Apparently there is now scientific evidence for what those of use over thirty have known for a long time: pop music is getting louder and all sounds the same. Certain questions and particular algorithms were run on pop music from 1955 to today.
A team led by artificial intelligence specialist Joan Serra at the Spanish National Research Council ran music from the last 50 years through some complex algorithms and found that pop songs have become intrinsically louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used.
“We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse,” Serra 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.”
They also found the so-called timbre palette has become poorer. The same note played at the same volume on, say, a piano and a guitar is said to have a different timbre, so the researchers found modern pop has a more limited variety of sounds.
Intrinsic loudness is the volume baked into a song when it is recorded, which can make it sound louder than others even at the same volume setting on an amplifier.
The emphasis in this ought to be “pop” music. One of the temptations in interpreting this is simply to conclude that everyone, artists and consumers alike, are just getting dumber n’ dumber. I think there’s something to that, but there’s a positive force at work here as well.
Pop music used to be better because it used to be very difficult to make a living as a musician if you weren’t signed to a major label. This kept a lot of talent in the “industry” that is now, thanks to newer media, able to make money through a variety of ways. Smaller record labels have many more options, and touring is something smaller acts can do and actually make a little bit of money at.
Sports analogy: in the U.S. we’re obsessed with big-time sports. Gotta make the big-time, make the big salaries. A huge proportion of athletic talent gets funneled into the “major” sports. Its hard to make a living in anything outside of those sports, and the only sport that pays well on a minor league level is the one that is most European in structure: baseball. In other countries, including much poorer ones, the salaries of stars in star sports are more modest, but an athlete can actually make a living playing women’s volleyball. The structure of TV deals, ticket sales, salaries, it all means that a much greater number of athletes can be supported.
For the past several years the American music industry has been shifting from a “mega” model to one which can support and sustain more musicians…albeit more modestly. Those still stuck (probably willingly stuck, let’s be honest, there’s still a ton of money) in the mega music industry have less and less talent to work with, and so they focus on putting out a homogenized easy-to-produce product. Trot out all the Katy Perrys and Lady Gagas you like, the advent of a new Madonna is extremely unlikely in this our internet age. She probably went to Nashville and is now touring medium-sized venues with her band.
So rejoice in the decay of American pop. It’s just a symptom of a great blessing: it’s so easy to find good music.