Monday, 25 August 2014
Calgary's AMP FM Sez Size Doesn't Matter
DEAD KENNEDYS ~ "I LIKE SHORT SONGS" (live);
This past week as if to prove once again that not only is commercial radio the enemy of music but also that they have essentially given up it's battle for relevance with the interwebs, Calgary radio station 90.03 Amp FM announced they would be unveiling an exiting new concept in radio; ruthless editing.
AMP announced that henceforth they will be using a computer editing program to cut songs down to two minutes max in order to allow them to squeeze in twice as many songs in the same amount of time. To do this editing AMP uses a program called "Quickhitz" developed by a Vancouver company. Makes me proud to be Canadian.
AMP Radio's program director Steve Jones (who we can safely assume is not to be confused with the guitarist from the Sex Pistols) claims this allows for more hits for our fast paced times. In fact the songs are actually improved by taking out all that extraneous stuff those silly musicians left in like intros and solos and bridges and codas and stuff. Who's got the time to sit through all that? Don't bore us, Get to the chorus and wrap it up already. Time is money.
Media reports describe the reaction from listeners and musicians as "polarized" which assumes that there is anybody out there not actually employed by AMP who actually thinks this is not an incredibly stupid, arrogant, cynical, soulless, patronizing and thoroughly asinine idea.
Jones claims that "Radio is using archaic logic to decide its programming,” he said. “When you think about why songs are the length they are it goes back to the ’50s and ’60s when radio stations demanded three-minute songs and artists provided them. In order to be on a 45 RPM record with any sound quality your song had to be around three, three-and-a-half minutes. If you wanted to be on the radio or you wanted to be in a jukebox, which is how people heard their music back then, you had to be on a 45 RPM record. So that was the way it was done.
We sort of came to the conclusion that maybe it was time to rethink why songs are the way they were. As we look to people’s changing habits and changing attention spans and watch people on their iPod listening to half a song and forwarding on to the next one we sort of came to the conclusion that maybe it was time to rethink why songs are the way they were.”
Like all corporate douchebags Jones claims that "research" shows that people are changing the way they listen to music due to the internet and apps and stuff.
And like all corporate douchebags Jones has learned that type of smug corporate-speak that enables him to paint himself as a bold innovator, a visionary even;
"It struck me that we are using logic that is 60 years old in an era where communication has changed dramatically in all it's forms"
OK; first of all commercial radio has been around for over ninety years, not sixty, but I assume he edited a third of that time out for brevity. And as for for all the buzz words about Youtube and file sharing I point out that the biggest Youtube based pop hits ("Gangum Style", "I'm Sexy And I Know It", "What Does The Fox Say", "Blurred Lines", Weird Al, OK-Go) are not any shorter than "traditional" songs, whatever the Hell that might mean. While one might make an assumption that Youtube may be encouraging people to watch shorter film and TV clips there is no absolutely no evidence that it is creating a demand for pop songs that any shorter than the usual three and half to four minutes that has been standard since before the days of the jukebox. That basic time was originally came about mostly due to the space restrictions of records, first 78's then 45's. But even pop songs from the earlier era were about the same length, a fact we can estimate from the existing sheet music that was used to promote music in the Victorian era. It would seem that humans are quite happy with that basic time for a catchy song. It gives you enough time to establish a mood or a groove, establish a catchy riff and chorus, embellish it with a solo and resolve the song in a satisfying way. Most pop/rock/country/blues singles don't really have a lot of excess baggage. That's why they're singles. Longer, experimental pieces, mood setters or flashy instrumental showcases are album tracks which are avoided by commercial radio anyway.
Like all corporate douchebags Jones can bolster his case with a grain of truth pointing out that radio has edited songs down for brevity for years. And this is true; "Stairway To Heaven" (Led Zeppelin), "Time Has Come Today" (Chambers Bros), "Money For Nothing" (Dire Straits), "All Tomorrow's Parties" (Velvet Underground), "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" (Meatloaf), "Little Johnny Jewel" (Television), "Tainted Love" (Soft Cell) and of course "Inna-Gadda-Davida" (Iron Butterfly) were all edited down for radio airplay. The difference of course is that these were all long songs (in some cases very long) to begin with and the edited versions were done by the producers, with the band's knowledge and consent, not by some talentless radio hack with no concern for the integrity of the song. And the edited versions were still longer than two minutes.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND ~ "THE EXPLODING PLASTIC INEVITABLE";
For all his "we're living in fast paced times so we need two minute songs now" rhetoric and his claims that he is on the cutting edge of radio in fact for most of it's history radio always did insist on short songs. It wasn't until the late sixties that FM radio started playing the longer songs now being put out by artists like the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Who, Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, Ten Years After, Byrds, Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Arlo Guthrie, Black Sabbath and Jefferson Airplane. It would be hard to argue that we would have better served if some radio hack had been allowed to cut them down to two minutes. And these were all artists who actually got played on the radio, I'm not even talking about artsy or jam band types of the time like The Greatfull Dead, Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, Yes, Red Krayola, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Pharaoh Sanders, Sun Ra or Tangerine Dream.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND ~ "SYMPHONY OF SOUND";
Like all corporate douchebags Jones has mastered the tricky art of pretending to praise his listeners while actually insulting them saying; "We choose Calgary because it's a progressive, young, forward thinking city".
