This is a guest post from Jennifer Hawkins (aka Jen The Music Maven ). Jen’s career includes expertise in: recording, production, publishing marketing, promotion, branding, merchandising and distribution. Jen currently teaches music business courses at Houston Community College, Spring Branch Campus.
Why I use a 3 step approach to music success that starts with: your music!
The brutal truth about the record biz: a song needs to grab it’s audience in the first 10 seconds. Don’t believe me? Consider this: when you’re surfing radio stations trying to find a good song to listen to…how long do you give an unfamiliar tune before you decide to continue listening or go on to the next one? Answer: the same amount of time label execs, publishers, and A&R execs give new song submissions: 10 seconds.
Picture this: Music publishers, labels, etc. can get anywhere from dozens to hundreds of song submissions per day. This industry is uber-competitive, your song must grab the label personnel’s attention immediately or it runs a very big risk of getting tossed or deleted. It’s been the rule since day 1…when audiences have choices..they’ll choose what ‘grabs them’.
I’ve worked in a publishing office before; my job was screening all submissions and I rarely (if ever) found a song that violated the 10 second rule and was successful. I remember one evening having more than my regular overload of submissions and I took them home with me to finish screening. My sister was observing me as I worked; she didn’t believe that 10 seconds was all it took to screen a song (15-20 if it’s quasi-appealing). So…I challenged her. I gave her the 30 or so songs I’d already screened and rejected. She listened to all of them in their entirety… I made a believer out of her!
The artists listed below have made believers out of all of us: The following songs (spanning over 40 years) all sold over 6 million singles. Most of these songs ‘burst’ into an audience's conscioiusness, same take a few secs but not much. Listen to the first 10 secs of each and hear what I mean. Each of them sets their emotional tone immediately.
Note also: popular songs talk about common human experiences: Love, romance, pain, jealousy, desire, betrayal, sorrow, rejection, loss, family, injustice, nostalgia, etc. When was the last time you loved a song that didn't grab you and you couldn’t relate to?
Avril Lavigne: Girlfriend 2007, 7.3 miln
Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean: Hips Don’t Lie: 2006, 10 miln
Eminem featuring Rihanna: Love the Way You Lie 2010, 9.3 miln
Elvis Presley: Hound Dog 1956, 9 miln
The Beatles: I Wanna Hold Your Hand 12 miln 1964
Interesting post. The likes of The Beatles were certainly pioneering rather than following others in the charts at the time.
I agree with the requirement for near-instant appeal for music which is aiming to be played on commercial radio. The reality is that deviating too far from familiar territory will lead to the listener changing the station quickly, as you mention.
But I question the value of this rule in creating fresh, interesting and truly original music – rather than more of what’s been heard before.
Thanks for your thoughts Paul. Personally, I think there is a fine line. Plus, what might work for one artist may not work for another. It is about finding a balance between knowing your audience and keeping it fresh.
Hi Paul: Here’s a great answer to your question: Beck! Listen to anything by him…he’s got the 10 second rule down to a fine science and he’s always ‘fresh, interesting and truly original’. Of course there are songs and artists who break this rule and are successful, but if you’re competing for attention (be it with a label or an audience) the best bet is to capture their attention in the first 10 seconds. It’s an old rule…popular long before the Beatles…think of the early days of radio…Frank Sinatra, etc. Radio defined ‘popular’ (pop) music: catchy, memorable – like a commercial – commercial radio…sound familiar 🙂 I think in many ways it takes a more seasoned artist, so to speak, to compose a song that’s instantly catchy and manages to keep the entire piece interesting and not redundant. Thanks for your input Paul and Corey – provocative subject for sure.