Science Proves Your Grandma Right About Pop Music

| 27 Jul 2012 17:57

Modern pop is too loud and it all sounds the same.

Examining a set of pop music from 1955 (that's 5 years before the Beatles were formed in Liverpool, for context) until 2010, a group of researchers in Spain fed the songs into a sophisticated computer algorithm and concluded that musically, tunes have grown increasingly bland over the years.

"We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse," team lead and artificial intelligence specialist Joan Serra at the Spanish National Research Council told Reuters. In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations - roughly speaking chords plus melodies - has consistently diminished in the last 50 years."

Not only have the chords and melodies grown simpler and less unique, but Serra's team discovered that there are fewer timbres in play these days, too. The timbre of a given pitch is, to put it simply, how it sounds - you can play the same Middle C on a piano, saxophone, theremin or sitar and it will sound differently on all of them; that is the note's timbre. According to Serra, the timbre palette is poorer now than it has ever been, meaning that there simply aren't as many different sounds in pop music as there used to be.

Your grumpy neighbor yelling at the kids to turn down their loud devil music might have a point, too. Serra's team found that the intrinsic loudness of songs - that is, how loud or soft a song sounds when the speakers are set to the same output - has increased over the years. According to Serra, this is the first concrete proof of the so-called "loudness war" in which record labels keep escalating the volume at which they set their music.

So yes, modern pop music is too loud, and it does all sound the same. Now get off my lawn.

Source: NBC

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Huh, this explains my (limited) taste in music. Thank God for Dream Theater, REM, and Muse.

Hmmm, I'm pretty sure I've read findings like this on a number of occasions. Indeed people have criticized the music industry for a while on these merits, songs trying to drown each other out, and of course how the industry keeps repackaging the same basic product, and doesn't take the time to cultivate talent through failures anymore and help them grow as artists. You wind up with one boy band/girl band or Bieber/Timberlake/Debbie Gibson/Britney Spears, etc... you farm them until they seriously flag, then drop them for someone almost exactly like them with the same basic sound and a style for the new youth, perhaps setting up a comeback tour or whatever. On top of that while there are tons of performers, there aren't that many songwriters, and apparently new talent finds itself locked out in many cases. Some guy like Elton John, Billy Joel, or countless others writers tons of songs for differant people (and gets big bucks off of it usually), they have distinctice styles and do the same basic things in many cases, especially as they are getting older. While I'm just using names randomly, your typical studio would say rather buy something jotted down on toilet paper by Elton John during a paticularly vigorous dump (and listed under a pseudonym or whatever), than risk a new writer in many cases (while there are execeptions). A lot of people will argue that this is just because the people of previous generations were so much more talented, it's actually because music has become the kind of product where risks aren't appreciated so the big labels stick with a formula that makes money. Every once in a while you see something come up from the "indie" scene, but that's an exception, rather than the rule, and in many cases an elevated "indie" is quickly forced into doing what everyone else is.

At any rate, like it or not, this is all a common rant about the music industry, and you see people talking about how everything is the same all the time. I'm pretty sure I've read things with people breaking down Bieber, Britney Spears, and others who were/are "hot" and comparing them to those who came before. Britney is kind of a has been now, but she was one of the big people pointed fingers at as a "product" as opposed to an "artist".

The only indisputable aspect of this so-called scientific study is the fact that songs are generally louder these days. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, depending on what the artist is trying to achieve with the song. The rest of it is conclusions based off unreliable data, ie you'd be just as well off drawing a conclusion from tea leaves. Not that I'm defending the shit infested waters that are pop music, but this "study" doesn't prove shit.

I've tried listening to other musics, and have come to the conclusion that for the most part, simpler is better when it comes to music. And while the Pop genre may have become more 'generic'... but then again, music is also far more diverse now because of a whole lot more genres. There is FAR more musical diversity now there there's been in the past... forever, really.

The proliferation of four-chord music is the same reason for the high-key "Teal and Orange" color-correction abuse in visual media - images using those colors have been proven over the years to have the biggest, most memorable effect on people. Likewise, restricting a song to just the four most contrasting chords that sound good together, or also possible with just five notes from the scale have proven to stick in people's minds for the longest time. The most prolific songwriter of all time (Before the Beatles put him out of business by writing their own songs - he was the guy behind Elvis Presley's hits) noted that a song with simple chords and lyrics simple enough for a five-year-old to follow has a high chance of being a hit.

How many people can bother to listen to the entirety of the 1812 overture, instead of skipping to the most simple, memorable part?

Maybe that partly explains why driving around with friends blasting shitty pop music my ears actually start to hurt and I lose hearing

Pop music in general has been pretty goddamn awful for at least the last 20 years. It seems to get more awful and generic with every passing year.

Thank god I'm a metalhead.

Thank god pop is becoming a smaller and smaller part of the landscape with time. Sure the radio is as diverse as a Sufjan Stevens concert but literally every other aspect of music right now is more diverse than it's ever been. Got a favorite genre? It's probably still going very strong right now. Good news for shoegaze fans like me because that 1989-1993 run just wasn't enough.

Wrong. More complex and/or unique melodies and chords does NOT make a song better.

I don't think they mean within each song, I think they mean comparing different songs to each other of each year. As in every song of recent years are trying to sound like each other, yet louder.

But is this is inevitable with a music genre as artistically bankrupt to define itself as "pop(ular) music"? It will not try to approach a particular theme, just try to be as much like what everyone else is doing, popular. Was was a category has become theme in itself, it's like a snake eating its own tail.

Mortis Nuncius:
I can't remember the last time I heard good sax in pop music...

If I'm not the first person to post this, then I'm disappoint.

They won eurovision with this song and deserved to win this. Epic violin guy was also in the same song:

Pride of Moldova.

I want a job where I get paid to listen to music all day then come out with obvious conclusions.

In case anyone's interested, here's the data compiled into infographics, behind the research mentioned in the OP.

Figure 1: Method schematic summary with pitch data
Figure 2: Pitch distributions and networks.
Figure 3: Timbre distributions.
Figure 4: Loudness distributions.

Complete with further explanations and bibliography at

I doubt the people who actually listen to pop music care.

Wrong. More complex and/or unique melodies and chords does NOT make a song better.

What a funny viewpoint. Surely an emphasis on unique melodies and chords would serve to make music more distinct, more experimental, and more memorable? If everybody uses the same chord sequences and melodies all the time, then things would surely get repetitive very quickly? If a song is released which simply rehashes everything that came before, then what does it have to make it unique and stand out in its own right?

heh. This is why I believe that the modern pop music genre should be relabelled to a new 'generic' genre so that the genre pop can become what it once was, a category known as popular, something that isn't locked into any particular genre and is a spot to put in music that is popular, though I admit there would probably be a lot of cheese and one hit wonders in this category.

Wrong. More complex and/or unique melodies and chords does NOT make a song better.

True, but more variety and experimentation in general makes any genre of music better (unless you're Slayer) .

Wrong. More complex and/or unique melodies and chords does NOT make a song better.

I had always thought myself an old fogie dooming myself to nostalgic pompusness based on ignorance but I guess when it comes to pop music I'm pretty much on the money.

EDIT -- click reply to post... site generates reply to thread...

Mortis Nuncius:
I can't remember the last time I heard good sax in pop music...

I'm really glad that now there's actually scientific proof to support my arguments.

Take that, you boombox-blasting hooligans!!

Baker Street? Too obvious?

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