You see what he just did there? He flatters Calgarians as hip and savvy while at the same time insisting that they are too dumb to sit through a song for more than two minutes and need some soulless corporate bean counters to dumb down some pop songs that were not exactly Schoenberg pieces to begin with. Gee thanks Steve, you're a real prince. Not Prince of course because he actually has done a number of long songs, but what does he know about music? Isn't he like sixty or something?
A more valid comparison might be Ted Turner. You may recall that when the owner of CNN started the Turner Classic Movie channel he bought up the rights to thousands of classic black and white movies like "It's A Wonderful Life" and "Scrooge" and proceeded to colorize them. He did it with the same smug self assurance as AMP, claiming he was improving these dusty old films and exposing them to a new young audience who he claimed wouldn't watch a black and white film. He was wrong. Turner was met with universal scorn, outrage and ridicule and he eventually backed down. Colorizing is now remembered as a marketing disaster on the scale of New Coke, The Star Wars reboot or the Edsel. Sometimes, albeit not very often, our corporate overlords get what they deserve.
Another case that came to mind was when sculptor and jazz pianist Micheal Snow sued the Eaton Center for tying bows around the necks of the Canada Geese mobile during Christmas. The court ruled that by doing so The Eaton Center had cheapened his copyright even though the Eaton Center had bought and paid for the work. Then there's the matter of a Christian group in America several years back who announced that they had an new exiting idea for "family friendly" movies. They would buy videos of Hollywood movies then edit out all the sex, violence, swearing and gay or "occult" references, then rent out the new improved versions. This would make many movies last as long as the preview reels of course but that was a small price to pay for "our children" right? Wrong. Movie producers and directors put a quick stop to this with a few dozen cease and desist letters. A case could easily be made that AMP is doing the same thing. And unlike Ted Turner AMP clearly does not own these songs they are butchering. Of course someone with standing would have to file a suit. I would really love to see that. But then AMP would just respond by banning such an artist.
"TORONTO JAZZ" ~ 1963 DOCUMENTARY INCLUDES FOOTAGE OF MICHEAL SNOW:
Of course our corporate overlords really don't like being called on their shit, as Jan Arden found out. The pop singer and CBC TV guest host led the pushback against AMP in interviews calling the move an "insult" and saying "It's like a TV station saying we're going to show "Titanic" but we're going to cut out the end cause we already know what happens and our viewers are to stupid to sit through a whole movie". Along with several Twitter posts like "Can anybody recommend half a good book I can read?". AMP responded by announcing that she was henceforth banned from not only AMP but all stations owned by the parent company Newcap who also own over ninety other radio stations in Canada. Because nothing shows your commitment to music like censorship. Then it got nasty. Some internet trolls to the opportunity to attack Arden with such clever insults as "fat bitch", and "hasbeen" while she responded with some insults of her own which included Jones having a small dick.
So naturally like all corporate douchebags Steve Jones played the victim card, calling Arden's mocking criticism "cyberbullying". Because a few rude jokes directed at a corporate drone is totally like hounding a teenage girl into suicide. He even played the "How am I going to explain this to my kids" card. I don't know Steve; try telling them that you're a whiny patronizing asshole who defaced songs you don't own, treated artists and your audience with contempt and then got called on it. Oh; and incidentally I notice Jones didn't even pretend to call out those internet trolls who attacked Arden on his behalf. Explain that double standard to your kids while you're at it. I know corporations are supposed to be "people" now but do they have to be such fucking crybabies?
(A personal aside; After I reposted a story on Facebook about Jones whining about Arden I got a response from some idiot insisting on his right to call Arden a "fat bitch" and a "pig". Not recognizing the person I checked his page and was not surprised to see that literally every single post for weeks was a hateful rant or reposting of same about lazy blacks, Muslims, "liberals" and Obama. What is wrong with these guys? Why is everything a conspiracy to keep the white man down? Isn't it exhausting to be so paranoid and outraged all the time?)
Incidentally back in 2011 when the 88.1 FM signal went up for grabs Newcap was one of those in on the resulting feeding frenzy with a proposal for another one of their oppressively bland pop stations. Which is another reason to be glad that INDIE 88 got the spot instead.
