There are enormous hurdles facing artists these days, chief among them the quest to monetize albums despite piracy, the pathetically low quality of digital files and achieving fairness in royalties. These are large, complicated issues. But not all problems are big. Some of them are little. I want to talk about one of those small problems.
I’m referring to sections of recordings that are nothing but silence.
It’s a pet peeve of mine. And to be sure, it isn’t a tragedy to have to sit through a few minutes of quiet. But it’s a pointless, pretentious, elected inconvenience.
I’m uncertain why it’s become such a popular practice. It’s typically employed at the end of an album, dragging out that final track so the artist can spring a bonus tune upon their fans. It’s a neat idea… in theory. But, in practice, sitting through empty passages doesn’t generate anticipation in the same way space between a set and a final appearance during an actual concert does, the crowd chanting the band’s name or “One more song!” with rowdy anticipation. I’ve never once exclaimed, “Encore!” while absorbing an album. And the existence of a secret track doesn’t exactly come as a revelation after the first listen.
Maybe artists believe they’re being clever or elevating their artistry via a dramatic pause. Hey, it worked for John Cage, whose “4’33”” famously imposed nothing but empty quiet upon the listener. He garnered a lot of notoriety from that stunt. But even if one interprets such audacity as evidence of artistic brilliance, it only works once and Cage got there first. You aren’t any cleverer than a painter who envelops a canvass in one color. It just ain’t interesting. And generally speaking the best artists, in any medium, are the opposite of boring. Do you want to be boring?
It’s also deceptive. Running times have grown shorter and shorter and discretionary income has become ever tighter; it isn’t fair to boast a length that’s far longer than that for which an artist should reasonably receive credit. It’s the equivalent of opening a bag of chips only to find it’s been artificially pumped with air to make it look 15% bigger. It’s also a pain in the butt, no matter your perspective, to be asked to fast forward before encountering some actual music. The other option is to skip ahead, lopping off the rest of that final track and returning to the album’s start, which both shortchanges AND inconveniences the consumer.
I mean, what, exactly, is the point of including 10 minutes of NOTHING?
When I’m in the mood to hear music, I want to hit play and listen. If I’d wanted silence, I wouldn’t have pushed play. We live in an age of control over our media, able to start and stop it at will, take it with us wherever we go and consume it in a dozen different ways. Why are we continuing to impose these artificial barriers to enjoyment? It’s confounding.
Hidden tracks are spiffy and everybody loves an unexpected gift. But fans shouldn’t be asked to wait through more than 15 or 20 seconds of oblivion every time they take an album for a spin. It isn’t respectful of the buyer’s time and, well… I don’t know about you, but my time is valuable.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to ending this pestilence upon the listening world, this monument to boredom, this malady that has infected the record collections of so many innocent music lovers–stop doing it.