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They all have the same beat, and you can do the same dance to them!
July 27, 2012 12:46 AM   Subscribe

"It is a familiar complaint from those of a certain age: today’s pop music is louder and all the songs sound the same. It turns out they are right. Research shows that modern recordings are louder than those of those of the 1950s and 60s. They are also blander, with less variety in terms of chords and melodies."

"The finding, which will come as no surprise to all those over the age of 35 or so, comes from Spanish researchers who carried out a computer analysis of the key features of almost half a million pop, rock and hip hop songs from 1955 to 2010."

This quote from one researcher pretty much sums it up for me: "Now it’s about dancing and relaxing, rhythm and energy, with groups and bands not so interested in experimenting with sounds and chords."

The research utilized the Million Song Dataset (previously).
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing (152 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Personally, I think it's not so much that music is that much worse than in years past, but more a case of bland formulaic dance music being all that's widely popular anymore (blame society). Another problem is the American Idol "diva-fication" of music, and the emphasis on vocal talent(!) over the actual music.

And the other factor is that, like most artforms, there's just not as much new creative ground to break.

The whole loudness war debate would probably bug me just as much if I had more discerning ears.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:51 AM on July 27, 2012


They are not louder, they are more compressed in dynamic range. Big difference.

This is well known, Google loudness wars.
posted by deadwax at 12:53 AM on July 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


"all the songs sound the same"

Sampling. Loop libraries. Synthesizer presets. Maximizers. Sequencers. [...]
posted by Ardiril at 12:58 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh, I wonder if you compared classical music to 50s-60s pop if you'd get a similar gulf?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:59 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cicero c. 50 BCE on the evils of modern music: "and yet I do observe that audiences which used to be deeply affected by the inspiring sternness of the music of Livius and Naevius, now leap up and twist their necks and turn their eyes in time with our modern tunes." (De Legibus II.39)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:00 AM on July 27, 2012 [68 favorites]


Can't we just blame Justin Beiber for everything?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:00 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


And you should've heard the complaints when the Baroques took over.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:01 AM on July 27, 2012


Don't we have this discussion every time a new DJ Earworm end of year mix comes out?
posted by knile at 1:04 AM on July 27, 2012


fuckin eyeroll, music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history. sorry you olds don't know what to listen to.
posted by p3on at 1:06 AM on July 27, 2012 [30 favorites]


"Loudness wars" is indeed something that audio engineers have loved to gripe about for some time.

This Create Digital Music post has a nice visual and relays one plausible possibility for what the effect is:

Mastering engineer Bob Ludwig stated, “People talk about downloads hurting record sales. I and some other people would submit that another thing that is hurting record sales these days is the fact that they are so compressed that the ear just gets tired of it. When you’re through listening to a whole album of this highly compressed music, your ear is fatigued. You may have enjoyed the music but you don’t really feel like going back and listening to it again.”


Another post has this video which explains what's going on in 2 minutes.

The piece of news from the FPP is also interesting because of the feature analysis. It's something I've heard less about (Pandora does something related to this) it will be cool to read up on. Thanks.
posted by victory_laser at 1:07 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has anybody similar research on old people? I'm pretty sure they all sound the same and are getting both louder and blander. I KNOW I AM!
posted by srboisvert at 1:09 AM on July 27, 2012 [24 favorites]


I never really related to all the Bieber hate (especially prevalent on Youtube videos of old songs). I'm sure part of it is because I haven't been forced to hear a lot of his music, unlike other big stars of today, but... his material just strikes me as more harmless fluff than something claiming to be real artistic music. Maybe because it's not something that appeals widely to anyone older than he is? At least, among those who would admit it...
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:10 AM on July 27, 2012


Here is the actual paper. While I agree that music is at a really interesting place right now sentiment etc., don't get too caught up in the BS pop-sci headline or you might miss the cool science that they actually may or may not be doing.
posted by victory_laser at 1:12 AM on July 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history. sorry you olds don't know what to listen to.

That is debatable, but never mind. It's true that a lot of diverse music is being made and available, but how much of this diversity is actually present on mainstream channels (radio, television, record shops etc)? How much is available for casual consumption, rather than needing to be sought out
posted by MartinWisse at 1:22 AM on July 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


fuckin eyeroll, music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history.

I don't deny that. I'm not sure what criteria they used for the songs in question, but I think the main point is that the music that's most popular now (not strictly in the genre sense) is less diverse and creative, not music as a whole. The same can be said for TV or movies. The types of songs on a current top-play list is probably a lot more narrow than it was in decades past.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:24 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


The music is so damn loud that kids can't hear me when I tell them to get off my lawn.
posted by wuwei at 1:25 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


fuckin eyeroll, music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history. sorry you olds don't know what to listen to.

Oops, you commented on the wrong site. Youtube is over there.
posted by bongo_x at 1:28 AM on July 27, 2012 [45 favorites]


I was just planning to post this. As a 28 year old, I grew up in the MTV era before torrents existed, in almost total ignorance of the glorious sounds of the late 60s and 70s, which I only started exploring relatively recently.

While its not like music per se has gotten more boring since then, it's obvious that 'the music industry' has evolved a successful mass production formula which is creatively barren but commercially dominant, where any actual "music" comes a remote second to the artists' "image" (usually sex appeal)

It would be interesting to see how this type of analysis applies to K-pop, where the mass-production approach to music is probably found in its purest form.
posted by moorooka at 1:29 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history.

Pop Music is a tiny subset of Music. Always has been - you're probably comparing ALL today's music with what you had access to when you were 10 years old. A common mistake. The well-accepted decline in the "Music Business" has probably actually contributed to more total distributed diversity, but that's not what this is about.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:35 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the paper this seems to be the key conclusion:
Each of us has a perception of what is new and what is not in popular music. According to our findings, this perception should be largely rooted on the simplicity of pitch sequences, the usage of relatively novel timbral mixtures that are in agreement with the current tendencies, and the exploitation of modern recording techniques that allow for louder volumes.
But I guess Sturgeon's law applies just as much now as it always has. Since there is a whole lot more music so there is a whole lot more crap.
posted by rongorongo at 1:35 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pop music always sucks, but yes more so now that the industry is just like the movies, where all they care about is selling more that sounds like what already sold, minimizing risk, blah blah...

The good news is the rest of the music keeps getting better.
posted by hypersloth at 1:38 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse: who listens to the radio or watches 'music television' or purchases physical media anymore? top 40 is a niche genre. it's homogenizing cause it's shrinking.
posted by Ictus at 1:40 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Pop music always sucks - hypersloth

I'll let the Beatles know about this.
posted by readyfreddy at 1:48 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those who are disappointed, why not read The Manual and come up with something better.
posted by mr.ersatz at 1:56 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


OH my GOD this argument goes ROUND and ROUND and ROUND and ROUND and.... I've seen this same damn post over and over again and I'm so fucking tired of it! Loudness Wars, "pop music", kids nowadays, blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.

Look. Just because this generation likes different stuff than that generation doesn't make either one inherently better or worse than the other. It's all music fercrissake, let's just all like what we choose to like and let the rest be, mmm? Is that so belgiuming hard?? Jesus H. Jumping Christ on a pogo stick.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:58 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks to you Greg_Ace and lesbiassparrow, I'm now picturing Cicero shaking his fist at a bunch of Beiber and Gaga and Katy Perry fans. KIDS THESE DAYS WITH YOUR BEEP BOOP MUSIC DON'T KNOW WHAT IT WAS LIKE WHEN LIVIUS WAS PLAYING THE THEATRE OF POMPEY! GET OFF MY LAWN YOU YOUNG HOOLIGANS!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:09 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"They are also blander, with less variety in terms of chords and melodies."

Variety is NOT equal to more "chords and [variation in] melodies". There are whole styles of music that do not focus on chords or melodies. Modern pop music is, unsurprisingly, influenced by these types of music. This statement veers dangerously close to the old "rap? that's not even music!" trope.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:10 AM on July 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


My neighbors are about 70, maybe? Which means that they were in their 20s during the 1950s, and were 30 when the Beatles hit town. How come they, like most other older folks I know, listen to lite jazz? This is something I fear about my future.

Then again, I have a Pandora station of techno/dance music playing in my shop most of the time; when the jobs are going well, it's awesome. But I find when I'm frustrated with my work, the dance music, depending on who's playing, can be almost intolerable; I have to switch to my PJ Harvey-seed station.
posted by maxwelton at 2:16 AM on July 27, 2012


The actual paper in Nature

The researcher's website
posted by yoHighness at 2:18 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


/Trolled by Daily Mail link
posted by yoHighness at 2:19 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


OH my GOD this argument goes ROUND and ROUND and ROUND and ROUND and..

Like a record baby?
posted by chavenet at 2:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [34 favorites]


Oops, you commented on the wrong site. Youtube is over there.

ahaha sorry did i hurt your feelings? seriously, this kind of article comes out every six months and it's utterly embarrassing to read comments defending them, always the exact same sentiments by people who don't 'get' the interesting and divergent ways that music has developed in the last ten years
posted by p3on at 2:28 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a theory (not in the scientific sense, mind you, more of the "thought that I'm going to share with the internet" variety) about this. In a recent Family Guy episode wherein the Griffins live with an Amish family for a while there's a joke where an Amish man is praying and he mentions something about living a lifestyle with "just the right amount of technology", between a certain narrow date which corresponds to when Amish culture developed, and anyway I believe that the 60s and 70s in a sense really did have the "right" amount of technology; enough to enhance the underlying musical ideas that musicians had but not at the point right now when anyone can use GarageBand/Pro Tools/Logic etc. to create pleasant, more-or-less professional-sounding music (not dissing these products/approaches, btw), a happy medium, if you will. Just my 2 cents.
posted by MattMangels at 2:33 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now you HAVE to get off my lawn.


BECAUSE SCIENCE
posted by louche mustachio at 2:47 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


My most notoriously curmudgeonly friends posted this somewhere earlier today in a thread he titled "Man Yells At Cloud."
posted by louche mustachio at 2:49 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


how much of this diversity is actually present on mainstream channels (radio, television, record shops etc)

You need to use your landline to call and friend and ask them to look at their watch and tell you what time it is. Assuming your friend remembered to wind it up that morning.
posted by srboisvert at 2:54 AM on July 27, 2012


Music is one of several globalised products which taste the same in franchises the world over and which, once you know the real version, feel both insulting and like a hi-tech bioweapon designed to make people addicted to crap. Discuss.
posted by yoHighness at 3:00 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


ahaha sorry did i hurt your feelings? seriously, this kind of article comes out every six months and it's utterly embarrassing to read comments defending them...

