Published on August 13th, 2012 | by Tom0
Why do all pop songs sound the same?
Does every song in the current top 40 sound the same?
On the Indiesongwriter.net facebook page I recently linked to a Gary Ewer article discussing a recent study that looked at sameness in pop music.
Gary summarised the study as saying four things about pop music:
- There is more “sameness” in today’s music.
- There are fewer combinations of melodies and chords.
- There is a more limited variety of sounds.
- Intrinsic loudness has increased.
Gary then explained that he thought the answer was money – people writing copycat songs to recreate the success of recent hits. He contrasted this with Arcade Fire’s 2011 grammy success – an interesting indie artist that didn’t fit the pop song mould, and so confused a lot of pop fans.
I agree that mainstream pop has a lack of variety, to the point that songs sound exactly the same no matter where in the song you skip to.
But is Gary right? Are we just talking about copycat songwriters?
Here are the reasons I think might be a factor:
The way people listen:
Much is made of the short attention span of modern listeners. It might only be anecdote, but as a music teacher I observe young people listening to music a lot. There’s one thing I’m always fascinated by – they almost never listen to a whole song. They skip from song to song, whether on youtube (no, they’re not using Itunes or Spotify, they’re only using youtube) or their phones (tracks on their phones are ripped from youtube and shared. The quality is abysmal).
So if you’re going to compose for that audience, don’t you need songs that sound the same no matter which part of the song you drop into? I read recently (sorry can’t remember where) an analysis of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ that said you’re never more than 15 seconds away from the main hook at any one time.
Changing chords, having structures that take you on a journey – none of that fits with music that has to get it’s job done in 10 seconds or less.
The technology used to create music:
I have no way of proving this idea, but might it have something to do with the prevalence of DAW software and the ease of looping, copying and pasting? If everything is composed in the box and you’ve never played an instrument or really got under the skin of more complicated songs, maybe looping and layering is inevitably going to be the way you create contrast in your music?
That would certainly fit in with the highly produced nature of your modern top 40 hit – they’re often masterpieces of the producer’s craft, even if they’re not the best written compositions.
The hip-hop influence:
Hip-hop was never about harmony, it was about groove and vocals. Maybe that influence is coming to the fore at the moment. People are making music interesting in other ways, rather than chord progressions, harmony and structure.
The mainstream is dead. Whereas in previous generations there was only one outlet for music, and the Beatles were going to be broadcast via the mainstream media, these days there are a thousand avenues for interesting music to find an audience that have nothing to do with the charts. All that is left in the charts is the bland copy-cat rubbish. Interesting music still exists, it just doesn’t need to bother with the mass market
I don’t know which of these is the most important factor. I’m sure it’s complicated. What do you think?
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