Is Music Dead??
A controversial open debate.
On the 6th December 1966, 4 guys from Liverpool stepped into Abbey Road Studios to record an album. Three hundred and thirty-three hours later, The Beatles emerged having recorded their eighth album ‘SGT Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band’. It would go onto sell over 32 million copies worldwide and be named the greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine and many other publications.
Fast forward 44 years to 2010 and Justin Bieber released his hit single ‘Baby’. This is generally considered to be a bad move. So, what went wrong?
How did we go from Bob Dylan to Britney Spears? From Led Zeppelin to Lady Ga Ga or from The Kinks to Katie Perry.
But who I am to criticize the taste of most of the today’s youth? Personally, my musical tastes are stuck firmly in the middle of last century, but you may think that just makes me old-fashioned and stuck in the past but here is the thing! There is far more to this then simply nostalgia and when your parents tell you that “the music died a long time ago!” they may have a point.
Because it turns out that science agrees with them! Over the past 30 years, scientists have been researching how trends in music have evolved and recent studies have found out that the observations of such moody old musicians like I, are true.
Music is getting worse every year!
The researchers took around half a million tracks of music from all genres of music from the period of 1955 to 2018 and they ran every single song through a complex set of algorithms.
These algorithms measure 3 major metrics of each song.
THE LYRIC COMPLEXITY
THE TIMBRAL DIVERSITY
The most shocking discovery was that in the last few decades, timbre in music has dropped drastically. Timbre is the texture, colour, and quality of the sounds within the music. In other words, the songs richness and depth of sound.
The researchers found that timbral diversity peaked in the mid 70’s and has since been steadily declining.
**Please remember that this a debatable blog as obviously we can all think of stars such as Queen, U2, Muse, Coldplay, The Police The White Stripes, Pink Floyd that all carried the torch well beyond the mid 70’s and onwards into the 21st century**
Still this can be illustrated by The Beatle’s song A Day in The Life which contains 40 live orchestra musicians playing a wide range of instruments from double bass, clarinets, violins, harps, flutes, etc.
In contrast, today it comes down to the drum machine. And yes, this is a rather extreme example as songs are known for their one dimensional but punchy bass line, but it does represent an overall trend with modern pop music that the researchers found in their data.
Instead of experimenting with different musical techniques and instruments, most of the pop music is built today by the exact same combination of Keyboard & Drum Machine.
This could be viewed as progressive, but it does however suck the originality out of making music and contributes to the fact that most music sounds the same.
Do you ever flick through the vast amount of radio stations and think, these songs all sound the same?
What the researchers found was that the rhythms, melodies and even the vocals of popular music are becoming more and more similar.
One musical blogger, Patrick Metzger, pointed out that nearly all modern pop songs were using the exact same sequence of notes. There is a shift from the fifth note in a scale to the third note and then back to the fifth.
This sequence of notes is nearly always accompanied by a wah-O-wah type melody which Metzger named this discovery as the millennial whoop.
The millennial whoop can be found in hundreds of chart-topping pop songs created over the past few years and its usage is becoming more frequent by the day. From Katie Perry to Just Bieber, nearly every major pop artist has used the millennial whoop in one of the major selling hits.
Quite simply, familiarity. Our brains like familiarity and the more we hear the same sounds, the more we enjoy them.
The millennial whoop has become a powerful subconscious way of saying ‘hey!’ listen to this song, it’s really cool and you will like it because it is very familiar because you have actually heard it hundreds of times before.
And in this wildly unpredictable world, this subconsciously makes us feel safe. Sticking to the same cookie cutter formula comforts people and that is important.
But what about LYRICS?
Well I am afraid it is bad news there as well. Another study showed that the lyrical intelligence of hundreds of billboard chart topping songs over the past decade. Using different metrics such as the Flesch Kingcaid Readability Index, which identifies how difficult a piece of text is to understand, the quality of the writing. This was the result.
Over the past ten years, lyric intelligence had dropped by a full grade and lyrics tend to now be much shorter and much more repetitive.
Think Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone
v’s The Spice Girls Wannabe.
Also, it is becoming much rarer that the artist themselves write the lyrics.
Most lyrics and melodies are written by just a few elite songwriters that are never heard of and this is the industries secret weapon. Therefore, is it no wonder that the songs tend to all sound the same.