I'd have to agree with you on the first part there, even though I'm an old.

...always the exact same sentiments by people who don't 'get' the interesting and divergent ways that music has developed in the last ten years

What would be really nice to see in these discussions is examples to back up opinions. I've only noticed a couple of band names mentioned here, and by no means do they represent anything recent. How about giving a few examples about the interesting and divergent?
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:08 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"MartinWisse: who listens to the radio or watches 'music television' or purchases physical media anymore? top 40 is a niche genre. it's homogenizing cause it's shrinking."

But I'm pretty sure that the top iTunes tracks correspond closely to what we're calling "top 40".

"Variety is NOT equal to more 'chords and [variation in] melodies'. There are whole styles of music that do not focus on chords or melodies. Modern pop music is, unsurprisingly, influenced by these types of music. This statement veers dangerously close to the old 'rap? that's not even music!' trope."

That's a good argument. It has merit. But variation in chords and melodies is nevertheless a core aspect of variation in music in general. I'd argue, though, that Western popular music, going back to the folk music roots, is essentially very limited in harmony and melody, and also by time signature. So there's really not a lot of reduction in variability possible within what is already deep constraints.

"ahaha sorry did i hurt your feelings? seriously, this kind of article comes out every six months and it's utterly embarrassing to read comments defending them, always the exact same sentiments by people who don't 'get' the interesting and divergent ways that music has developed in the last ten years"

You seem to be missing the point of the responses to you and you're being kind of a jerk about it, too.

If you think that mefites in general lack sophistication about the vast variety of music available these days, you're deeply mistaken. This is a community with an abnormally large contingent of aficionados of a huge array of different niches in popular music. It's not at all (other than jonmc — hi, jon!) a bunch of old people who think that the music of their youth is the only good music and everything since then is a sorry devolution. Not at all. Really, there's a lot of people here, to some degree I'm an example, who are in the their 30s, 40s, and 50s who listen to a lot of new stuff. Believe me, — I know people my age who don't know anything about music after their teen years. MetaFilter isn't those people.

The argument here is that true pop music, such as it still exists — Perry, Bieber, whoever — has become even more homogenized than it has been in the past. I don't really have a dog in this fight because from my perspective, someone who's always hated true pop music and didn't listen to it, it's always been pablum. Still, it really does seem, observing the evolution of this part of the music industry over my adult lifetime, that it's become wholly a kind of manufacturing. Yeah, there's always been constructed bands performing material that others write and produced by label producers who homogenize the sound. But it seems even worse. What were in the past the most egregious examples of this are now more the rule than the exception. And there's fewer quirky and distinctive sounding artists in this true pop segment.

And, frankly, while I think that there's been a burst of variety of and within what we might call subgenres of popular music, I also think that it's remarkable and unfortunate that there's not been a true revolution in popular music since hip-hop. Used to be, these profound revolutionary changes would happen every generation, or so (or even somewhat more frequently, like every 10-15 years) but hip-hop was the last. All of the (many, and interesting) variations in subgenres today are descendants, as subgenres, of previous mainstream revolutions.

So I think that this complaint is correct and incorrect depending upon what you're looking at. Within the specific realm of true popular music I think that arguably diversity has diminished. Within the wider realm of all widely available music (and in the iTunes era, it's all widely available) music variety has exploded. When I was young, all there was ubiquitous was Top 40 in either rock or country formats. You had to make a real effort to seek out punk or metal or industrial or whatever. That's so not the case now with anything, really. In that context, I think variety and creativity and appreciation has exploded. But within the entire context of popular music, I think that we've been on an extended variation and elaboration of already existing themes with a real revolution long overdue.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:11 AM on July 27, 2012 [19 favorites]


But variation in chords and melodies is nevertheless a core aspect of variation in music in general. I'd argue, though, that Western popular music, going back to the folk music roots, is essentially very limited in harmony and melody, and also by time signature. So there's really not a lot of reduction in variability possible within what is already deep constraints.

I think the key argument to make here is not so much about how much variation in chords and melodies is possible, but rather the idea that variation in those areas may indeed be falling, but musicmakers may be compensating by putting more effort into variation in, say, timbre or rhythm, off the top of my head (related reading: Timbre as Differentiation in Indie Music, by David K. Blake).
posted by No-sword at 3:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd argue, though, that Western popular music, going back to the folk music roots, is essentially very limited in harmony and melody, and also by time signature. So there's really not a lot of reduction in variability possible within what is already deep constraints.

The rise of popular music (for instance, hip-hop) that was not constrained by the limitations of other western popular styles shows that variation across does not have to occur WITHIN the style, but can instead arise through "gene flow". The rise of hip-hop (and its subsequent influence on all other styles) might be seen as a "reduction" in variability from a particular point of view (that is, less melody, fewer chords) but actually represented an increase in variability.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:22 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


guys guys did you know that if you have any kinds of issues with contemporary creative output in any medium youre a clueless old person and ignorant and probably bad. i did not and when i found out i felt what i would call a pang of loss

also "pop music" is p much exactly the same thing as this guy i listen to who posts his candy wolfcore on his link.ty
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:27 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


"I think the key argument to make here is not so much about how much variation in chords and melodies is possible, but rather the idea that variation in those areas may indeed be falling, but musicmakers may be compensating by putting more effort into variation in, say, timbre or rhythm, off the top of my head (related reading: Timbre as Differentiation in Indie Music, by David K. Blake)."

No, I agree with that. I'm a percussionist, after all. But I was contesting the idea that melody and harmony are not central. They're not the only thing important, but they're an essential part of what defines music as music.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:34 AM on July 27, 2012


The types of songs on a current top-play list is probably a lot more narrow than it was in decades past.

Not probably. Definitely.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:34 AM on July 27, 2012


The types of songs on a current top-play list is probably a lot more narrow than it was in decades past.

a look through joel whitburn's book of billboard charts prove this beyond any doubt - pop music used to be a pretty broad spectrum with the unexpected often surprising everyone - now, it's getting to be just another narrow genre of music that just happens to get played on the radio

i think it's the genrefication - if there is such a word - of music is what's made it so much duller - eclectic is out, targeting a specific market is in
posted by pyramid termite at 3:45 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it's simply because modern pop music is optimising itself towards sales. The ideal pop song never leaves your head, is enjoyed by everyone and has a certain image of performer attached. We now have very effective sales feedback loops, very low song production costs and a hugely increased ability to make very different sounding music. These work together to encourage songs that are more and more appealing. Each new song is learning from older popular songs.

If a song is measured by commercial success, and commercial success occurs more often when a song has particular tonal attributes, then it would be surprising if pop songs didn't converge towards those attributes.
posted by leo_r at 4:00 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is like saying that pop music today is less diverse compared to the 18th century because chamber music today is non-existent. Culture and its mediums are evolving/changing and discussions like these are senseless.
posted by rowancluster at 4:02 AM on July 27, 2012


Obligatory
posted by Mayor West at 4:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is like saying that pop music today is less diverse compared to the 18th century because chamber music today is non-existent.

Actually, no, it's not like saying that at all. It's like saying "pop music is less diverse today than it was a few decades ago". Because it's true. Verifiably true. The mainstream pop music played by mainstream pop stations is nowhere near as stylistically diverse as it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Anyone who says it is either simply doesn't know his pop music history or is being willfully obtuse.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:35 AM on July 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


rowancluster: This is like saying that pop music today is less diverse compared to the 18th century because chamber music today is non-existent. Culture and its mediums are evolving/changing and discussions like these are senseless.
This just sounds like defensive and rather hand-wavy poptimism to me. Why try and shut down discussion with the broad (and wholly unsupported) claim that it's somehow "senseless"? What this article and the research underlying it try to do is quantify and analyze the effects on music of its current modes of production. What effect does the widespread use of sampling, ProTools, autotune have on songwriting and performance, and what is the interplay between these production technologies and the increasing centralization of media ownership in the early twenty-first century? These are interesting questions, but I can see how a poptimist might feel threatened by them. They throw into stark relief the central truth about popular culture that poptimists in general can't admit: it's manufactured and controlled to a high degree, and the "agency" and choice of the audience is increasingly constricted and illusory.

There's a reason why the response of pop-fans (both inside and outside the academy) to this kind of critique increasingly boils down to low-grade sarcasm and broad, though unsupported, accusations of "not getting it" or being some kind of "hater." There aren't really any viable counter-examples they can refer to in the pop canon. And *hand wave* hip-hop or *hand wave* dubstep don't really cut it as counter-arguments either.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:47 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Turn off your radio, unplug your ear buds and get yourself down to your local music venues and listen to some real, live music.
posted by tommasz at 4:54 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I like to cleanse my aural palate with death metal.
posted by Renoroc at 5:00 AM on July 27, 2012


Learn an instrument. Join a band. Problem solved.
posted by unSane at 5:01 AM on July 27, 2012


Music is, like, diverse, man. Screw your "facts".
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Turn off your radio, unplug your ear buds and get yourself down to your local music venues and listen to some real, live music.

Hear hear! As someone who plays live (here in Tokyo) about 10 times a month on average, I fully support this statement!

However, I don't think going to hear live music and listening to recorded music (and talking about it) are by any means mutually exclusive. I reckon folks can do both!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:02 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Learn an instrument. Join a band. Problem solved.

Whole new set of problems, AMIRITE?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:03 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Music can only be judged as bland when analysed alongside other music. Here are the twenty most popular words in English:

the ,of ,to ,and ,a ,in ,is ,it ,you ,that ,he ,was ,for ,on ,are ,with ,as ,I ,his ,they

And here are the most popular in the FPP Daily Mail article:

the, and, of, in, to, is, music, a, this, that, are, sound, chords, songs, for, louder, so, with, as, it

Note that the words in the first list are bland and but that about a quarter of those in the second are specific and evocative. The bigger the data set the blander the entries at the top of the popularity chart will be. The Million song dataset includes (PDF page 5) way less than 5000 releases from years up to about 1970 - but there are over 40,000 songs from 2005. I would argue that it is this expansion of the year-by-year dataset alone that tend to make the most popular songs of a given year increasingly bland.

If we concentrate on the entire corpus of music released in a given year - rather than just the most popular songs - then the picture is quite different from the Daily Mail's Doom and Gloom editorial. The top 20 might be ever more homogeneous - but the long tail of releases a much higher number that are highly individual. As optimists we can point out that getting hold of release in the long tail has become massively easier as well.

