Sir Paul McCartney turned 81 this week and continues innovating imaginatively. Last week, he announced plans to use AI to record a “new” song with his mate John Lennon. Personally, I can’t wait to hear it. This is a great example of feeding his most loyal, passionate fans with deeper content. Yet he also understands how this differs from creating a hit single, which has powerful implications for radio shows and other content creators.
In his book The Lyrics (which is fantastic), the music legend beautifully explains the challenge of writing hit singles and exploring his personal creative passions. Writing a hit single was easy for Paul because the songs were simple, repetitive, and designed to become quickly familiar, to “get stuck in your head.” They’re for the audience. But he describes the album cuts as more personally satisfying because he gave himself the freedom to experiment, explore, and innovate.
Creative Lessons From Paul McCartney
Paul has been involved in crafting numerous hit singles throughout his career, both as a member of The Beatles and as a solo artist. When it comes to writing singles, the primary goal is often to create a concise and catchy song that can capture the attention of listeners with the goal of achieving commercial success. Singles are typically shorter in duration and designed to make an immediate impact.
On the other hand, when McCartney writes album cuts, he allows himself more freedom to explore different musical ideas and delve into deeper, more complex themes. The album is an extended musical journey, allowing for experimentation and creativity. Album cuts may not have the same level of appeal as singles but can offer a more substantial and immersive experience in the context of a full album.
This simple realization should be obvious to you. Success happens when the content creator realizes that it’s not about you. It’s about the audience experience. McCartney composed songs as a single to be:
- More familiar based on existing audience expectations.
- Shorter, especially getting to the hook faster.
That’s a great recipe for creating more consumable content in any media.
Radio personalities and podcasters are the rock stars of the spoken word. Like musicians, they face a creative conundrum: striking a balance between creating content that captivates and engages the audience vs. satisfying a personal desire to do something completely different.
Embrace Your Hits
Imagine attending a concert of your favorite band, eagerly anticipating the moment they’ll perform their biggest hits—the ones that made you fall in love with their music. Now picture the band saying, “Sorry, we’re tired of playing those songs.” You paid a fortune for those tickets, and they don’t want to perform their best songs? To say that would be disappointing is an understatement. You’d be angry, right?
The hits are the crowd-pleasers. It’s what attracts listeners and makes it possible for them to become fans. The hits are the most popular content that resonates most with your audience. It’s your job not to become bored with Second Date Update, the Thousand Dollar Minute, and even information features.
Just as hit singles are critical to the success of a band, certain features or segments on your show or podcast become fan favorites. Great features generate buzz, spark conversations, attract new listeners, and are the backbone of your content. Great shows like Big Bay Mornings (KMVQ/San Francisco) built the foundation for their massive success on a handful of powerful hit features, and they never get lazy with them.
Innovate With Care
Artists naturally want to experiment and push the boundaries. McCartney’s album tracks represent that desire for creative exploration. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between innovation and audience satisfaction. Indulging your artistic impulses may thrill a small group of passionate fans, but remember that the majority of your audience seeks content that resonates immediately.
Experiment wisely to ensure that your creativity complements the overall experience. Big Bay Mornings support its hits with personal stories and observations, carefully placed to enhance and broaden their appeal without alienating the core audience.
Both are important.
Understand Consumption Habits
Paul McCartney’s comment shows that he understood the public, even 60 years ago when he and John cranked out hit after hit. Today, the audience’s attention is even more precious. Instant gratification is the norm.
Remember, your audience is not listening to every talk segment or tuning in to every moment of every podcast. They consume content on their own terms, seeking the most engaging and valuable snippets, and expecting you to deliver whenever they tune in. When they tune in, will they hear a hit?
Paul McCartney’s insight on the difference between hit singles and album tracks holds valuable lessons for content creators in the spoken word industry. If you want to be successful, content should be created for the audience and not for personal fulfillment.
Great personalities learn to strike a balance between delivering fan-favorite content and experimenting with innovative ideas. the hits are the backbone of your content, album tracks are for creative exploration. Embrace this mindset, and watch your content soar to new heights.