Study says…Music is Blander…

Jerry Lucky Commentary August 2012

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2012 All Rights Reserved


Not sure how many of you saw a recent study that came out the other day where Spanish

researchers have discovered that, pop music getting louder and blander. It caught my attention for

a number of reasons. But for those of you who missed it, here’s the gist of what they discovered.


The team was led by artificial intelligence specialist Juan Serra. He and a team from the Spanish Research Council carried out specialized computer analyses of approximately 500,000 pop, rock and hip-hop songs that were written between 1955 and 2010. Their paper, published July 26, 2012 in the publication Scientific Reports, showed conclusively that pop music over the last 50 years has become “intrinsically louder” and more bland, all the while featuring less variety in chords and melodies than in songs penned in the 1950s and 1960s. Another part of their report said that Western pop music is also becoming increasingly homogenized, resulting in as they said, “tunes on the Billboard 100 and other top charts that sound very much the same.”


Here are a few quotes from the Reuters news article: To do this [research], the scientists used a huge and freely-available archive known as the Million Song Dataset, which breaks down the audio and lyrical content of songs into data that can be crunched…With this data, Serra and his team studied certain patterns in contemporary pop music, such as pitch, timbre and loudness…Remarkably, many of those patterns have "remained consistently stable for more than 50 years,' the report claimed…"We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse," Serra told Reuters…"In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations -- roughly speaking chords plus melodies -- has consistently diminished in the last 50 years," Serra added…The new study also confirmed that today's musical tracks are getting louder and credited sound engineers and producers for this trend. Both parties have been cranking up the volume at the recording stage, according to scientists' findings… It also offered a recipe for musicians on the hunt for the next big hit.


So what’s the big deal? Well a couple points come to mind.


The lead researcher offered an observation as to why engineers are pushing the volume and that was perhaps to attract the interest of potential customers. That probably makes sense since the business is all about selling product. Gone are the days of artists controlling the studio environment. Once you get “in bed” with any of the big music companies they want to control your destiny. You become an investment to them. What they don’t tell you is that if “they” make a mistake and your music doesn’t fly, they will “sell” you like any poorly performing investment.


A second point is the aspect of homogenization. I’ve written in the past about how music is inherently a finite creative exercise. There are a set number of notes that can be arranged a set number of ways. True, the range is really large, but at some point all the variations will have been done. If we add to this equation the reduction of variety highlighted in this study, we do seem to be coming one step closer to “there being nothing new under the sun.”


But the most important point I took from the study was contained in the last line I quoted above: “It also offered a recipe for musicians on the hunt for the next big hit.”  Ahh…there it is, Eldorado (so to speak) the gold treasure, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Despite what they may say, the music business would be very happy if they had a machine that they could punch in a few numbers and out would come the next big hit that the sheep-like public would be clamouring over. I don’t think they’ll ever stop trying to reach that point.


Now with so much musicality in Prog, so much dynamic range, so much variety, do you see why the big record companies and the music business have so much trouble with the progressive rock genre? It’s not so much that they don’t “get it”, it’s more that they don’t want to “get-it.” At least that’s what I think.


Jerry Lucky