A better way of seeing how music was changing would to to take a random sample of releases from each year rather than to concentrate on the charts.
posted by rongorongo at 5:04 AM on July 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I would argue that it is this expansion of the year-by-year dataset alone that tend to make the most popular songs of a given year increasingly bland.

the point i was making was that the number of songs in the top 40 in any given year has dropped, according to whitburn's research

According to Billboard, the late 1960s were the peak of musical diversity in popular music, with 743 different songs appearing on the 1966 Billboard Top 100. It's fallen consistently since, hitting an all-time low in 2002 with only 295 songs. Since then, it's improved only slightly, with 351 unique songs appearing on last year's Top 100.

less songs played, less diversity
posted by pyramid termite at 5:12 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


rongorongo: Note that the words in the first list are bland and but that about a quarter of those in the second are specific and evocative. The bigger the data set the blander the entries at the top of the popularity chart will be.
Well, OK, that's vocabulary. But a wider analysis would take into account grammar and syntax. Which is what this study is doing, by looking at grammar's analogues in music: harmonies and modulation.
A better way of seeing how music was changing would to to take a random sample of releases from each year rather than to concentrate on the charts.
So, your response to the data set is ... ignore the dataset? Look over here at this obscure thing? When the dataset itself (the "charts") reflects the most successfully marketed, promulgated and cross-media-platformed set of pop-cultural artifacts in human history? This is a bit like trying to defend Coldplay by referring to John Darnielle's English degree.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:16 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


ahaha sorry did i hurt your feelings? seriously, this kind of article comes out every six months and it's utterly embarrassing to read comments defending them, always the exact same sentiments by people who don't 'get' the interesting and divergent ways that music has developed in the last ten years

Except, of course, for the fact that we aren't talking about Mogwai, or Deathmole, or whatever else you have in mind. We're talking about pop music.

Reading comprehension is awesome.
posted by ellF at 5:22 AM on July 27, 2012


I'm irritated by the assault on good production that results from the Loudness War, but despite all my rake-waving tendencies, I can't really take up the chorus of how terrible pop music is today because...well, it's always been that way. Now, the lousy pop music is dance-based, diva-focused, soulless bullshit—and in my day, it was horrendous slushy rock and roll like Foreigner, Reo Speedwagon, and Journey. For chrissakes, we had Billy Squier rolling around and peeling off t-shirts as an aesthetic statement. We had music videos, which sucked, for slight, slight songs, which sucked, and musicians that suckily lip-synched these slight, slight sucky songs in sucky versions of their sucky videos. Hell, even good musicians in my day were horrendous on stage (fortunately, producers have learned not to do microscopic closeups on musicians obviously fumbling around fake solos).

People point to samples, sequencers, and drum machines as a thing, but before samples, sequencers, and drum machines came along to soullessly tick out the heartless heartbeat of wretched songs penned by teenybopper angst factories, there were session musicians...who played soullessly in the background of songs penned in teenybopper angst factories. A real drummer playing flat, lousy music and a drum machine playing flat, lousy music differ only in the fact that the drum machine will probably be on time and is less likely to OD.

Before my glum teen years, people had the Beatles...and at the same time, shit like "The Ballad of the Green Berets" regularly hit the charts. In the funky seventies, Melanie cranked out steamer after steamer, and the top of the rankings wasn't inhabited by the Ramones—it was capped by horrors like "Afternoon Delight."

In my ugly eighties, we remember all this great stuff, but that's the result of a filtering effect, in the same way that we in America think the British had great television because we only saw things like Fawlty Towers when the reality was much, much worse. We remember all these great moments, but ugh, seriously. Gah—on my sixteenth birthday, the number one song was by Lionel stinking Richie.

Now, the pop top cycle has boiled away to just this screeching mass of the same thing same thing same thing all the time, but we have never had such instant and universal access to good stuff. In my teen years, I sweated away in the pizza joint where I worked, having to hear the obnoxious Reagan-era Amurica RAH RAH anthem, "Old Time Rock 'N' Roll" on the jukebox over and over and over and over until I finally broke the damn jukebox myself to kill it. That song is a perfect metasong, too, because it claimed that today's music ain't got the same soul, but it ain't got no soul, neither.

In the eighties, to get to a good record store, I had to take a bus to DC, then take the Metroliner to NYC to find more of the music that I got in precious mixtapes from my Greenwich Village-dwelling sister, where I could flip through import LPs that were as shockingly expensive as $12. Radio was a broadband pile of ads wrapped around the same old shit and even when it was Weasel playin' some rock 'n' roll, the playlists were short.

Now, radio's dead, and the everpresent TVs can be dead, too, if you keep a TV-B-Gone on your keychain, and a DVR will spare you all the promos from The Voice that can shatter your soul. Wake up, open your eyes, look around, and you'll find strange creatures emerging from the local scenes, little cliques and collectives coming up with new, ugly, glorious, messy, perfect, complicated music.

Where I work, in Baltimore, we've got frustrating, amazing scenes like High Zero and distinctive characters like Dan Deacon, who just dropped a particularly post-post-post-pop video on us that's just a delight. Pop is boring, dead-eyed junk, but it always has been. We're just seeing the rot festering and flowing into new pools under the glare of artificial daylight. There has never been so much access and so much interest in good stuff as what's currently just below the neon sheen of pop.

Pop exists to set free thinkers free.

Everyone else just nods along and the economy hums.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
posted by sonascope at 5:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [25 favorites]


Anyone with satellite radio knows this is true. The song rotations have grown tiny, and everything sounds like everything else within a given genre. The EDM (it's still techno to me, dammit) channels are downright gruesome these days. Pandora was headed down the same road the last time I used it.

Last.FM and Slacker are still OK, tho. I think I'd enjoy Spotify, but I haven't had the time or the budget to really explore.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:35 AM on July 27, 2012


there were session musicians...who played soullessly in the background of songs penned in teenybopper angst factories.

there are times when you need to go beyond the teenybopper angst and actually LISTEN to what the musicians are playing

if you think that carol kaye, hal blaine, james jamerson etc etc were soulless, you're not hearing them
posted by pyramid termite at 5:36 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: a venue for all my rake-waving tendencies.

Love you, sonascope!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:42 AM on July 27, 2012


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
posted by sonascope


i see what you did there
posted by readyfreddy at 5:43 AM on July 27, 2012


How about an article about how modern journalism doesn't know the difference between "less" and "fewer"?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 5:46 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the problem is the complete lack of Freddy Mercury.
posted by eriko at 5:46 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Music is, like, diverse, man. Screw your "facts".

Christ, what an.

I feel weird citing Reddit, but a user there points out there's a huge selection bias going on:

Its contents are heavily weighted to modern music: the database contains only 2,650 songs released between 1955 and 1959, but nearly two orders of magnitude more—177,808 songs—released between 2005 and 2009. That’s because it draws on what’s popular now, as well as what has been digitized and made available for download. And the songs of yesteryear that people enjoy today (as oldies) may not be the same ones that people enjoyed when those songs first came out.
There were just as many shitty oldies, except they fade away. Whereas now, the cream of the crop and the also-rans are accessible and unforgotten.

A fairer study might compare (for example) only songs that have reached the top of the charts (in their respective years), but then critics might argue that the good music is not as commercialized these days. But you could still make a fair argument about commercial pop.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:47 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is that so belgiuming hard?? Jesus H. Jumping Christ on a pogo stick
posted by flabdablet at 5:48 AM on July 27, 2012


What would be really nice to see in these discussions is examples to back up opinions. I've only noticed a couple of band names mentioned here, and by no means do they represent anything recent. How about giving a few examples about the interesting and divergent?

Go here.

Scroll down to the "selling right now" list.

Click on any track that catches your eye. They're constantly updating.

Bandcamp has singlehandedly restored my interest in finding new music. There's more info about them in their FAQ.
posted by Drexen at 5:51 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


How about an article about how modern journalism doesn't know the difference between "less" and "fewer"?

How about you write it? It sounds teddibly interesting. Would you like me to hold the front page?
posted by Wolof at 5:51 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history. sorry you olds don't know what to listen to.

I pretty much agree with this, despite being an old.

The most important thing this article has failed to acknowledge is as the ways to consume music have become more and more diverse, what constitutes a "pop hit" has gotten smaller and smaller.

Pop songs (the stuff in heavy radio rotation) used to be what people of all ages liked. Now? Pop music is almost entirely geared towards tweens, mostly girls. A group, it goes without saying, with notoriously terrible taste in music.

Teenagers and the olds have a thousand other ways to find and listen to music.

Also, objectively speaking, there has been no worse form of pop music in history than doo wop. So we have that over the late 50s/early 60s.
posted by malphigian at 6:01 AM on July 27, 2012


@Sonny Jim: I've never heard the word poptimist before, so I'm only guessing what it means. But you know, I want to evaporate and disappear as badly as anyone facing the state of the world today. I don't want to defend anything, I just try to inject some perspective.
posted by rowancluster at 6:14 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Teenagers and the olds

I'm distressed that these are the only categories.
posted by JanetLand at 6:15 AM on July 27, 2012


A few weeks ago I stumbled on this YouTube video for Classical Gas. I'd heard of the song before but never listened to it that I was aware of (just a terrible name). I was thinking, "Man, this is a great song. Huh, it was #2 on the Billboard chart in 1968? I wonder what kind of bullshit is #2 now?"

And that's how I discovered Call Me Maybe.

:-/
posted by adamdschneider at 6:21 AM on July 27, 2012


My neighbors are about 70, maybe? Which means that they were in their 20s during the 1950s, and were 30 when the Beatles hit town. How come they, like most other older folks I know, listen to lite jazz? This is something I fear about my future.

Let's ask Mr. Gorgenchuk
posted by stifford at 6:29 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another way of saying what you're saying malphigian, is that the decline of a dominant, monolithic national entertainment culture means that although that old monolithic culture across its whole extent was pretty homogenized, that it was derived from and served the vast majority of the populace meant that it had to have some diversity representing that diverse populace. But as this fractured into the contemporary microculture scene, what was left to act as being nominative "shared national entertainment" in fact served a smaller and smaller constituency and therefore became less and less diverse; while, in contrast, diversity vastly increased across all microcultures.

