Going short

Louis Bleriot with resplendent moustache

Famous aviator Louis Bleriot. My ditty on his moustache signalled a decline in the length of my songs from which I'm yet to recover.

Are my songs getting shorter? Or is it just that time passes more quickly as you get older? No, really, my two latest compositions are both under 1min 30s (although my newest one, Economy of Love, should be extended to around 1min 45s when it’s recorded).

What I’m concerned about is whether there’s been a fundamental and irreversible shift in my songwriting. I’ve long believed in short songs. That’s not to say that all songs should be short but that brevity is an aspiration for me.

In fact one of my mottos is: ‘musically and lyrically, get to the point and get to it quickly’.

Typically, my songs have weighed-in at around 2mins 30s, which should be long enough to tell a story but short to enough to avoid digression. It’s also a radio-friendly length.

Recently, I seem to have been writing shorter songs, with less repetitive elements. In fact it’s the lack of repitition that tends to reduce the length. To a certain extent this was deliberate – it’s always handy to have a few brief numbers up your sleeve to fill in appropriate slots at open mics, or for when you think the audience’s attention is on the wane.

Louis Bleriot’s Moustache, a piece that some of you will be familiar with from Oxford and Reading open mics, was my first attempt at concision, nearly smashing the two-minute barrier.

That one didn’t quite fulfil my aim of writing a song of one to one-and-a-half minutes.

That came naturally enough with No More Flowers Or Dreamy Hours (NMFODH), which I wrote quite quickly about two months ago. It’s slightly suspicious that a short song should take a shorter time to write but sometimes things just come together. There’s no doubt though that having fewer lyrics means taking less time to labour over them.

NMFODH follows a loose AABA structure, which I think is a good format for a short song. A lot of the famous Tin Pan Alley numbers and some notable 50s and 60s hits took this form and these are pretty snappy, when breaks for improvised instrumentals etc. are removed.

So far, so good but when it came to my next, and most recent song, Economy Of Love, I found I had no real desire to bring it up to over 2 minutes, even though I had plenty of lyrical ideas that ended up, figuratively, on the cutting room floor.

Has my attention span grown shorter? Does the notion of attention-span deficit even apply to the author? Well in-so-far as the author panders to the percieved attention deficit of the audience – or even reinforces it – then yes.

Am I subconsciously adjusting my songs to the demands of a new generation (or the same generation with changed habits), used to instant media access, soundbites and a multitude of competing demands for their time, money and interest?

Does it matter? Should I take a stand? If so, why? The forms and modes of production of art (if that’s what you can call it) are generally determined by historical social conditions. But then that’s no excuse for relinquishing responsibility for the art (if that’s what you can call it) that one produces.

Who knows? I’ll probably be writing longer songs again before I know it, wondering how I can cut them down.

One thing I know for sure: I need to write shorter blog entries.

I’m currently working on recordings of Economy of Love and NMFODH. I should also hopefully be able to post a live version of Louis Bleriot’s Moustache on myspace or youtube quite soon.

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