Wednesday, January 06, 2010

(Don't We Need This) Music List Thing

While NPR has a great surface level piece on the merits of list making, most of us glance over the boredom of the phrase "list making." It's no wonder this activity is relegated to "geeks" and "nerds" in print.

No offense is taken. Really! The fun isn't the aggregation, nor the size, nor even the ranking. It's the filtering.

What makes Tom Ewing's latest music blog, It Took Seconds, so exciting is the simplicity of the filter -- song length. Having started on January 1st, Ewing is blogging about one song -- any song of his choice -- whose length is the same amount of seconds as the days remaining in 2010. (For example, the inaugural New Year's Day entry is 365 seconds long i.e. 6:05, January 2nd's entry is 364 seconds long i.e. 6:04, etc.)

Who cares about song length? Not enough people do. Song length is a vital attribute and dynamic of music history, yet there is scarce in-depth discussion on the topic -- unless the piece is about "Stairway To Heaven" whose length is beyond the scope of the blog anyway (sorry Zeppers.) One could infer that It Took Seconds will naturally unveil the history of song length as a dynamic. Psychics excepted, it's anyone's guess which music direction It Took Seconds will take -- so no bets will be placed, at least from this side.

Imagining the trajectory of It Took Seconds is as fascinating as the blog itself. January is beginning with a nice cache of danceable songs. Five to six minutes seems enough time for a groove to develop and gently resolve for a number of tracks.

The choices will be far more difficult for It Took Seconds once April rolls around. And they will remain difficult until August. This is the period where song lengths will start around the 4 minute mark, then slowly ramp down to two-and-a-half minutes -- which is the prime range of pop music song lengths from the 2010s (i.e. NOW) back to the early 20th century, respectively. Hence these clusters are the most populated.

Why have average pop songs become longer over time? One could argue that it complements the exponentially higher pace of advertisement that's courted pop. As pop music subsumes into advertising itself in more streamlined fashions, the need to keep song lengths tight no longer matters, as average attention spans of pop listeners sink and sink below any length that has time to develop a hook. One could argue the preceding is complete B.S., which admittedly it is.

September through November will take It Took Seconds through an interesting transition away from pop -- intermediary album tracks and custom commercial jingles aside. Genres which dominate the 1 to 2 minute length tend to have faster tempos. Punk, garage rock, and hardcore rock come to mind. However, it would be foolish to assume It Took Seconds will be loitering through the Epitaph Records catalog.

December will be a rather spastic and odd ending. First, all entries -- with the exception of December 1st -- will be UN-SCROBBLE-ABLE! ("Scrobbling" is a play count aggregation system used by music aficianado site last.fm. Though, songs that are 30 seconds or less are currently ignored by last.fm's scrobbling guidelines, as of this time.) Any genres of music where 30 seconds or less is the average length tend to be odd, loud, and caustic e.g. grindcore, powerviolence, etc.

If not difficult listening, really short songs lean heavily on the novelty side of the spectrum. However, the most abundant songs in the less-than-30-second time range are intermediary tracks on pop albums -- notably skit tracks or shout-outs on hip-hop releases. All this said, the curiosity of the December 31st, 2010 entry is nearly fatal.

Never mind the above bunk. It Took Seconds will likely show a much wider variety of track selections throughout the year than any mental scribblings above may hint.

Oh, there is another crucial element to list making that hasn't been mentioned: surprises. Let's hope for consistently pleasant surprises -- and that there's a backup plan to keep It Took Seconds going, should intervening events disrupt the flow.

Happy 2010.

DISCLOSURE: Tom Ewing has been a 15-year virtual acquaintance and friend on musical topics. His non-stop idea factory has fostered much of what has helped intellectualize music discussions on the internet in the past decade or longer. And he has helped make these forums more enjoyable for it. Last but not least, his choice of titling (presumably) this latest blog after a key lyric from "Seconds", The Human League's best song, speaks for his taste.

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