What I have in mind in phrasing it this way is comparing it to news media. The same thing has happened there — what passes for a shared news source in the US is more homogenized to a particular viewpoint while, in contrast, a very large portion of the population get their news primarily or substantially from very targeted (and partisan) sources. So, in that sense, diversity is much greater while there's less diversity in what remains of the major "shared national culture" outlets. Like, say, the broadcast networks news and most of the daily newspapers.

So, again, I really think that people are arguing past each other because within the context of all popular music, there's much more diversity than in the past. Within the context of what passes for the pop music that we sort of share universally — say, the kind of artists who perform at Superbowl halftimes, to pick an example — the diversity has declined. I'm not really sure why some people are getting defensive about this because I have trouble understanding that they'd assume that, as ellF wrote above, we're talking about "Mogwai, or Deathmole, or whatever else you have in mind." Or the stuff on Bandcamp. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I don't think that anyone here is arguing that across all contemporary pop music, available online all over the place, isn't more diverse than in the past. Maybe someone here feels this way. I don't — I think that there's a true renaissance happening in that context.

On the other hand, I do believe, as I wrote above, that all this stuff is variations on older themes in popular music and we've not had for a long, long while the kind of true revolution such as was hip-hop. This all came from rock and roll, sure, but there were successive waves of truly different sounding, with different sensibilities, elaborations of this blues-inflected musical style regularly every decade until the 90s, and then nothing. All of the most "different" stuff now can be traced to extreme elaborations of stuff begun in the 80s.

Okay, that's not including this world music derived stuff like, say, A Hawk and a Hacksaw. I'm sort of feeling like we need to just move away from the blues origin and look to other versions of folk music for inspiration. Maybe that's not really possible in the US, because of how central the African-American musical tradition is to music here. It's a shame, though, that the rest of the world has been so influenced by us that it's adopted the musical descendants of that particular form when they all have their own traditions available for elaboration into technological pop music.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:32 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like being an old. There was a thread the other day about Odd Future and I read the whole thing while basking in the happy realization that I didn't know anything about the people involved and I didn't care at all.

Come with me, fellow olds! We will shed our desperate fears about being relevant and leave the youngs to their posturing. Possibly we shall do these things while wearing those floppy fishing hats.
posted by winna at 6:34 AM on July 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sampling. Loop libraries. Synthesizer presets. Maximizers. Sequencers. [...]

Sampling, synthesizers (minus presets except as a training/jumping-off point) and sequencers all allow MORE possibilities than before. Yet one person with a piano or an acoustic guitar or a hand drum or just their own voice has enough variety available to them to make interesting music.

Blame the craftsmen (or the market), not the tools.


fuckin eyeroll, music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history. sorry you olds don't know what to listen to.

In a sense, you are right. But this was about pop music, which frankly sucks now. If you step outside the top 40 things get pretty damn interesting.
posted by Foosnark at 6:36 AM on July 27, 2012


How come they, like most other older folks I know, listen to lite jazz? This is something I fear about my future.

Good jazz is akin to sitting down with a close friend and having a deep and thoughtfully intellectual discussion. It's akin to hearing someone reveal their thoughts to you in a way that is more direct and affecting than simple words. I submit that, as we age, we come to appreciate this level of human interaction more and more.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:36 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lite jazz, though, is rubbish. Most of the older people I know who listen to jazz don't listen to lite jazz.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:37 AM on July 27, 2012


Go here.

Scroll down to the "selling right now" list.

Click on any track that catches your eye. They're constantly updating.


Drexen threw the gauntlet, so I decided to do some quasi-science: 15 unknown songs from the Bandcamp randomizer. Listen at least until the chorus or to 50%. They were: Native Run, Jobbs, Daniel Freedman, Deadwing, Obsidia, Ghosts, Model Railway Exhition, Bear Mountain, Budo, In the Silence, Jayesslee, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Deep Sea Diver, One-Eyed Doll, These United States.

None of them captivated me to the point where I listened all the way through--closest was One-Eyed Doll. Would listen again but will not run out to buy: Bear Mountain & Jobbs. Bottom line: I heard nothing new or startling, but was impressed that the youngsters are coming around to the electronica pioneered by Fripp & Eno 40 years ago on No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. That's a start.
posted by condesita at 6:41 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


> They are not louder, they are more compressed in dynamic range. Big difference.

Absolutely, they are louder.

The maximum amplitude of the signal hasn't changed - in the case of a CD, the numbers it uses to represent amplitude can only vary between -32768 to 32767.

But modern ultra-compressors allow you to simply put more power into the signal - and I mean "power" as in "energy per unit time".

While "power" is closer, the technical definition of "loudness" is perceptual, not numerical - and by that yardstick these ultra-compressed tracks are perceptually much louder.

These mastering compressors aren't like "your father's compressor" that you might get on an electric guitar pedal. A classic compressor is simply automated gain reduction - you can think of it as an engineer turning your level down when you get loud, or turning your level up when you get soft. It's conceptually easy and can be done by a pretty simple circuit or calculation.

Mastering ultra-compressors use "lookahead", which means that they look into "the future" when deciding what to do with the signal right now. Of course, you can't do it live, but when you're mastering, it's trivial to simply get behind a few milliseconds to get a better answer.

I think there are a whole array of tricks today. The classic trick that started it all was that they would find peaks in the signal material and then flip them over, so when you got to a certain height your signal would notch downward instead of continuing upward. If you just flipped the peak over as a mirror image, you'd get terrible distortion - but with today's processors we can compute what inverse signal should go in there that completely replicates the harmonic content in the original signal.

You're always doing this with a track that is normalized - that is, scaled so that its min and max values are exactly the min and max values mathematically possible - so it "can't be turned up any more".

But once you've run the peak-flipping trick, you now have a track that sounds exactly the same, but whose peaks are now much shorter than they were before - so now you can turn it up some more!

Now, these days, if you're anyone at all, you put some of this sort of "compression" on your music when you master, even if you want a very uncompressed sound (like me). The reason is that this magic tool works as I described above - as long as you don't turn it up that much - I find I can get 3-6dB more loudness in my track without changing the actual feel at all, which means 3-6dB more headroom, but more practically, it means that my track is a similar loudness to the other commercial tracks in your mp3 player.

But once you turn it up some more, well, it compresses the sound and at some point it starts to introduce harmonic distortion. And it's like adding MSG to your sound - each time you add it, it sounds a little better, a little punchier, so you can keep turning it up and each tiny change sounds "better" but the end it sounds like shit.

They do this in pretty well every Flaming Lips track, and it makes them hard for me to listen to - Animal Collective too to a somewhat lesser extent.

In both cases, these are bands I like or mostly like and would listen to more of if it weren't so fatiguing on the ears.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:43 AM on July 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


How about giving a few examples about the interesting and divergent?

well, i do have a favorite new band who just released their first album this year

dead sara - face to face
posted by pyramid termite at 6:47 AM on July 27, 2012


"We will shed our desperate fears about being relevant and leave the youngs to their posturing. Possibly we shall do these things while wearing those floppy fishing hats."

Floppy fishing hats are fine. I just discovered the other day that I wear dad jeans. I have approximately zero interest in being fashionable with regard to clothing. (Not quite zero, to be honest.)

I don't try to keep exposing myself to new popular music in order to be relevant. Or fashionable. I mean, when I was young, like I think is true for most young people, my musical taste was a very important (in my case, the single most important) aspect of my desired social identity. I won't claim that it still doesn't factor into that, but mostly — and this is partly because I'm a lifelong musician and music is just important to me for its own sake — I care about trying to keep up with music only because I really like discovering new stuff that's really good. True, my enthusiasms are not as strong as they once were and it seems like I don't fall in love with new artists as deeply as I once did and I fall out of love with them much more quickly. Still, there's just something so great about finding new really good music.

The This is My Jam MetaTalk post in February, and all the mefites who signed up and who I followed after I signed up, spurred an orgy of music discovery for me that lasted a month and included dozens and dozens of new artists. It made me very, very happy. Such a small thing, but so happy-making.

A good amount of defensiveness on this topic arises, in my opinion, from how much music plays a role in people's social identity. And more specifically, I think, their cultural capital. (I know that I harp on this too much, but it's one of those things where you encounter an idea, a framework, that has such enormous explanatory power it's hard to avoid being infatuated with it and bringing it up at the drop of a hat.) People are defensive because it takes effort to accumulate cultural capital, to acquire a kind of expertise, we do so because this expertise has value for social mobility of a sort, and value is tied to scarcity. When someone argues that your favorite band sucks, it's devaluing your cultural capital and that is a sort of direct attack on your social status in that context. We tell other people that their favorite band sucks because of the scarcity factor — devaluing others' cultural capital makes ours more valuable. These arguments really are often about status of a sort and it's why people are prone to being so judgmental and so defensive about people being judgmental.

I think for most of us who are older and don't exist anymore within a social context that is very heavily popular music inflected (though of course many people do; they work in the music industry or are otherwise actively part of the music culture as performers or critics or gatekeepers) and so our musical taste and consumption plays a much reduced role in the context of accumulating cultural capital in a way that actually matters to us. Almost no one I know, my peers, cares about my musical taste. My music consumption now is mostly a private affair and not something that exists in my experience of the social sphere. For me, that's partly freeing because I find it easier to like and dislike stuff on the basis of nothing more than my experience of it. I don't really want a critical context most of the time because that places it squarely back within the cultural capital context.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:58 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Lite jazz, though, is rubbish. Most of the older people I know who listen to jazz don't listen to lite jazz."

Very true. But I have the impression that a lot of people can't tell the difference between jazz and lite jazz and so they tar all jazz with that brush. I mean, yeah, they probably won't think that Bitches Brew is lite jazz, but they might think that Kind of Blue is.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:04 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


condesita: Interesting! I didn't expect that reaction, but thanks for giving it an honest try. Personally I love probably at least half the stuff I find on there.

Out of interest, would you say you know of any sources of new music that you consider groundbreaking/new/interesting etc? And do you think any of it makes good music? Or do you feel there's literally nothing like that today? I mean, if you're looking for stuff that is explicitly experimental and untried, I presume there are a decent number of internet radio stations that cater to that -- though I couldn't necessarily name any myself -- some of the stuff on Resonance FM, maybe?

