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Mary's Musings: The Realities of Radio (Part 2)
By Mary Dawson - 02/28/2007 - 06:11 PM EST

© 1998-2000, CQK Music. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.

Have you ever been sitting in church, listening to a soloist sing a special song when your "pre-lunch, nearly-noon" stomach begins to growl? Suddenly, you begin to think of the roast that is in the crockpot at home. Your mind then quickly moves to the mashed potatoes, salad, and apple pie that will accompany your meal -- and then it drifts into thinking about what you are going to do this afternoon….take a nap, finish that new novel you've been reading or go for a walk. Before you know it, your mind has covered a couple of dozen concepts, and yet you have not missed a word or note of the solo. Some may call this simple daydreaming, but it illustrates the first fact that songwriters must understand about the listener's mind: The mind is far faster and more multi-faceted than the human ear and aided by the power of imagination, the mind can envision almost every thought as soon as it enters consciousness.

Another amazing fact about the human mind, as it relates to hearing, is that the mind is capable of "tuning out" many non-essential sounds. You seldom consciously realize that your refrigerator actually "hums" or that your air conditioner is cutting on and off all day long. In a crowded restaurant you can tune out the background sounds of other people talking and carry on a completely focused conversation with your lunch date. It is a well-known fact that people who have been incarcerated in solitary prison cells, often have a very difficult time adjusting to life on the outside, simply because of all the noise they hear everywhere they go. A trip to Wal-Mart, for example, might be literally overwhelming to such people simply because their minds have not been used to suppressing the many and varied sounds of everyday life.

A third fact about listeners is that their minds subconsciously expect to hear songs that follow certain structures or forms. They may not be aware that they even know anything about song form, but over years and years of hearing and singing songs, they have learned to "expect" certain elements at certain points of the song. For example, they expect to hear the title/hook as the payoff line in the chorus of a Verse/Chorus song…..or in the A sections of an AAA or an AABA song. If the song they are hearing does not fulfil these subliminal expectations, the listener becomes disoriented and tends to lose interest.

As we have been learning, radio is more about listeners than it is about songs. Every radio station is trying desperately to attract as many listeners as possible. Why? Because the more listeners, the higher the ratings, and the higher the ratings, the more the station can charge for advertising. In the light of this reality, the songwriter realizes that keeping the listener from changing channels is crucial if he/she hopes to receive radio play from ratings-driven program directors. The songs we write must be able to cut through all the "background noise" of daily life, keep the listener's mind from flitting to other places and "deliver the goods" for his/her music expectations

I remember the first time I heard the Linda Ronstadt/Aaron Neville duet, Don't Know Much -- written by master songwriters Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Tom Snow. I was cleaning my house -- my kids were "helping" -- hence, we had the usual low roar of sibling chatter, quarreling over assigned tasks, vacuum cleaner noise and other assorted and sundry distractions. The radio was on at background-level volume. Suddenly, we became aware of something wonderful -- a melody and words that "broke through" all of that and caused us all at once to say, "Hey, turn up that song!"

That is great songwriting and those kinds of songs will always be welcome and sought after by radio!

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