WHY IS POPULAR MUSIC SO LOUD AND REPETITIVE?
It seems more and more studies seem to be released each year confirming the everyman’s theory on why does “all pop music sound the same” (Michaels, 2012). We’ve also been witness to an abundance of copyright lawsuits between musicians, estates, record labels and technological companies (Smith-Engelhradt, 2020) So just why is this repetition on the radio occuring, surely we haven’t used every combination of note structure possible. Have we? (Riehl, 2020) Pop-Culture is defined in a multiple of ways; simply culture that is widely favoured or well liked by many people; the culture that is left over after we have decided what is high culture; ‘mass-culture’; and as a culture that originates from ‘the people’ (amongst others) (Storey, 2015 Ch1). Critical analysis of pop and rock music is particularly replete with this kind of analysis of popular culture. (Storey, 2015 p10). As time and technology have advanced, so has the capability to produce and consume music on a global scale.
Songs are one of humanity’s oldest forms of self-expression, making us feel through rhythm and melody, but they stay with us thanks to the familiar patterns that comprise song structure (Masterclass, 2019.) Once proven successful or ‘popular’, its understandable that record labels and the ‘mass-producers’ of content may want to follow a formula that works. After all, many of today’s most popular songs are written by the same people or studios that follow a proven-to-be-successful song structure and chord progression. (Why is modern music so awful? 2017) As something becomes popular, it necessarily dumbs down and becomes more formulaic. (Barnes, 2015).
More music and the archives for previous works are now more accessible than ever, and with the instantaneous accessibility through the world wide web, a single can be released and consumed at the touch of a button, making cross-market remakes of successful releases less necessary, (see, Valance, Holly) (“You Might Not Know That Holly Valance’s Hit ‘Kiss Kiss’ Is An English Remake”, 2017). In this project which they deem is for the good of the creative artist, Musicians/Lawyers/Computer Nerds (programmers) Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin generate and save ‘every melody’ to an external hard drive in a means of challenging creative commons law. Their theory is that if someone has every combination of a melody on a harddrive, then other artists should not be able to sue and therefore musicians regain their creative freedom.
For there have been many court cases deeming that modern pop music has copied cladssics of yore, and whether knowingly or subconsciously have either had to pay compensation to their previous artist or their families, or dubbed them in with writing credits soas to include future royalties and avoid the rigmorale of lengthy court proceedings.
Pharrell Williams even proved that his track “Blurred Lines” did not follow the same chord or melody structure as Marvin Gaye’s “Got to give it up” however a jury still favoured in favour of the later as the ‘feeling was replicated’, (this could be a dangerous precedent in itself), a humbling experience for Williams (Williams, 2019). Gaye’s attorney rebutted the claims that this decision stifles creativity, arguing encourages today's writers to create original work that does not take advantage of the success of others while pawning it off as their own.” (ABC, 2018)
As for the loudness, this is a simple technical technique. As each track ‘competes’ to stand out, loudness is the most obvious way to do that. By using a limiter at the mastering stage it increases the volume in the quieter parts of the track to match the peaks at a ‘ceiling’ crunching them to maximise loudness across the spectrum so once played on radio or through streaming service x so it will not be lost amongst the rest due to lack of volume. (Izotope 2017) This is another means of mass-production for mass-consumption, everything to sound the same to meet a standard for ‘mass-culture’. One can also argue this destroys a tracks ‘dynamic range’ the varying levels in volume throughout which can effect the groove, and ultimately the impact of feature parts of the song (Waves, 2017).
Will this ever-change? Perhaps if over time sub-cultures change and as does what we identify as ‘pop’. Then the complexities of electronic music genres such techno and psy-trance could help bust Riehl’s theory that every possible melody combination has been invented, as intricate delays and sequencing of various plugins and their levels of syncopation, arpeggiation and delays within each melody would mask Riehl’s algorithm and create many more combinations of melody than that of their “8x12 key melodic theory” (Riehl, 2020).
In other words, let’s get psy-trance and techno to the masses, for the sake of hearing something ‘new’.
(But wait doesnt techno and it’s 4x4 kick a genre that already ‘sounds the same’ to ‘appeal to a sub-culture’? (Mixmag, 2014). ) BIBLIOGRAPHY
Are You Listening? Episodes 4 and 5: Limiting in Mastering. (2019, March 14). IZotope. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.izotope.com/en/learn/are-you-listening-limiting-in-mastering.html
Barnes, T. (2015, Jan 8 ). Scientists Just Discovered Why All Pop Music Sounds Exactly the Same. Mic. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.mic.com/articles/107896/scientists-finally-prove-why-pop-music-all-sounds-the-same
Deadmau5 gives reasons for techno track: “EDM sounds the same to me.” (n.d.). Mixmag. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://mixmag.net/read/deadmau5-gives-reasons-for-techno-track-edm-sounds-the-same-to-me-news
Musicians up in arms after court rules Blurred Lines ripped off Marvin Gaye. (2018, March 22). https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-22/court-rules-with-gaye-family-in-blurred-lines-case/9576518
Pharrell and Rick Rubin Have an Epic Conversation | GQ. (2019, November 4). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnahkJevp64
Riehl, D. (2020, January 30). All the Music LLC – Helping Songwriters Make All of Their Music. http://allthemusic.info/
Smith-Engelhardt, J. (2020, February 4). 10 famous musician-related court cases that changed music. Alternative Press.
Songwriting 101: Learn Common Song Structures - 2020. (n.d.). MasterClass. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.masterclass.com/articles/songwriting-101-learn-common-song-structures
Storey, J. (2014). What is popular culture? In Cultural theory and popular culture: An introduction, (pp. 1-15). Harlow, England: Pearson Longman.
Why is Modern Music so Awful? (2017, August 5). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVME_l4IwII
You Might Not Know That Holly Valance’s Hit ‘Kiss Kiss’ Is An English Remake. (n.d.). Hit Network. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.hit.com.au/story/you-might-not-know-that-holly-valance-s-hit-kiss-kiss-is-an-english-remake-22587