And if there is nothing that's new these days, well... I wonder what the implications of that would be? Not that I believe it.
posted by Drexen at 7:08 AM on July 27, 2012


well, i do have a favorite new band who just released their first album this year

dead sara - face to face


Wow, thanks for the tip. After getting lost in their YouTube videos for a while, I'm impressed. Emily Armstrong has a set of pipes, that's for sure.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:09 AM on July 27, 2012


hey, you know what the difference between rock and jazz is?

rock musicians play 4 chords for thousands of people, jazz musicians play thousands of chords for 4 people
posted by pyramid termite at 7:09 AM on July 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think radio and television in the English-speaking West are increasingly run by older more conservative people, and that those outlets tend to give fewer new artists a chance to reach a mass popular audience.

But there's also a racial factor at play, in the US at least, because the CEOs at rap/hip hop labels are younger and that music is incredibly diverse. It's just not played in supermarkets and such because the general public is also older and more conservative.

As far as whether dance pop is "worse" than guitar pop, that's an entirely different discussion. It's definitely more oriented toward targeted chemical reward through stuff like ten thousand vocal layers, so that it sounds like whatisname of One Direction is leading a hundred of himself in a church choir. In way, the sophistication of the production "allows" the underlying songs to be less interesting, since you're replacing anticipation and surprise with a blast of pleasurable harmonics. But there's nothing wrong with pleasurable harmonics, and no reason why they couldn't be combined with real songwriting - if people just demanded more from their music.

Anyway, those are my Internet Thoughts for the day.
posted by subdee at 7:09 AM on July 27, 2012


> They do this in pretty well every Flaming Lips track, and it makes them hard for me to listen to

At War With The Mystics, aside from being a terrible album on its own merits, was the most poorly-recorded/mixed/engineered/whatever album by a good band I've ever heard. I have friends who recorded albums in their basements that sound better than that turd.

> I mean, yeah, they probably won't think that Bitches Brew is lite jazz, but they might think that Kind of Blue is.

I try really hard to not be a music snob, and most of the time I think I succeed, but when I think about the idea of someone who can't register the different between Kind of Blue and Kenny G...*shudder*
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 7:11 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


condesita: Oh yeah, and hold on -- were we actually testing for 'new and startling'? I think the criteria was 'interesting and diverse', and I think the stuff on bandcamp is at least as diverse as the pop music of yesteryear (or, IMO, the whole music scene of yesteryear -- at least the stuff that moved any significant number of units).

I guess if you specifically want stuff that is new and experimental, that hasn't been heard before, you might have to turn to internet radio -- or at least to spend some time picking through the less-visited corners of bandcamp, and youtube, and the internet in general. Or do you feel there are literally no sources of new, good, groundbreaking music today?
posted by Drexen at 7:14 AM on July 27, 2012


What lupus_yonderboy said regarding loudness (yes it really is louder), and I'll also say that producers are getting better and better at increasing perceptual loudness, by filling every part of the audible spectrum.

If you play a single sine wave, and turn it up extremely loud (as loud as your pa can get it), you get something that is physically of an intense amplitude, and very dangerous to your ears, but does not sound as loud to the human ear. Conversely if you add a wider spread of harmonic content, the same amplitude levels will start being heard as louder and louder (this is why heavy metal sounds louder than classical at the same absolute volume levels).

We can't just blame producers and artists here. People want something very specific from the musical products we consume: we want something where we set the volume on the stereo and it doesn't fade out to inaudibility or overwhelm with a swell of volume - because we don't put music on in order to listen to music, but to distract us or add atmosphere while doing something else. If you want volume levels to be smooth and constant, it really is ideal to maximize our signal levels (to avoid noise floor issues in the recording and the preamp stages of the stereo etc.), and keeping a constant perceptual loudness is the bar they need to hit here in order to do proper furniture music, regardless of the signal levels.

Also, regarding the reduced creativity with chords in popular music - don't blame the artists. Listeners are content with boredom. In a cultural free market, if you want a change, you need different consumers. If we want more variety in music, we need music education so people can actually have a place to appreciate that variety.
posted by idiopath at 7:14 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Derp, not sure why I semi-repeated myself, there...)
posted by Drexen at 7:15 AM on July 27, 2012


None of them captivated me to the point where I listened all the way through--closest was One-Eyed Doll. Would listen again but will not run out to buy: Bear Mountain & Jobbs. Bottom line: I heard nothing new or startling

Well no shit. That was a stupid experiment.

What you need is a good curator – somebody with taste that matches yours who follows music more closely than you do. I've stuck consistently with Said the Gramophone, which posts a diverse range of music and offers enough information about each that when something captivates me I can find it on my own. I don't listen to every single song, but when I need new music I hit the front page and by the end of it I've found a list of things I might fall in love with.

The "youngsters" caught up to Fripp and Eno 40 years ago. They never un-caught up. We youngsters, we're like sponges! The only reason you don't hear homages to your particular old and weathered idols is that there's so much good stuff out that we can't absorb and process every single good thing in music history at once.

I barely listen to new music and I actively avoid people recommending me shit, but even so in the last year we've had incredible bluegrass, rock, fantastic fucking pop (that last one's almost too smart to be called pop), utterly glorious folk, and some things that can't be so easily categorized.

Nearly all these came from StG's compilation of best songs of 2011. The folk came from another compilation by Ursell Anning that StG linked to. (The bluegrass release was from a band I already liked.) Another StG tip introduced me to this glorious low-fi Russian band, a few years old apparently but totally new to me (songs are on the right).

You can't just wade into modern music and expect good things to come to you. But the flip side is that there's glorious music of nearly every kind you can imagine, and a bunch in genres you've never heard. I go music hunting maybe twice a year and wind up with more music than I can handle; I've only listened past the first 10 songs of that best-of compilation once, and there're 90 more bands for me to check out before their next "top 100" comes out.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:16 AM on July 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


> But the flip side is that there's glorious music of nearly every kind you can imagine, and a bunch in genres you've never heard.

I wonder if that isn't part of what is causing the perceived problem here. There's just so much music out there - orders of magnitude more than ever, good, bad and indifferent, most just a few keystrokes away - that it's more difficult for any given song to make as much of an impression.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 7:20 AM on July 27, 2012


If the modern music scene can give me something like this I do believe I can manage to cope with it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:21 AM on July 27, 2012


Foosnark: "Sampling, synthesizers (minus presets except as a training/jumping-off point) and sequencers all allow MORE possibilities than before."

As a synth designer, I have yet to see a synthesizer of any type that can output as much actual variety and nuance as a skilled player could get from a single drum. Not to mention a violin.
posted by idiopath at 7:24 AM on July 27, 2012


"But who are the Chefs?": "There's just so much music out there - orders of magnitude more than ever, good, bad and indifferent, most just a few keystrokes away - that it's more difficult for any given song to make as much of an impression."

Boring people want to listen to boring stuff. If we want more interesting stuff to be listened to, we need people that know how to listen first.
posted by idiopath at 7:28 AM on July 27, 2012


My neighbors are about 70, maybe? Which means that they were in their 20s during the 1950s, and were 30 when the Beatles hit town. How come they, like most other older folks I know, listen to lite jazz? This is something I fear about my future.

If they're technologically old-fashioned enough to only be familiar with getting their music from commercial terrestrial radio, smooth jazz is the only kind of "jazz" music they're going to find there. And in fairness, when you're stuck in traffic, its tranquilizing properties have a utilitarian value.

When I was in my 20s, I theorized that the older people got, the more they looked to music to provide soothing rather than stimulation.

Now that I'm in my 40s, I find that it hasn't proved so in my case. I still enjoy bellowing along with Zen Arcade. And due to the easy availability of music from all genres - and just as importantly, a vast pool of recommendations to guide one's way through it - I steadily discover fun new heaviness like Animals as Leaders. Though banging my head to Slayer now has an "ow, my neck" factor that wasn't there before.

I hope I'll still be able to bring the noise in my 60s. But even if I won't, I trust that I'll still choose my Bill Evans mp3s over whatever pasteurized product is popular then.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:28 AM on July 27, 2012


I wonder if that isn't part of what is causing the perceived problem here. There's just so much music out there - orders of magnitude more than ever, good, bad and indifferent, most just a few keystrokes away - that it's more difficult for any given song to make as much of an impression.

Impression to who? To individuals? To pop culture?

I mean, I love the songs I love as much as I've loved any other song. Pop culture continues to aim for the lowest common denominator, but that's nothing new. (I think "Call Me Maybe" and "Somebody That I Used To Know" are about as good as pop gets, so apparently the lowest common denominator includes me again yay!)

There are plenty of filters for finding music – my good friend uses Pitchfork, another few use Pandora, some use Reddit Music, some stick to Rolling Stone or The A. V. Club. My favorite has been Ask MetaFilter, because I can ask for happy or sacred or dance or pirate or period music and be recommended more music than I could listen to in a lifetime. No MetaFilter has an excuse to bemoan the downfall of music. It's lazy of them and it's utterly idiotic. I said as much two years ago and things have only gotten better since.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:29 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


were we actually testing for 'new and startling' ?

You have a point: maybe I shouldn't have conflated 'interesting and diverse' with 'new and startling', but when I'm thrilled by new music, all four words apply. I'm looking for something I've never heard before (not necessarily experimental--I love pop music), which is getting increasingly rare. My experiment may have wandered a bit from the thread.
posted by condesita at 7:30 AM on July 27, 2012


When I see an article about the limited nature of pop (Top 40) music, I think of all the articles I've read (some linked on this very site) about how Top 40 hits are constructed in terms of hooks and catchphrases. Scrolling back through my Instapaper, I find this one, from which I quote:
A relatively small number of producers and top-liners create a disproportionately large share of contemporary hits, which may explain why so many of them sound similar. The producers are almost always male: Max Martin, Dr. Luke, David Guetta, Tricky Stewart, the Matrix, Timbaland, the Neptunes, Stargate. The top-liners are often, although not always, women: Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, and Skylar Grey are among Dean’s peers. The producer runs the session and serves as creative director of the song, but the top-liner supplies the crucial spark that will determine whether the song is a smash.
So current pop may sound the same because the same people are making it. (I wouldn't know from personal experience; I'm an old and top 40 stopped being my thing back when grunge hit.)
posted by immlass at 7:43 AM on July 27, 2012


we had Billy Squier rolling around and peeling off t-shirts as an aesthetic statement

What strikes me about that video now isn't its badness - though of course that's legendary - but it's foolhardiness.

A star dancing by themselves in an unpopulated set for an entire video is pretty much the most difficult kind to pull off. Few will even attempt it.

Janet Jackson managed it in "The Pleasure Principle". But Billy Squier is no Janet Jackson.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:47 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


or chrissakes, we had Billy Squier rolling around and peeling off t-shirts as an aesthetic statement.

