Let’s face a grim reality that all would-be musicians have to realize at some point in their lives. Writing a song is tricky business, let alone writing a song that doesn’t cause you to feel such great embarrassment, such pity for the person who wrote it, that you have to personally send them a letter of condolence and an invoice for the Numark that their song caused you to throw out a window. And that’s just ONE song. Imagine trying to come up with however many songs it takes nowadays to pass for a standard album and still have Bob Boilen soil his pants with excitement so you have a fighting chance of getting your single on that Apple commercial. And although there are plenty of guides out there to writing songs, there’s not nearly as many on NOT writing songs. So next time your Lennon/McCartney powers are running a little low, here’s a few helpful reminders on how to best whittle away your precious album running length, from studio chatter to the hip-hop skit.
First, never write more than you have to! If your album is running over 35 minutes, you’ll just be wasting more and more of everyone’s time the more you choose to noodle on. If you’re going to shoot for the magic single length of 3:35 per song that should give you roughly nine songs to “express” yourself, while keeping your stoned digressions firmly in check and kept to a minimum. Don’t even be afraid to stop at 28:00, you could just say you were trying to emulate a 1960’s pop record.
However, some of these numbers are rendered irrelevant if you are (God help you) in any form of jam/experimental/noise band, when everyone suddenly decides Lee Ranaldo is a genius and they let that sweet feedback go on and on for sometimes the duration of an entire album. In this case it’s helpful to remember the “Cluster Quotient” which usually gives you roughly three songs to play while you project a suitably pretentious film behind you such as The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Since we have touched a little on Krautrock, it’s worth noting that all those happy-go-lucky Germans used filler with a mastery that’s virtually unparalleled in any other genre. You know that babbling-brook noise that goes on for minutes on end on albums by anyone from Animal Collective to Deerhunter? Krautrock invented it! And consider Neu! 2, an album whose entire side two contains nothing but classic filler. Run out of money with only half the album finished? Just throw on an already released single, and then do it again, just play the tracks at different speeds and hope no one notices, or better yet hope they consider it art. Unfortunately, they still did not outdo Can who put out an entire double album that had basically four songs on it.
Although you may not be as fortunate as perhaps your German friends and would be unable to get away with playing a single note for a ten-minute song, you still have plenty of resources at your disposal. You could always throw in a song you don’t have to write yourself and record a straight cover. Or to go down a similar route, it’s fairly easy to come up with an instrumental that takes up nearly five minutes of album length in a quiet afternoon. After all, KISS did BOTH on their first album and look where it took them.
Also, never forget to throw on a track with the world’s most popular title. “Intro” can get your album started in a way that doesn’t require a thought in your head and take up a good three minutes of running time before people will really start to take notice that you may be intentionally wasting your time. Oh, also do you think that last track needs a second, perhaps ever THIRD solo? Why yes Mr. Verlaine, I believe it does! Having trouble coming up with a third verse, just repeat the first, no one is really listening to what you’re saying anyway.
Just as the classic three-minute pop standard, filler is an art form and a craft that one can always notice if it is not done properly. It does so much more than simply take up space. And this is a sentence that serves to remind you of the previous sentence that filler is an art form like any other, and it does more than simply take up space. Also in case you needed reminding, this article was about the use of filler and I assure you that the previous three sentences were absolutely necessary to properly conclude this article and every word in this paragraph was written with brevity as a major consideration, we would by no means wish to waste any of your time, after all that would largely undercut the major theme of this article.