Anyway in the interest of radio brotherhood I'd like to offer my services to Steve Jones and AMP Radio. No really, I can offer some free advice here. The genre of "absurdly short punk songs" is a much beloved if inherently limited one. Remember the first album by DRI where half the song were less than 30 seconds long? Actually some were less than 20 seconds long. Then Napalm Death once took this sort of thing to it's logical conclusion by having a one second song called "You Suffer". In the immortal words of Napalm Death singer/guitarist Justin Broadwick;
"We played that song in front of 30 local kids, like, every weekend. We played that song 30 times."
There is even a word for this; "Micro Thrash". Therefore in the spirit of radio brotherhood I offer up for further research some bands known for songs 90 seconds long or less (this list is by no means exhaustive);
The Angry Samoans
The Circle Jerks
Destroy All Monsters
The High Fives
The Middle Class
The Mr.T Experience
The Mono Men
Muck and The Mires
The New Bomb Turks
State of Alert
The Teen Idles
Need some Can Con? No problem;
The Brutal Knights
The House of Knives
The Last Patrol
The Leather Uppers
The Rocket Reducers
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
The Sick Boys
These actually range in quality from the obviously stoopid and proudly goofy to those who surprisingly managed to come up with proper songs, with a beginning, middle and end, sometimes even a solo, in under 90 seconds. Some of these are classics, all should be required listening for any aspiring rocker. Less is more.
THE MISFITS ~ "RETURN OF THE FLY" (this video has a long intro which pads out the song length which is only about 90 seconds);
THE SHADOWY MEN ~ "SHADOWY COUNTDOWN";
FIZZY BANGERS ~ "SHORT ATTENTION SPAN":
MAOW ~ "MS. LEFEVRE";
THE GRUESOMES ~ "MY BROKEN HEART WILL NEVER MEND";
THE JAM ~ "BATMAN THEME";
THE ANGRY SAMOANS ~ "THEY SAVED HITLER"S COCK";
THE VIBRATORS ~ "YEAH YEAH YEAH";
THE DESCENDENTS ~ "I DON'T WANNA GROW UP";
THE VANDALS ~ "TO ALL THE KIDS";
WIRE ~ "FEELING CALLED LOVE";
THE FORGOTTEN REBELS ~ "ELVIS IS DEAD";
THE UNDERTONES ~ "SMARTER THAN YOU";
ADRENALINE O.D. ~ "SUBURBIA";
THE RAMONES ~ "CRETIN HOP";
THE CIRCLE JERKS ~ "WASTED";
SCREECHING WEASEL ~ "I HATE LED ZEPPELIN";
OPERATION IVY ~ "BOMBSHELL";
BEYOND POSSESSION ~ "NO RELIGION";
TSOL ~ "ABOLISH GOVT";
DRI ~ "Who am I?";
DISCHARGE ~ "HEAR NOTHING SEE NOTHING SAY NOTHING";
VOORHEES ~ "KEVIN KEEGAN";
NAPALM DEATH ~ "YOU SUFFER";
And then here is of course an entire compilation called "Short Music for short people" which has 99 songs 30 seconds and under.
Want some thing a little less punk and obnoxious? How about Elvis Presley, Duane Eddy, Hank Williams, Ersal Hickey, Chan Romero, Mac Wiseman, Ray Campi, Link Wray, Arch Hall jr, Cliff Richard, Glenn Glen, Merle Travis, Roscoe Holcomb, Hobart Smith, The Byrds, Bluecaps, Wilbur Sweatman, Tiny Hill, The Swingin' Blue Jeans and Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs? There are also demos from Johnny Horton, Willie Nelson, Elvis (again), Cliff Richard (ditto), and Buffalo Springfield. Then there's the Alan Lomax collections which have a lot of really short tracks by blues, folk and gospel singers including Josh White, Jimmie Strothers, Moses Clear Rock Pratt, May Fortune and others.
Putting my money where my mouth is on my CIUT radio show tomorrow (Tuesday Aug. 26, 5pm) I'm going to do a show full of nothing but songs under ninety seconds long. You're welcome AMP Radio.
UPDATE; Even as I was writing this Steve Jones and AMP were already back-pedaling faster than a unicycle backing down a hill. Releasing a bland statement announcing they were withdrawing their "Exiting New Format" while they "reconsidered" things. Jones played the victim card again claiming there were threats of lawsuits (that Micheal Snow precedent I mentioned perhaps). They insist that they may bring it back.
"Our plan is to go back to the drawing board, maybe work a bit closer with some of the various stakeholders in the industry and try and bring this back at a later date."
Right. Kinda like how Mitt Romney is considering running again. That'll totally happen.
This only confirms what some thought, that the whole exercise was a sleazy publicity stunt. Hard to see how looking like cynical incompetents helps their image though.