With the passing of Fats Domino this week, I once again wondered if it was just my taste in recordings, or if pop music actually is getting worse in quality as the years go by.
I grew up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so pop music I listened to, and loved, was written by recording artists like Blondie, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac.
Big stars now include people like Justin Beiber, who masterfully exploited YouTube to make himself a star, Taylor Swift, who won a TV talent show and Katie Perry who apparently takes advantage of her physical appearance to set herself apart from other pop music divas.
Their music all sounds the same to me, and there’s actually scientific evidence to back up that assertion: all of these stars release the same song over and over again, with minor differences in notes and lyrics.
Strangely enough, many scientists have been studying pop music over the past 30 years, including the Spanish National Research Council, which released the results of their latest efforts in 2012. What did those Iberian scientists discover? Pop music is getting louder and dumber.
One of the major findings off the Spanish paper is that pop music has gotten less and less original over the past 30 years, and the tunes are actually remarkable similar to each other. The study found that variances in chords and melodies has reduced significantly, as major song releases have similar notes year to year and similar melodies. That might explain why every time Coldplay releases a new album they’re sued for plagiarism.
The Spanish researchers also found a second major tip-off: music is getting louder, not better. “We have been able to show how the global loudness level of recordings has consistently increased over the years,” said Joan Serra of the SNRC.
Both discoveries together suggest the music industry isn’t interested in creativity, but rather in getting their music noticed over the din of other artists in order to make as much money as possible in as short a time as possible (before listeners forget it).
How can all this music sound so similar when each artist writes their own music? Simple, most pop stars have little to nothing to do with writing music. They’re just a face on a CD case.
An important fact to keep in mind when wondering why all this music sounds so similar to itself regardless of the artist involved is that most of it is written, or heavily influenced, by one person. No it’s not Dr. Dre, Puffy or Lady GaGa. It’s actually a fellow from Scandinavia.
Mr. Max Martin, a blonde Golden Retriever-looking chap, has written over 24 chart topping singles for artists ranging from Brittany Spears to Taylor Swift to Katie Perry to Wil.I.Am. Another culprit is American music producer Dr. Luke, cut from the same cloth as Martin. Obviously, tunes coming from the mind of one person will tend to have rather similar construction.
Why has the music industry, which was never considered the bastion of creativity in the first place, fallen so far? Some blame out attention spans. If you have a friend who continually ignores you over lunch while checking their cell phone, you know what I mean. Refusal to accept any risk in profit is also a usual suspect. Music labels release the same music over and over again because people buy it. If people like it, they’ll buy it and the labels won’t lose money.
So if you’re a music lover waiting for another release like Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearst Club Band, you might as well give it up. That won’t be happening any time soon, if ever again.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.