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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Scientists Confirm That Pop Music Is Bland

Pop music image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture music production blog
I've always felt that when people said that current music isn't as good as what previously came before, that it was more of a sign of a "generation gap" rather than a serious evaluation of the music. After all, this has been a reoccurring theme since the 1920's or so that still continues to this day. But now it seems that there's some real scientific evidence that actually confirms the argument.

A study by the Spanish National Research Council has found that current music is indeed more similar sounding, and louder, than ever. The study looked at over a million songs from the last 50 years and found that pop songs have become more bland in terms of the chords, the melodies and types of sounds used. In other words, music has become just what we've always feared - more "homogenized."

One of the more worrisome things they found is that the diversity of transitions between note combinations of chords and melodies have consistently diminished in the last 50 years. And for producers and engineers, the fact that we've settled on a more limited variety of sounds.

Of course, they also verified on of the things that everyone in the industry has been complaining about for the last 20 years - recorded music is indeed louder than it ever was. No surprise there.

And what was their recipe for turning things around? To record older songs with simpler chord progressions and with different instruments, and of course, louder. That's where they lost me.


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MrNullDevice said...

This is all very well-and-good, but the study overlooks a few fundamental things.

Primarily, that the very definition of "pop" music has changed over the past 50 years. In 1955 there were not thousands of niche subgenres being played by internet radio stations. Pop was basically everything that wasn't classical. Now, "pop" is a much more narrowly-defined genre and much of what used to be considered "pop" would not be classified as such.

Additonally, they also overlook a few changes in the way composition is approached. Modern pop music is heavily influenced by electronic dance and hip-hop, both of which are styles with a strong heritage of minimalism (after all, you can trace them both back through Kraftwerk to Stockhausen and Reich). This would certainly account for there being fewer chord changes. That doesn't necessarily imply "blander" just "different."

R Cole said...

Demographically specific radio helps to drive artists and producers toward never straying far from their last success. Each song has a sequel that is basically the same song played sideways. The TOP 50 became the demographically-specific TOP 15. Tastes became much narrower. Evolution in pop music slows to a crawl. No risk-takers left in the industry.

Also, much more of the music we hear is heavy on production and not performance. It's hard to know if you're hearing actual talent or audio cosmetics, which tempers our enthusiasm for what we're hearing. Somehow it seems like the groove and the humanity gets left behind.

Rand Bliss said...

I completely concur with R Cole who took the words out of my disillusioned-disapproving-disappointed-disparaging-disinterested-disgusted-with-current-pop-music mouth.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Well, maybe if I auto-tuned it...

MrNullDevice said...

Alas, it has always been fashionable to disparage pop music.

But it's "pop" for a reason. It's been designed, from the ground up, to appeal to as broad a spectrum as possible. It's particualrly easy to say "well, look at how dumb everyone is today based on our popular music" but let's face it, this is not a new trend.

There's a distinct archival bias in a study like this. Of the music from the 1955 end of the archive it's...well, the best pop music of 1955. Compared to ALL pop music now. If you compared the best of 1955 to merely the best of now (chosen of course by song longevity 50 years from now) you'd likely see less straight degradation. We easily forget, in our rose-colored nostalgia, that every era has a lot of terrible and forgettable music that's briefly popular, and then discarded and forgotten.

Jones Studio said...

Thanks for this piece, I have not been able to listen to any current pop music for what seems like decades, without quickly grabbing a CD from a band with what I call real music.


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