Some how I managed to get through my entire life knowing and enjoying several Billy Squier songs, but never having actually seen him. Still, like Meno's Slave, I feel like that video just reminded me of something I already knew.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:51 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the things I find interesting when I have those moments where I think holy shit, music is so bad these days, and people are so stupid these days is to question how the medium through which I absorb a given artform has shaped my perception of it and how the changes in that medium create the illusion of crass social degeneration out of something simpler.

I hear people lament that the album, as a unit of music, is no longer revered and that we've therefore become people with short attention spans, and it makes me sad, because The Dreaming, to give an example, is in my mind a glorious album full of glorious songs and operates as both a whole thing and a thing made of other things.

I'm a child of the seventies and eighties, and the way I listened to music was on vinyl albums and cassettes, and there's a bug that's actually sort of a feature with both—navigating between songs and sides was not just a matter of tapping the [skip] button. On vinyl, you had to manually move the tonearm, which for those of us who knew science meant that you had to be very careful, and you didn't really want to do it much because you would scratch up your records and there was an unverified rumor that playing a record repeatedly would lead to deformation of the grooves.

With cassettes, you could go back and forth all you wanted, but you had to fast-forward, then stop, then fast-forward, then stop, then back up to where you were trying to go, and you'd wear out the crappy little plastic clockworks in your Walkman real fast as well as end up with accordioned tape wadded up around the capstan.

The medium imposed the not-so-subtle reinforcement on just letting the damn thing play, and so you'd listen to the tracks in between your favorites, hearing "Houdini" over and over and sort of ignoring it...except, you know this isn't so bad. As you sat there, slouching on your bunk bed with a giant pair of AKG 240 headphones that were as big as tuna cans tethered to the Soundesign by a long coiled cord, revving up to bray like a donkey along with "Get Out of My House" like you liked to, the other stuff would insinuate its way in. The tambourine would jingle-jangle, the medium would roam and ramble, and not taken in, you'd break the circle, and before long, the slump between "All The Love" and "Get Out of My House" wasn't a slump at all.

Back then, we never knew it. I was overjoyed when I bought my first expensive little all-metal Aiwa player that could sense the gap between songs and jump right there, and then when I get a turntable with a linear arm that could skip as easily as pushing buttons (and which played your records vertically, like it would be in the world of the future). CDs came and made unfettered switching easy, and the random skip allowed things like the amazing interplay of Apollo 18. Then it was minidisc, at least for me, and then MP3s, and then I started to have this nagging feeling that maybe music just wasn't as good anymore, because I loved artists and I loved songs, but they just didn't make albums that were of a piece anymore.

While I was working on a huge gardening project at one of the facilities I manage for an arts nonprofit, I was on the leading edge of what would be a four month debilitating nerve injury and had recently been told by the last object of my affection that he'd moved on, and it was hot as hell, I had far too much work to do, and it was 12 hour days of muddy, frustrating work digging through red clay mostly full of broken glass, snapped-off junk works, and 5 Hour Energy bottles. I had my tiny iPod Shuffle, the kind that tells you what you're listening to, and I was so grimy and sweaty that I stopped trying to pick songs and just listened to whole albums, over and over, for hours.

This is when I discovered the searing brilliance of Janelle Monae, the genuine talent of Lady Gaga, and the hidden places in albums I thought I knew well, but didn't.

There's still a "there" there. It's just, well, the discipline is different now.

I've been experimenting since, filling the old mixtape gap by making 45 and 90 minute (I'm a child of old, old habits) mixes of music for friends and family that make jumping around marginally more difficult as a way of luring the ear into the quieter spots and the little lyrics that only become clear after you've felt them tickling the fine hairs of the subconscious like a whisper, then started to listen in earnest when what they have to say trips something down in the rumbling machinery that runs your heart and soul.

I don't understand how, say, my teenaged nieces process music, because they can stand to listen to a song squittering, buglike, out of the tin speaker on a cellphone without wanting to scream, and they name names I've never even heard and man, how did I get so old? At the same time, I pointed my older niece in the direction of Watsky and now she's an energetic fan of the very smart things he does.

What TV was to me, a big box with actual dials you clunk-clunked around to pick from the eight stations in your area, is nothing to my nieces and nephew. What's natural for them, in the flash and flicker and constant churn of the internet, is a bit unsettling for me, and I have to chase along to catch up, but it's important to remind myself that every generation has called the next generation spoiled, foolish, and utterly clueless since the dawn of recorded history, and we'd all be undifferentiated gelatinous goo if the fall was really so precipitous.

Still, I can't watch TV without a DVR anymore. You know—the urge to kill and all.
posted by sonascope at 8:12 AM on July 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history.

I don't deny that. I'm not sure what criteria they used for the songs in question, but I think the main point is that the music that's most popular now (not strictly in the genre sense) is less diverse and creative, not music as a whole.


What this kind of analysis is missing is that the standards of variety in Pop music have changed.

Pop music in the past had more melodic and harmonic complexity, but it all sounded about the same in terms of sonic "textures." Pianos, horns, strings, guitars, drums -- all these things sounded about the same in every band. (Going back earlier, orchestral instruments have been even more constrained -- a conductor wants one particular sound from his clarinets, and don't you dare add vibrato to it. The differences in tone from one trumpet soloist to the next are very subtle, hardly noticeable to someone not versed in classical music.)

But now the emphasis in pop music is not so much on creative melodies or chord progressions as it is on giving the instruments themselves a novel sound -- a particular bass sound or drum sound that you've never heard before, distorting vocals, finding an ear-catching sample and using in a new way. The virtuosity and artistry is in the mixing and producing as much as it is in the singing and playing.

all the songs sound the same


So I'd say this is completely false. The raw sound of the songs is more varied now. The only sense in which that would be true is if you say, "If you sat down and played today's pop songs on a piano, there would be less variation than if you did the same thing with songs from the 50's and 60s."
posted by straight at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


movies are as good as they've ever been. because youtube.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:16 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


107 comments in, and no one has yet questioned the algorithm? Fine bunch of geeks we got here.
posted by Ardiril at 8:17 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've stuck consistently with Said the Gramophone
Wow, thanks, Rory. I followed the link and immediately discovered Micachu and the Shapes, who were previously unknown to me and also awesome (so far). So there you go.
posted by dfan at 8:19 AM on July 27, 2012


First off, one million songs? From commercial sources? Including crap that has no chance of being popular? Sounds like a recipe for homogenization already. This is a problem of a sample size that is larger than the range of songs that many in this thread are discussing.
posted by Ardiril at 8:29 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do some math. Let us say that the global top 100 completely recycled each week. 100 songs * 52 weeks * 72 years (back to 1940) is only 374,400 songs.
posted by Ardiril at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


While its not like music per se has gotten more boring since then, it's obvious that 'the music industry' has evolved a successful mass production formula which is creatively barren but commercially dominant, where any actual "music" comes a remote second to the artists' "image" (usually sex appeal)

This is my analysis, more or less, though I'd finish off with something more like ...

where any actual "music" comes a remote second to commercially driven efforts to conform to a perceived sonic norm, which continued "improvements" in recording/mixing/mastering technology have aided and abetted.

In other words, beware of perfection, enemy of the good and all that.

This is a great song.
posted by philip-random at 9:24 AM on July 27, 2012


I knew Katy Perry was shouting at me. Knew it.
posted by Biblio at 9:30 AM on July 27, 2012


Pop Music: Too Few Notes and No Dynamic Range.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:32 AM on July 27, 2012


I was just complaining on LJ about the shitty mids on a lot of music I was listening to on bleep.com to find some new tunes. I'm a huge fan of autechre, squarepusher, aphex, boc, v-snares, etc... I got some afrofunk, and the only new electronic thing I got was a Jega album (I had some Jega back in the late 90s and he seems to have evolved).

Anyways, the point is - when I was listening to all these different things (really? Does there need to be different sections for grime, 2step and dubstep, when there's just one generic "electronic" section that contains all sorts of shit without any separation? but I digress...) as I was listening, I just couldn't get over all the fucking shitty mids. Like it was trying to add some echo and shit, but the lows and highs just didn't sparkle. There were no highs that tickled my ear. It wasn't as bad as over/misuse of autotune, but it really did feel like the loudness wars was hitting even what should be quality produced independent electronic music which should know better.

And maybe I'm wrong. I'm hazarding a guess that *some* of it is due to the compression of the streaming audio on the bleep.com streaming sampling player vs listening to the 320 kbps mp3 straight up. But I could tell a clear difference with Jega vs a lot of the other stuff.

I dunno man, I just really dislike so much of modern production. There's still some great stuff out there, but it gets harder and harder to find... (some of that is bleeps shitty UI, of course).
posted by symbioid at 9:41 AM on July 27, 2012


I should add that there was one time on my way to visit my parents a few years ago, and there was a radio station that you could tell played either old LPs or non-remastered shit or something. I was flipping through stations and it was all the bullshit loud overcompressed shit, and then, bam... What is this SPACE?

My whole car opened up, I could breathe, there were the wonderful individual notes plinking away around all the corners of my car, there was bass, there was high, there was pleasant mids that were tight and they didn't just bleed together. It was glorious, and I thought "Man, I wish more stations did this, this is how it should be"...

It was, of course, an "oldies" station, but the difference was utterly palpable.
posted by symbioid at 9:43 AM on July 27, 2012


Didn't take science to tell us this. KNowledge of music theory and the history of pop/rock/soul/etc would tell anybody that pop music today is factory-made, uncreative, and boring!
posted by ReeMonster at 9:49 AM on July 27, 2012


There's a lot of assumptions about what "popular music" means from the perspective of the study in this thread that don't hold up if you actually look at the study. They aren't doing a study, for example, of just what hit it big in the charts. The Million Song Database may well have its problems of selection bias, but it's a far broader survey of "popular music" (using that term quite neutrally) than that.

That said, I'm interested at the number of people in this thread who sneer dismissively at "pop music." Pop music is a pretty broad category. To dismiss it wholesale is to suggest either that you reflexively declare your detestation for something as soon as other people like it (which would just be typical of Metafilter sad) or that you haven't really thought about what babies you're throwing out with the bathwater.
posted by yoink at 10:02 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Believe me, — I know people my age who don't know anything about music after their teen years.
I've occasionally been taken aback by things like this in the past, but since the Dawn of Facebook, it's become way more common, since I have more opportunity to notice it. I'm often astounded by the number of my vague contemporaries who will post things like "Woooo! Goin' to see Roger Waters in Palookaville tonight! And it Burmingstead tomorrow night! And in Bogstown the night after!"

