I bought my first CD as a teenager in the late 1980s. I didn’t actually own a CD player, but my big brother convinced me that the technology was here to stay, so it represented good investment of my pocket money.
What album was it? I’m relatively proud to say it was U2’s The Joshua Tree. And the first song is the haunting Where the Streets Have No Name. You can listen to it here. My question is this: what happens after 106 seconds of this track?
That’s right. Bono doesn’t begin to sing for nearly two minutes! Good things come to those who wait, right? I remember relishing the gradual crescendo of the organ’s chord progressions, followed by The Edge’s pulsating guitar, and it felt like his voice came in at just the right point. And nearly six passionate minutes later, he finishes with the lyrics:
Oh when I go there
I go there with you
It’s all I can do
Now compare it with this song, the biggest selling track of 2016.
Yes, the vocals begin in under 10 seconds. I know, I know. I’m sounding like an old man. Don’t get me wrong. I actually quite like Rockabye. But it was different in my day. I can tell you that for a fact, because research from earlier this year confirms it. A study from Ohio State University has found that musical introductions are now four times shorter these days. As the study’s author, Hubert Léveillé Gauvin, says:
It’s survival-of-the-fittest: Songs that manage to grab and sustain listeners’ attention get played and others get skipped. There’s always another song.
The theory is that instant gratification, and in this case music streaming, has killed the instrumental intro, because our attention spans have all got shorter.
Consider the teenage me. I was so patient, I didn’t even yet own the means of playing the music I’d just purchased! Would today’s 16 year old do anything quite as ridiculous as that?
Forget the elevator pitch. You’ve not got that long.
OK, so how does this relate to charities? I’d better make my point quickly. As I started out working in charities, I remember learning about the ‘elevator pitch’. Imagine you have 30 seconds in a lift with someone really important. What would you say about your charity?
Only now, I realise, in the age of micro-blogging, of shorter attention spans, and of so many causes vying to be noticed, 30 seconds is way too long. You’ll be lucky if you can get to the next floor up.
Don’t tell them when you were founded. Don’t bang on about your values. Don’t promise to send them your Annual Report.
Ask yourself why your charity is important. So what? Condense your answer again.
Could you do it in under 10 words? The charity Tommy’s can do it in five: “Funding research. Saving Babies’ Lives.” Why is Cancer Research UK important? Because “Cancer is happening right now.” Again, five urgent words.
These days, it’s only once you’ve truly got your supporter’s attention that you can begin to wax lyrical, and play them your favourite expansive guitar riffs and moving chord progressions.
Because when your supporter goes there, they’ll go there with you. It’s all they can do.