The great sub four minute song and the power of editing

I was watching the superb Nick Cave 20,000 days on earth movie and he talked about the power of editing and how he wished he had done more editing in past work. The film is a great insight into Cave’s writing process and he remains in my view one of the finest artists around these days, always provocative in music creation and always exploring new dimensions.

The same subject of editing also came up when I was talking to the studio producer for The Small Change Diaries who was talking about being given a CD which he noticed was 76 minutes long. His immediate reaction was to put it back in the glove compartment of his car, apprehensive about such a long listening experience!

I’m a big fab of the sub four minute song and sub 40 minute album. Often in my view “less is more” and I’d rather hear a really well crafted three and a half minute song, than one that’s significantly longer. On the classic Beatles “Rubber Soul” album, all songs were under three minutes. Elvis Costello’s “My aim is true” has all songs under four minutes. Of course there are many counter examples including my all time favorite “Blood on the tracks” by Bob Dylan, but I can’t help thinking that the discipline of writing in a concise manner is no bad thing. Often an artist can have a good idea for a song, but the central idea starts to lose momentum as it’s dragged out for 6 minutes when it would have been perfect in under four minutes.

My own experience of writing for the Small Change Diaries is that the editing of material is essential in producing the best final result. Material will go through many drafts until it’s finds its final form. Its also extremely useful to have a writing partner in Jessica Bowie as this sparks all manner of new dynamics in songs. The collaborations page on this site is a great example of how artists can come together to produce something that neither would have created independently.

The same consideration towards being concise applies in live sets. As a listener I have been attending gigs and festivals of all sorts for over 45 years. The best ones were where the artists made the very best of each moment on stage. I know the sound engineer who worked on Live Aid in the 1980s and he commented on how Queen rehearsed more than any other artist on the bill and basically presented a master class in how to play a live set.

In May next year GNUF hosts the first live OUS stage and all artists have a 20 minute set. This means you have to really consider what material you are playing and make everything count! There are also going to be lots of surprises at this weekend and I advise booking ahead as I hear that 50% of all tickets have already been sold!

Nick cody

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