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.