Also ‘the hook’ of a song is now placed much quicker into the piece of music and repeated far more often. This is because the average song listener has a shorter attention span for giving a song a chance before skipping onto the next track.
This shorting of attention is due to the sheer volume of songs at our fingertips. We have millions of songs at our disposal and it only takes the swipe of a finger to change track.
Think back to the time when the only way to listen to music was to purchase an album. The fact that you had paid a good amount of money for not many tracks meant that you would give the album a chance and relisten to it over and over, slowly picking up on the subtle skills and craft that had gone into the process of cutting the album.
Then came iPod, MP3 players and streaming which gave us access to some much music that we no longer had to justify a purchase and give it a chance. If we do not like the first few notes, then we move on.
Which relates back to stuffing songs with punchy bass lines generated from the drum machines and keyboard created hooks on continuous loop.
The LOUDNESS WAR or the destruction of nuances within a piece of music!
Also, since the 1990’s the producers have been engaged in a loudness war by making the music that they are producing simply louder to stand out above the competition.
This comes at a dreadful price.
Loudness in mastering is achieved by compression. Compression acts like taking an orange and squeezing it down in your hand and then adding another until you have the same size of the original but with much more added juice. The compression makes all tracks within the song level out at the same volume which strips any subtle nuances as you by loudening the small edges that gave the artistic flavour, you have now muddied all the tracks to be of the same volume. In same cases, sounds will even no longer be heard due to the fluctuation of the hertz.
But at the end of the day, there is a very particular reason why musical producers and labels don’t strive away from their safe haven of monotonous sample drum loops, rhythms stolen from the previous biggest chart-topper and the same style of lyrical repetitions. It all has to do with risk!
In the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s recorded labels would receive hundreds of demos from budding young artists every week. They would sift through them and the most talented acts would be signed for a record contract. Even if the artist were not that special, it did not matter as the record company would simply throw a few thousand pounds into the PR and if the public liked what they heard, the artist would naturally gain traction. The artist may become big or simply fade away, but the crucial element of this long-gone process is that the public were voting themselves with their own ears for the best talent, best bands, artists, singer-songwriters. We the people were the final judge and jury!!!
Therefore, musicians had to be bloody talented to impress the public and stick around.
There was no room for sloppiness.
This method obviously did not come without risks as often record labels would pump thousands of pounds into acts that simply weren’t to be however the might of the big acts that got signed easily evened up the books and made it a viable business.
However, promoting a new band today is more expensive than ever before. Over time the cost of breaking a new act into the mainstream market has skyrocketed and today’s costs are anywhere from $500,000 to over $3M.
That is one hell of a lot of money to gamble so what has the industry done to overcome the risk factor.
Instead of trying to find genuine musical talent, they simply take a young face, usually from so X-Factor type show and then simply force the public to like them by brainwashing them.
Instead of giving you the choice and volition of deciding whether you like the music, the industry simply makes you like the music, thus removing the financial risk.
Have you ever noticed how that popular new song seems to follow you around everywhere you go? It is on every single radio station, its played in the shopping malls, its played in the supermarkets, all over the internet and even in the latest Hollywood movies and TV shows.
This is by no means a coincidence. This is to make sure the labels three million dollars has been invested wisely and is simply everywhere. You will hear it whether you wish to or not.
The power of familiarity which is called the Mere-Exposure Effect, an extremely powerful psychological tool.
Our brains release dopamine when we hear a tune that we have heard before and the effect only becomes stronger upon each listen.
Can you remember when you heard you favourite pop song of the last ten years?
There is substantial research that chances are you thought it was ok. But then you were exposed to it again within a truly short duration and you suddenly decided it is quite catchy and so the process continues.
We all have different tastes and this report does by no means state that there is no talent out there.
There are fantastic bands, artists who are original but sadly their chance of becoming signed are ridiculously small due to not fitting the formula of mass exposure.
This is where the danger lies. The suppression of great original art not being given its rightful platform and instead, throwaway bubble gum pop that is here today, gone tomorrow.
The true art form of creative is slowly being drain of its life blood by the manufactured flawless compressed monotonous drone of today’s hit.
Is the music is slowly dying?