Or who have set up some app to publish what they're currently listening to on Facebook, and it's always like:I never say anything about it, of course, and it is none of my business and obviously good for them if it's really what they want, but still, when I see stuff like that, I can't help but feel like asking, "Dude! Have you been listening to the same fifty songs for the past thirty years?!"
posted by Flunkie at 10:06 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


They are not louder, they are more compressed in dynamic range. Big difference.

Er, yeah. Sort of like a Bugatti Veyron is not a faster car, technically speaking it is just capable of creating a much higher rate of acceleration over a wider range of speeds.

Which is, of course, always used by Veyron drivers to accelerate snappily from 0 to exactly 25 MPH on residential streets and 0 to exactly 65 MPH on the highway, because they would never use that extra acceleration to drive faster than other cars, just because they can . . .

Yeah. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Technically speaking, you are right--the end result is a loss of dynamic range. And if the music is too loud for you, you can always turn down the volume a little--but you can't bring back the missing dynamic range.

However, the reason sound engineers compress a track is to create that headroom and then use it to make the track louder, as outlined above by lupus_yonderboy.

There is really no other reason to run compression on a track*, except to then use the additional headroom to make it louder.

Just like with the Veyron, in in real life, you use that massive acceleration to GO FASTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE. And that is the point.

The very point of compression is to make your track louder, so there is no reason to pussyfoot around and try to call it something nicer and more technical sounding.

*Just to be pedantically complete, there are undoubtedly some technical reasons for compressing sound other than to make the end result louder overall, I can't think of any right offhand myself but a sound engineer probably could. All those technical reasons amount to something like 0.0001% of all the uses of sound compression, so if you're a pedant you can amend the statement "compression makes music louder" to "compression makes music louder in only 99.9999% of all cases".
posted by flug at 10:22 AM on July 27, 2012


Hmm...

My last.fm top ten (artist - listen count):

Autechre - 6,717
Squarepusher - 6,218
Boards of Canada - 5,492
Venetian Snares - 5,303
Propagandhi - 1,995
Nine Inch Nails - 1,320
Aphex Twin -1,225
Sick Of It All - 1,122
Plaid - 1,121
Tycho - 899
The Beatles - 889
Wisp - 745
Beastie Boys - 719
Shpongle - 685
Dead Can Dance -666

---------
Of course this doesn't count shit when I'm not at the computer (which is kind of rare)... Does that mean I'm kinda pathetic?

--------
To give a taste of some new sounds y'all may not have heard before, I just discovered Shangaan Electro (via bleep):

Tshetsha Boys - Nwa Pfundla

and a while back (perhaps on the blue?) I found Computer Jesus Refrigerator...

So there's clearly a lot of new inventive stuff out there, you just have to get away from the top 40/radio. But there's a lot of shitty non-radio stuff out there too.
----------
Speaking of "lite jazz"... I heard this fuckwit motorcycle guy last week play this music on what I imagine to be his shiny new motorcycle radio, at the gas station sitting at the pump trying to be a bad ass, and the only way I can describe it is if Kenny G played Rock.

It really was this utterly milquetoast non-offensive rock. But it wasn't like 70s folky type shit like the aforementioned steely dan/eagles... It was both harder than that and also softer. It "almost-but-not-quite-rocked". I can't even explain how utterly non-offensive the offensively loud music was. I wish I knew who it was so I could share it with the world just to say "SEE SEE!!!!" Is there like some sort of Kenny G Rock genre out there? It was arena rock for old christians (nah, actually, Petra rocked harder than this, too.... hmm...)

Anybody have any clue what might sound like that, because it was certainly unique, they had the skill of studio musicians, the singer had skill, but so does, I guess, Kenny G. But man - anybody?
posted by symbioid at 10:24 AM on July 27, 2012


If you want diversity, listen to progressive jazz/rock/metal.

The downside is that your friends will abandon you.
posted by LordSludge at 10:28 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't help but feel like asking, "Dude! Have you been listening to the same fifty songs for the past thirty years?!"

Hilarious. I know a guy who listens to the classic-hits station in the car. No matter how many years he's heard that Eddie Money song on a daily basis, he'll always say, "good tune!" like he hasn't heard it in decades.

That said, I still listen to a lot of the music I used to listen to in high school. I like a lot of new music, but it just stands to reason that we associate old music with extra-musical stimuli that new music isn't going to generate.

I'm also glad this thread has introduced me to Micachu and the Shapes!
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 10:28 AM on July 27, 2012


Based on my read of the charts in the article, the following trends are present:

1. Decreased complexity in pitch transitions since 1955. Since the decrease seems to start as early as the '50s, this may be more a continuation of the transition from orchestral Montovani-style pop to three-chord rock 'n' roll than a result of any post-hip hop trend, whether its digital samplers, boy bands, or American Idol.

2. Variation in timbre increases up until about the mid-1960s, then goes on a long slide downward. This suggests that innovation in new timbres peaked about sometime during the British Invasion and has been gradually decreasing ever since.

3. Popular music and rock 'n' roll has gotten progressively louder since 1955. Note, however, this does not necessarily mean the music has gotten progressively "heavier" over time in terms of timber. Even Justin Bieber can be made to sound louder than Led Zeppelin on a recording if the audio engineering is done a certain way.

4. The variation in the volume of pop/rock records has generally stayed at a constant, low level since 1955. Most of the outliers I could see on the chart with a high degree in variation of volume were from the 1990s. If I had to guess, this probably represents the influence of the Pixies/Nirvana template of whispery/mumbly vocals on the verses and shouty/screamy vocals on the chorus.

I'm less confident in commenting on how the distribution of songs from different time periods affects the finding, but I did see references in the article to Monte Carlo simulations done with data and comparisons made with the whole data set vs. random subsets of the data set that make it look reasonably robust to me.

The two most common objections I see in this thread are 1. "Not all music today is bad. I've heard a lot of interesting new bands etc. etc." and 2. "Pop music doesn't just suck today. It's always sucked, so I don't see much of a difference." As to objection #1, I totally agree there is great music out there for any time period as long as you go out looking for it. What's different about the study is that it's a statistical study that's talking about how general tendencies change over time. What the study seems to say is that, in the 1950s and 1960s, good songs with lots of variation in pitch and timbre were consistent with the overall macro trends in the music industry at that time, but more recent music with more variations in pitch and timbre would be struggling against the dominant tendencies of the current music industry. As to objection #2, the study really doesn't quantify "what sucks" vs. "what does not suck," but if its conclusions are correct, it would suggest that older crappy pop songs (like, say, Afternoon Delight mentioned upthread) still had to adhere to average stylistic norms about variation in pitch and timbre that are much weaker today.

Take pyramid termite's mention of the study which compares 1966 (a year which had 743 different songs on the Billboard 100) to 2002 (a year which had only 295 different songs on the Billboard 100). If we take Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap") as axiomatic, then you would have 74 non-crap songs in the Billboard 100 in 1966 and only about 30 non-crap songs in 2002. That's a more than 50% decline in the amount of quality songs, even if we make the disputable assumption that percentage of worthy pop songs doesn't change from year to year.
posted by jonp72 at 10:30 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I knew it! I knew it!

Not only that, but their hair is wierd, their clothes are ridiculous and they have no respect for authority. Get a job.

Rock and Roll Forever!

(Get off my lawn)
posted by mule98J at 10:35 AM on July 27, 2012


fuckin eyeroll, music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history. sorry you olds don't know what to listen to.

Haha, you sound like a perfect parody written by an "old," are you a real person?

It's funny how defensive people are about this study here. Stripped of the superfluous value judgements tacked on by the Daily Mail article, it's pretty empirical and straightforward. Pop music is generally less diverse in terms of harmony, timbre, and volume than it was 30 years ago. I don't see how this is controversial.

That doesn't mean that diversity doesn't exist. I also wonder if more music is being produced in general, which would balance things out in terms of sheer amount of diverse music available to listen to.

I've seen a lot of complaints but so far no one has tried to pick apart the methodology. Does anyone want to talk about the actual research instead of kneejerk reactions? Metafilter I thought you were all about the science?
posted by speicus at 10:40 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The louder thing is interesting but on the "variety" part I call bullshit. With the advent electronic music and synthetic sounds it is impossible that the palate of music has not increased since the fifties.
Did their model account for the use of sampled music in hip-hop? If not the model would likely count Warren G's Regulate to be quite similar to Michael McDonald's I Keep Forgetting. When the two are in fact quite different.
posted by SounderCoo at 10:40 AM on July 27, 2012


If you want to read more, there's an article from the 1970s called Cycles in Symbol Production: The Case of Popular Music that has a simple but great theory to explain the findings in the article in this FPP. The basic idea is that, in any cultural industry, the more consolidation you have in that industry, the less cultural variety you will find in the products made by that industry. To be specific, the more the record industry is controlled by a few major record labels, the less variety in music you will have. Although they didn't focus as much on musical structure, they showed that the diversity of topics and viewpoints expressed in pop/rock lyrics is much broader when there is increased competition in the music industry, but goes way down as the record industry consolidates. According to this article from May 2012, consolidation has accelerated even more than the articles in the 1970s could have imagined, with four companies (EMI, Universal, Sony, and Warner Music Group) dominating about 75% of the market share in the global music market. Since EMI is currently in the process of being sold off, with parts going to Universal and Sony, we're probably going to see more consolidation in the future rather than less.
posted by jonp72 at 10:46 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


With the advent electronic music and synthetic sounds it is impossible that the palate of music has not increased since the fifties.

One word: presets.

Did their model account for the use of sampled music in hip-hop? If not the model would likely count Warren G's Regulate to be quite similar to Michael McDonald's I Keep Forgetting. When the two are in fact quite different.

If they're using any of the methods I'm familiar with, they would register as very different in terms of timbre due to, you know, someone rapping over it. But they would register as similar in terms of harmony.

Do people not understand what timbre is or something? Honest question.

The one parameter excluded from this study that might make a difference is rhythm. It's possible that the diversity of music has moved largely into the rhythmic dimension at the expense of others. I'd be curious to see if music has become rhythmically more diverse or not.
posted by speicus at 10:51 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


...ah crap.

