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Marty Friedman on why streaming listeners are skipping guitar solos: “Solos often have an obligatory existence – they must be there for a deeper reason”

Marty Friedman
(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic)

Marty Friedman has shared a think piece on new streaming stats indicating users are beginning to skip guitar solos when listening to songs, suggesting why he thinks the electric guitar might be resonating less with mainstream audiences.

Responding after the term ‘guitar solo’ began trending in Japan – where he currently resides – the former Megadeth guitarist says the data “makes sense and it wouldn't surprise me if it were true”.

“First of all, I believe that this data must be referring to the mainstream hit music, not heavy metal bands and rock bands,” he says in a new Facebook post. “I'm talking about what the vast majority of people listen to – pop artists who are on the top of the charts.”

Friedman adds that the gradual demise of lead guitar in chart music may be due to a decreased level of time, effort and money spent crafting worthy solos for these songs.

“The journey of an actual hit song from creation to the end user is incredibly long and a laundry list of professional people are involved,” he continues. “Aside from the artist himself, you have the songwriter(s), lyricist(s), producer, arranger, studio musicians for the demo, studio musicians for the master, label people, recording engineers and technicians, music video creators, directors and tech staff and more.

“At this point we still don't know if the song will even be popular or not, but one thing is for sure: there is a lot of money and time being gambled.”

For this reason, he adds, “guitar solos have all but vanished in the top levels of the US mainstream”, as well as other countries, too.

Homing in on why Japanese audiences in particular might be skipping guitar solos in the modern age, Friedman says despite the fact they're “ingrained in the consciousness of the Japanese listener” and offer “a necessary sound of familiarity”, they can sometimes take on an “obligatory existence, where as long as there is some kind of distorted guitar solo for eight bars somewhere in the song, the quota is met and all is well”.

“That just don't cut it, people!” he continues. “No wonder people skip the guitar solos when they listen. Even I skip them sometimes. I can tell in the first opening phrase whether or not I will give a rat's behind what the rest of the solo will be like.”

Friedman says that the key to writing memorable guitar solos – ones people won't skip – is to ensure there's just as much reason for the solo to be in a track as its vocals.

“In heavy rock,” he continues, “the fans care a lot about nuances of guitar solos and love them, even more than the rest of the song, but in the mainstream pop world, that solo better have just as much care, magic, and reason for being there going for it as the vocal that preceded it does.

“Imagine any Queen song with some decent random guitar solo coming in directly after Freddie's performance. Those solos would be skipped for sure. So instead of having a guitar solo in the song just for the sake of familiarity, or because a guitar solo sounds cool (they usually do), it must be there for a deeper reason.

“The solo's content, performance and unique magic that fits that one particular song should be committed to and given a lot of thought. As a fan I would wish that, and as a guitarist I always strive to do that.”

While the data Marty Friedman is referring to suggests a decline in appetite for lead playing in the mainstream, the electric guitar has seen its place in chart music become more prominent in recent years with the revival of pop-punk, spurred on by artists like Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud.

And who knows, maybe the solo will make a comeback on the charts, given this month's news that John Mayer has recorded a “wicked” guitar solo for Justin Bieber’s forthcoming album.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.