgot about it, partly, I suspect, because after I’ve spent hours editing and mixing these tunes, I have no desire to listen to them.

I didn’t think much about what my mom said about the tunes being too “fast” until the next day. Was she referring to the tempos? Hmm.. there are some slower tempo tunes here. So, no, she must have been referring to how fast they went by.

Well, yes. They’re a minute long. So that is kind of the point. I didn’t check back with her to verify that this was in fact what she meant because I like not knowing for sure; it stimulates the creative process.

So let’s assume that that is what my mom meant. In which case: wow! This is supremely ironic because the whole idea, at least initially, with OHM, was to acknowledge the sad reality of listeners’ (increasingly) decreasing attention spans.

But then I find out that the very brevity of the tunes forces the listener to concentrate even more, albeit, for less time. 

In truth, I became aware of this problem when I began mixing and editing the very first tune—the title tune. With so little time available to get my musical and lyrical point across, I found myself trying to stuff a lot of music into a small space.

This situation, particularly with 60 songs, could become untenable. So I started to cut things out: an unnecessary piano fill, an overly busy bass line, even entire tracks. Still,  the brevity of the format calls for a lot of sonic information to be packed into a limited space. You still have to tell a story, one minute long or not. 

The problem was not so much with the tunes,  which are just highly compressed simple song forms. It was with what we call “the production” (e.g., tracks, FX, mixing, etc.), but what I think of as composition by another name—all the details that are meant to bring out the character of the words and melody. I suppose I could throw all of that out, and record simple piano/voice arrangements. But those compositional details add the third dimension to the experience. So while I certainly will edit judiciously, remove things that don’t need to be there, the composer in me says the deeper beauty is in those details.

So while you will spend less time listening to a single tune, you may need to listen with commensurately more concentration. 

From my standpoint as the composer/performer, it’s something like being the closer in a baseball game:  there’s no time to settle in. You’ve got to come out firing. 

For you, the fan in the stands,  this is no time to be drinking your beer, taking selfies, reading texts, etc. (OK, maybe drinking beer, or a glass of wine is actually a good idea.)  Everything—the intro, the verse, the chorus, the vamp—happens in a matter of seconds, so you have to pay attention. Otherwise, you’ve wasted a whole minute.

Your other option (mom) is to listen to the tunes multiple times. And please: not on iMac speakers.

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