Science Proves: Pop Music Has Actually Gotten Worse


WELL, not worse exactly. That’s subjective. But a wide-ranging study has found that pop songs these days are becoming more and more similar

The study also found that most modern pop songs use less chords and less adventurous melodies than those of the 1960s.

The group of researchers undertook a quantitative analysis of nearly half a million songs to look for widespread changes in music’s character over the years.

The study also found that pitch content has decreased – which means that the number of chords and different melodies has gone down. “Musicians today seem to be less adventurous in moving from one chord or note to another, instead following the paths well-trod by their predecessors and contemporaries,” Scientific American explains.

Joan Serrà, a postdoctoral scholar at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona, and his colleagues examined three aspects of those songs: timbre (which “accounts for the sound color, texture, or tone quality,” ; pitch (which “roughly corresponds to the harmonic content of the piece, including its chords, melody, and tonal arrangements”); and loudness.

After peaking in the 1960s, timbral variety has been in steady decline to the present day, the researchers found. That implies a homogenization of the overall timbral palette, which could point to less diversity in instrumentation and recording techniques. Similarly, the pitch content of music has shriveled somewhat. The basic pitch vocabulary has remained unchanged—the same notes and chords that were popular in decades past are popular today—but the syntax has become more restricted. Musicians today seem to be less adventurous in moving from one chord or note to another, instead following the paths well-trod by their predecessors and contemporaries.

And music, generally, has become a lot louder in the past half-century. Serrà and his colleagues found that the loudness of recorded music is increasing by about one decibel every eight years.

For years audiophiles have decried the “loudness wars”—the gradual upping of recorded music’s loudness over time, in an apparent effort to grab listeners’ attention. Loudness comes at the expense of dynamic range—in very broad terms, when the whole song is loud, nothing within it stands out as being exclamatory or punchy.



12 thoughts on “Science Proves: Pop Music Has Actually Gotten Worse

  1. Pop Music ???
    That should be “Pop Song”
    Music have nothing to do with the majority of what is recorded.
    We can thank the wall of sound started way back in the early 60,s
    When you can no longer hear a musical instrument and the talent using it that is when it,s all about a person “YELLING”and “SCREAMING “.
    Please take a bow Bruce Springsteen a typical example .
    The opposite is people such as “DAVID BOWE


  2. I’ve noticed that with Christian music as well. The chord sequences they used in the songs from the 60’s and 70’s were much more adventurous. They were inspired more by folk music back then. I write songs sometimes (not for recording – just for fun at this stage) and this is something I have been trying to do – be more daring with the chords, rather than using just the usual palette of related chords.


    • I agree Isaiah. A lot of Christian music sounds the same, musically and lyrically, these days. I find it’s interesting to play around with time signatures. Most pop songs are in 4/4 so it’s great to try writing in 6/8, for example, for a change.


  3. I get a bit worried about science ‘proving’ very much. Science is enquiring rather than knowing.

    ‘Maverick biologist’ Rupert Sheldrake thinks there is a big problem in science, caused by those who employ it as a belief system, rather than using it as a method of inquiry. He thinks science is being held back by the former, and in his soon-to-be-released book Science Set Free (already available in the UK as The Science Delusion) he offers the “ten dogmas of science” that he thinks need to be treated with more suspicion than they currently are:

    That nature is mechanical.
    That matter is unconscious.
    The laws of nature are fixed.
    The totally amount of matter and energy are always the same.
    That nature is purposeless.
    Biological inheritance is material.
    That memories are stored as material traces.
    The mind is in the brain.
    Telepathy and other psychic phenomena are illusory.
    Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.

    The ‘science delusion’ is the uncritical belief in these dogmas, treating them not as beliefs but as truths… Science is much more fun, much more interesting, much more free, when we turn these dogmas into questions.

    See the video at the top of this post for Sheldrake’s more detailed explanation of these ten dogmas, or better still pick up the book for the complete argument.

    US: Science Set Free (released Sept 4, 2012)
    UK: The Science Delusion (available now)


      • It saddens me to observe that the greater part of the repetitive music that enthrals our young folk, simply lacks beauty. Sure just every generation during the last hundred or more years has had the older folk deploring the stuff that the kids insisted on propogating. But that, I guess, is only to be expected. But these days it really is different.

        Personally I have no objection to people young or old enjoying Fun music, Dance music, Self-expression music etc. But there other types of music that can be all too often ignored by the young. Music appears to me to be losing its purpose, when it can be experienced non stop, at loud volume for hours on end. The reason I guess is because young folk have the money and the free time, as well as the reproducing gadgets to just self-indulge to their heart’s content. There actually is good music, and there is bad music. Bryan’s comments there about the monotomous styles of unimaginative much contemporary ‘music’ would have to be all too perceptive.

        I am terribly grateful for the fact that when I grew up, I got familiar with, and came to really enjoy a whole big array of musical forms. Country and Western, Musical Comedy, Opera, Sacred, Ballads, Concertos and Symphonies etc, AND Popular songs as well that were conveyed in imaginative melody and hummable style albeit of sentimental but very very human content.

        I just discovered an old ’30s movie of the singer Deanna Durbin, whose voice was most charming at all times. I found myself just melting almost as she sang old songs by Victor Herbert and other composers of the early 20th century. Yes, I was taught and encouraged within my family to appreciate music in all its moods. Passion, Romance, Sorrow, Excitement, Encouragement, as well as Meditative attitude. Music is one of the great Divine Gifts with which we are entrusted, and its beauties have been made more easily to be enjoyed (as well as its degenerations to be destructive) as no generation before us has ever had. I thank the God for it.


      • Ah Bubba Ray,
        Well I did say ‘the greater part of’, there. There’s repetitive music that I like too, but I do try to seek out a goodly proportion out of what I listen to, which has beauty and imaginative and emotional meaning, and not just hypnotic repetition or heavy beats.

        Now you are of course, one of our resident critics on this blog; and are you going to tell me that you dont apply your keen and insightful critical faculties to music as well as to religion? You clearly, like many of us, tend to despair at times when religious folk just swallow and deliver pre-digested and oft repeated Christian themes. You use discrimination when considering the world of ideas and scientific/philosophical matters. Do you really mean to tell me that you dont discriminate in a similar fashion between the various sorts of music that you hear? Or do you only approach music with just one mood in your heart?

        Cheers, Rian.


      • HI Rian,

        I think music is a lot like fashion – it moves in cycles and some times it’s good some times it’s bad.

        But I don’t think that there’s necessarily one era that’s innately superior to another. The 60’s gave us the Beatnik look, bell bottoms and “MacArthur Park” or “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” . 70’s gave us the safari suit and “Billy don’ be a hero” or “Disco Duck”. 80’s gave us pastels, the Miami Vice look and Stock Aitken and Waterman

        You can’t point to any time in particular where there’s no examples of terrible music or fashion.

        But I would be curious to know how much pop music is being written by algorithm nowadays.


      • Bubbbbbaaa old mate,
        Speaking of fashion, I heard that great One Liner on QI the other night. –
        Fashion is a word that goes in one year and out the other.

        PS. Gee I’ve just tumbled to it — the truth about you. You just have to be Bubaa the Black Sheep.


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