Okay here's one example: at the end of side one, the front man for Dr. Hook steps up to the mike and says something like: "It's late. Your eyes are all red and you are tired. Go to bed and get some sleep, and you can listen to side two tomorrow."

I've said this before: I'm sorry about disco. You shouldn't count it in the surveys. It was a mistake. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

I pretty much gave up on this shit when that guy from Cramp died. Jeeeezus, but he could rock!
posted by mule98J at 10:51 AM on July 27, 2012


With the advent electronic music and synthetic sounds it is impossible that the palate of music has not increased since the fifties.

The fact that it is *possible* to use pretty much any timbre or waveform now doesn't necessariliy mean that people are actually doing that, especially not in mainstream pop music.

I remember back when sampling synthesizers first became available, I for one was imagining that people would be spending all their time making music out of the sounds of seashells or birds chirping or rocks clacking, donkeys braying, or whatever other random type sounds you could sample from nature and then make into notes and scales and make music out of.

But if you look at how sampling synthesizers are made and used today, 99.9% of all sounds are sampled musical instrument sounds. So instead of "any sound in the world" you've got "any musical instrument you want."

It's a bit like the internet, where way back when we supposed that by making "everything" available we see a billion different voices flourish. But what really happens is that, in order to cut through the noise of a billion different voices takes a huge amount of marketing muscle, so the end result is a billion different voices available somewhere if you know where to look and the mass market dominated by a few (even fewer than before) large (even larger than before) mega-conglomerates.

In sound synthesizer terms, any sound is now 'available' and undoubtedly used somewhere but in practical terms people actually prefer a small subset of 'musical' sounds that they have heard in pre-existing music and people can just go ahead and use those directly now rather than experimenting with the sound of clamshells clicking or whatever.

So synthesizers paradoxically may allow and encourage people to concentrate on the sounds they prefer because they are so easily and universally available.

Or to put it another way, often expressed by artists and musicians, limits are often good for the creative process and removal of limits results in less creative work, not more.
posted by flug at 11:21 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich -
"My music consumption now is mostly a private affair and not something that exists in my experience of the social sphere."


At this point I literally know no one that shares my musical taste. It’s such a change from when you’re younger and you fashion your music around your friends, or vice versa. (apparently I’m being paid by the "you").

I’ve found the availability of music these days to be amazing, and has changed my listening drastically. I barely listened to anything new all through the 90’s, but during the 2000’s it’s just been non stop exploration (including all the good stuff I missed in the 90’s). Since I fell that musical innovation has come almost to a standstill, much of the music of the 90’s sounds still sounds new. So much music of the past, and from different parts of the world is readily available like never before.

This has nothing to do with the article though, which is about pop music and sameness. Which is all true.
posted by bongo_x at 11:25 AM on July 27, 2012


music is a million times more diverse than it has ever been in human history

I'm surprised none of the great supporters of modern pop music have gone for the obvious re-interpretation of the results, which would be something like:
Musicians today are more interested in subtlety and refinement. Because we have a common, easily understood, universal musical language, musicians can say a lot more with less. They don't have to resort to stunt-ish dependence on odd and unusual sounds, timbres, melodic gyrations, or garrish dynamic or harmonic surprises.

Instead, they communicate through sophisticated but subtle nuances and manipulation of a few simple but well understood universal musical signifiers. We're living in the golden age of music where the greatest composers and performing artists aren't reaching a refined and effete 0.1% of the population, but are making great music that is understood and appreciated by the masses with a refined artistry never seen before in history.
In short, music is the best it's every been and this article PROVES it . . .
posted by flug at 11:30 AM on July 27, 2012


I don't deny that. I'm not sure what criteria they used for the songs in question, but I think the main point is that the music that's most popular now (not strictly in the genre sense) is less diverse and creative, not music as a whole. The same can be said for TV or movies. The types of songs on a current top-play list is probably a lot more narrow than it was in decades past.

I would disagree that even pop music is less diverse than it was years ago (and the quality therein has a range of bad to good just as it did then). Particularly if you get out of the States where radio at least is still more diverse.

I would strongly disagree that TV is less diverse and "creative" now then it was "then". If anything I'd argue there is more diversity and creativity then ever before. There have been some great shows throughout the history of television and this continues to be the case today, and they are popular. With the exception of The Wire, which was not too popular, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, Sopranos, Seinfeld, Life on Mars, Death Note, etc. Great stuff. There is a ton of shit as well, such as the new Doctor Who, reality television, etc., but there was plenty of crap then as well.
posted by juiceCake at 11:35 AM on July 27, 2012


In short, music is the best it's every been and this article PROVES it . . .

BTW the above doesn't necessarily express my own personal opinion, but it certainly does reflect a common opinion expressed by people who have written about different kinds of music during various periods of history--including many musicians.

A common theme in music history is to have a period where the complexity and esoteric-ness of music rises to a high pitch, as musicians make music more for each other and a cultural elite rather than a larger and broader audience.

Then follows the criticism of such music as too complex and out of touch, and often a period of retrenchment, simplification, and outreach to a larger audience follows.

I really am a bit surprised we don't hear more people expressing this kind of opinion.

Simplification is not always a bad thing. It can be seen as dumbing down, but it can also be seen as clearing out extraneous detail to get at the heart of the matter. Musically speaking, that is often a powerful direction to take.
posted by flug at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2012


Instead, they communicate through sophisticated but subtle nuances and manipulation of a few simple but well understood universal musical signifiers. We're living in the golden age of music where the greatest composers and performing artists aren't reaching a refined and effete 0.1% of the population, but are making great music that is understood and appreciated by the masses with a refined artistry never seen before in history.

This is what they said about the common practice period of European art music too. The problem is that it relies heavily on cultural hegemony and it only speaks to those who are already indoctrinated.
posted by speicus at 11:40 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The simple answer that people seem to be missing is that people are not trying to make something interesting and different these days. It’s not some failing of talent, they aren’t trying.

From the beginning of recorded music until the 90’s most artists, regardless of genre, but especially in pop music, were always trying to do something unique, even if they weren’t succeeding. Artists were always trying to figure out "what’s out thing that’s sets us apart?" and "what can we do next?" even if they were terrible ideas. The worst thing an artist would want to hear was that they sounded like someone else. You can read older articles were bands get very defensive about this, and critics would use it as an insult.

Sometime in the 90’s that started changing, and bands would openly say that they were "a cross between X and Y". It just got worse and eventually the goal has became to sound just like X with a slight variation.

I’ve always been a lover of pop music, even bad top 40. I don’t even bother these days. Even in the field of cheesy pop it’s just gotten dull. And there is part of the problem; in the past older people would say that new music (and fashion) was scary, obnoxious, weird, stupid, or they just didn’t understand it. Now they just say it’s dull.
posted by bongo_x at 11:41 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or to put it another way, often expressed by artists and musicians, limits are often good for the creative process and removal of limits results in less creative work, not more.

If people respond to the unlimited possibilities of synthesizes by limiting themselves to the presets, does this result in more or less creative work?
posted by Pyry at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


in the past older people would say that new music (and fashion) was scary, obnoxious, weird, stupid, or they just didn’t understand it. Now they just say it’s dull.

Counterpoint: Skrillex.
posted by Pyry at 12:05 PM on July 27, 2012


Elders React to Skrillex
posted by Flunkie at 12:23 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


This may be apropos of nothing, but has there been an instrumental in the rock/pop top ten since the wretched "Axel F Theme" and the theme to Miami Vice did their best to make the synthesizer uncool forever and ever?
posted by sonascope at 12:51 PM on July 27, 2012


This may be apropos of nothing, but has there been an instrumental in the rock/pop top ten since the wretched "Axel F Theme" and the theme to Miami Vice did their best to make the synthesizer uncool forever and ever?
All Rock Instrumental Top 20 Songs since 1980
All Instrumental Top 20 Songs since 1973
posted by dfan at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Counterpoint: Skrillex.

Touche’. I’m not a fan (and I’ll leave it at that on a public forum), but I have to admire many qualities about him. From afar. He’s an alternative to most “indie” bands, which sound like old Yacht Rock or Mature Singer Songwriter records from the early 70’s to me, a ridiculous time when you had 20 year olds singing about how world-weary and disillusioned they were. I actually appreciate what he’s doing more all the time, he’d better change course soon.

But still not Pop.
posted by bongo_x at 1:11 PM on July 27, 2012


It’s not some failing of talent, they aren’t trying.

Sure they are.
posted by juiceCake at 2:33 PM on July 27, 2012


But it wasn't like 70s folky type shit like the aforementioned steely dan/eagles...

I think you missed the point of Flunkie's comment. He wasn't saying that Steely Dan or Genesis or The Eagles were shit (though that shoe increasingly fit Collins-led Genesis as they trod their weary rut into oblivion and the Eagles were gullty of quite a bit of pandering pop), he was talking about people announcing their choices only to reveal they haven't made any choices or troubled to take an intereset in any music made in the last 35 years.

I blame corporate radio. Music is out there to be discovered but you have to be actively interested in finding it, and at best socially connected to other people who are also actively interested in it. It's no coincidence that the old stuff that never goes away dates from the tail end of the prog rock era; the last era in which the average person of average interest level could find good music without actually trying.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:14 PM on July 27, 2012


no, i think that era lasted at least until the 90s - you didn't have to try to find nirvana, prince, r e m, pearl jam, u2, madonna - i hardly had to try to find mercury rev, although i might have gotten lucky on that one, as a local commercial radio station played a few cuts off their debut album and i was like, what the hell?

never heard them on the radio again and the radio station changed format to something stupid in a year
posted by pyramid termite at 3:30 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gggrgh. Okay, agreed. Though what amazes me is that people of a certain age actually think of Pearl Jam as a current band; like their sense of what is current froze when Clear Channel took over. Maybe not even of a certain age, I saw a hipsteresque busker of no more than 20 whanging his way through an acoustic 'Jeremy' the other day. Though he was doing it at a farmers market full of tourists and oldies, so he was probably pandering.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:35 PM on July 27, 2012


The basic idea is that, in any cultural industry, the more consolidation you have in that industry, the less cultural variety you will find in the products made by that industry.
i just realized it's a good thing the same thing doesn't happen with the internet and websites or else we'd be in trouble. why am i shaking so hard
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:12 PM on July 27, 2012


Young people like it, so case closed.
posted by thelonius at 9:20 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


(MetaFilter on) Science: I call bullshit.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:44 AM on July 28, 2012


Bieber just needs more cowbell.
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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