None of the innovation is in rock.

Today’s big story is “Oasis,” the collaboration between J Balvin and Bad Bunny. Actually, it was released on Friday, but mainstream media doesn’t work that fast, it cannot be surprised. There’s a reason politicians dump news on a weekend. But today, all the news outlets are writing about it.

“Oasis” is thirty minutes long. Actually, thirty minutes and thirty six seconds, i.e. 30:36. It contains eight tracks. By pre-CD standards, that’s an album. But today they call it an EP.

Just like Lil Nas X’s “7,” released the previous Friday, it’s an EP all of eighteen minutes and forty four seconds in length, 18:44, and it has eight cuts, not one of them even three minutes long. And Lil Nas X has got the biggest track of the year in “Old Town Road” which is 1:53. And the shorter the song, the more times it is streamed, assuming it’s a hit, and the more money you make.

The format affects the music. The bloat of the seventies, the free format experimentation is gone.

And so is the bloat of the CD. We ended up with CDs with nearly eighty minutes of music, a triple album by old standards. Without multiple sides with opening and closing cuts you needed to pay attention to. On CDs, everybody puts their best material first, because listeners may never get to the end.

How come Latin and hip-hop artists are up-to-date, and everybody else is behind? You’ve got to roll with the changes.

So, if streaming is your game, if that’s how you make coin, make it short. And if you’ve got a fan base, if you’ve got something interesting to say, say it often.

But there’s more than that.

The big time music business is still running like a monoculture, when that’s no longer the case. They’re employing the 1980’s MTV model, when today is more like the 1960’s FM model.

That’s right, in the sixties there were two radio bands. AM was for the evanescent hits, FM was for the real musicians.

That’s what’s happening today.

If you read the chart and have no idea what these records are, and when you spin them you don’t care, join the club.

That’s what the execs are missing. That the penumbra is bigger than the center. It’s driven primarily by live as opposed to recordings, then again, in an era where everybody wants an experience, live is where it’s at.

The big hit tracks are fodder for the body.

The penumbra tracks are fodder for the soul.

But those in the penumbra are unable to play the game. What broke those FM acts of yore into superstars? HITS!

A hit is not just something that gets played on radio, it’s really something that you hear once, maybe twice, and cannot get out of your head, since it makes you feel so good, touches you so.

Yesterday you had to go out and buy it, or listen to the radio ad infinitum to hear it, but today tracks are just a click away.

But the audience is looking for entry points.

Too many of today’s artists can get ink, but don’t deliver hits.

“Dear Mr. Fantasy” was never played on AM, but it’s more iconic than most of the stuff that was. Same deal with “Purple Haze.”

Then again, “Sunshine of Your Love” crossed over, Cream became so big they disbanded. Only insiders talked to me about “Disraeli Gears.” But once it came to “Goodbye,” everybody was clued-in. That’s the issue, how do you break out of the backwater into the mainstream?

Not by putting out endless CDs every couple of years and bitching about the system. Nothing sticks today unless it’s a hit. So you’re better off focusing on that one hit.

And Steve Winwood had a great voice. Jimi Hendrix’s was serviceable, and he was one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Jack Bruce’s vocals were iconic, and need we testify as to the talents of one Eric Clapton?

James Taylor had “Fire and Rain.”

What does Wilco have?

I mention the band not because I have anything against it, but I’ve yet to find a single track since “Being There” that is a one listen smash, that you can play for anybody and they’ll get it.

So much of what’s promoted is just not good enough.

Furthermore, today no one likes everything. But you can grow your niche to where it’s got a huge footprint, and is very profitable.

But you’ve got to embrace the new tools.

Used to be, when you bought music, you played it because you laid your cash down.

Today, if a track doesn’t grab you in a matter of seconds, you’re out. Don’t blame short attention spans, you’re competing against all entertainment media in history, you’ve got to be just that good.

And the rules are changed all the time. No one expected “Money” to dominate on AM and for “Dark Side of the Moon” to be one of the biggest sellers of all time, no one expected it to continue to sell!

And prog was a sideshow until Emerson, Lake and Palmer cut “Lucky Man” and Yes cut “Roundabout.” The former was in the mold of traditional ballads, the latter was such a revelation you heard it and became instantly intrigued.

I know these are all old records. But that era was the last time music truly drove the culture, when it was the most important art form.

Since then it’s oftentimes been about money.

But that’s business, the greats talk about art.

So it’s your call. Forget if the big boys don’t want to play in your backwater. You can still make it. But you’ve got to embrace the new tools. With a constant parade of content. Not huge chunks, but bite-sized ones. Play to your fans, not the population at large, they’ll spread the word if you deliver something worth spreading.
And that’s always the hit.

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