For Music-Producer Types… Notes From MixNashville

I attended MixNashville earlier this year, held at SoundCheck Nashville, a giant warehouse/practice/tour support facility. (an amazing feat in itself, since the facility was completely submerged by flooding earlier this year.) It was a pretty good show, though I do wish they had scheduled more lectures geared towards music business and studio survival, and fewer “How to Mic an X” or “Anatomy of a Mix” lectures. The reason might be that few people have any answers to the studio survival question.

An exception was a lecture given by Jay Frank. He’s the author of FutureHit.DNA, which is a book I’d never heard of until the conference. I’ve just started reading it, and at first glance it looks like it should be required reading for anyone involved in the music business.

I took a bunch of notes during the lecture, which I’ve typed up for this post. If you never deal with music on a professional production basis, then you’ll probably find little of interest here, but as a sometime studio engineer and producer, I found his comments to be really enlightening. Enjoy…

(NOTE: My apologies to Mr. Frank if I’ve misquoted him or gotten something wrong in these notes… I was scribbling as fast as I could… for the authoritative version, get the book. It’s only $16 at Amazon)


Lecture by Jay Frank, author of Future Hit DNA

Presented at Mix Nashville, Tuesday, Sept 14th, 2010

The “radio paradigm” doesn’t work anymore, i.e., people don’t use the radio to find new music to go out and buy. People used to stumble upon a song via radio or TV.

You have seven seconds to impress the listener. Research has shown that people form an opinion, positive or negative, within that time frame.

Old songs from the 1950s had 10 second intros. This was space for DJs to intro the song… a short instrumental music bed, if you will.

During the period of radio consolidation, computers began selecting songs. Longer intros resulted in more selection. This was accidental, as it was just for the DJs to use that space for selling cars, but it illustrates the role of technology in creating #1 hits.

In 2000, average intros went from 15 seconds to 8 seconds. In Jan-June of that year, the top downloads had an average intro of 6 seconds. There are some exceptions to this rule.

Currently there are far too many choices in new music. How do you cut through all the clutter? If you can get a listener to hang on through the first 10 seconds, they are much more likely to stay. So you lengthen the song & own the listening experience… say, from 3:45 to 4:30. If your listener spends more time with your song, they are spending less with the competition. Also, longer songs are cheaper to stream using current models.

Pandora pays the same rate regardless of length.They’ve also started 4 minute programming, no punk or oldies. (4 minutes of commercials per hour of music) In general, songs are too short. Longer songs are more cost effective.(1) Live 365 is a different deal. Payment will change within the next five years to payment for length of songs, i.e., more $$$ for longer songs. (2)

The only way for artists and music producers to make money is via multiple listens or purchase. If this is the case, then multiple versions- acoustic version, hard rock version, etc… make sense.

Example- Seelo song F*ck You. The first video had just lyrics on screen. 2 weeks later, actual video is released. Had 100K downloads.

Second example- Bed Intruder. Auto-Tune the News Went viral. (3)

There are 3 points in a song where people tune out… the beginning, middle, and the end. We’ve discussed the beginning. The MIDDLE, say, 2 mins in, at the end of the second chorus… if the song doesn’t change, or somehow shift, people will tune out.

The END… Nowadays, people get “stuck” on a song that is unresolved- like an abrupt ending. Like a good hook, it becomes an itch the listener can’t scratch. Only 10% of the top downloads offer a fade. Most leave you hanging.

For more on this subject, read “This Is Your Brain On Music” by Daniel J. Levitin. Very dense reading, but very informative.

We are in a singles world. Listening is done by playlist w/ shuffle. Albums are a holdover from industry delivery models. Labels should release more songs… almost no sales are resulting from back catalog.

For a beginning artist, it’s important to release singles more often. Keep feeding your fan base. There is a band called Pretty Lights– all songs are given away free on the internet. The band sold out RedRocks.

Daily Online Updates- constant updates on your website for producers, artists, engineers is essential. You have to keep giving people a reason to talk and think about you. If you can get a thousand fans to spend $100 a year on your band, then you can make a living. Half the labels are using this philosophy in their A&R meetings.

Radio Play- Publishers want 3-31/2 minute songs for radio play. Make a radio edit, but make sure the long version is the upload version.

Marketing Strategies- Use music videos wherever possible.

A side note… the way producers and fans look at music is often backwards. The PRODUCER considers first artist’s talent, then lifestyle, which results in the song. The LISTENER experiences the song first, then looks at lifestyle, then talent of the artist.

Cover songs are a great way to introduce yourself to fans.


(1)  Pandora aiming to loosen radio’s grip on drive time, 12 October, 2010 12:56:00,

(2) Spotloads, Perception, And Listener Tolerance MONDAY, MARCH 22, 2010,

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