Scientific study proves that today’s pop music really does suck

It’s not just our imagination – pop music really has been getting worse and worse. And now we have a scientific study that proves it.

This article from Reuters states:

“Comforting news for anyone over the age of 35, scientists have worked out that modern pop music really is louder and does all sound the same. Researchers in Spain used a huge archive known as the Million Song Dataset, which breaks down audio and lyrical content into data that can be crunched, to study pop songs from 1955 to 2010. A team led by artificial intelligence specialist Joan Serra at the Spanish National Research Council ran music from the last 50 years through some complex algorithms and found that pop songs have become intrinsically louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used.”

The “loudness” description refers to dynamic range compression. In the past, there was about 18 db between the average sound level and the peak sound level. The bigger this difference is, the more “punch” the music has. In recent years, the average sound level has been boosted, which reduces the difference between the average sound level and the peak sound level. Turning down the volume control on your stereo does not fix this “loudness” problem. Here’s a demonstration:

The Loudness War

As far as today’s music sounding more homogenous than the music of the past, here’s a Donna Summer song from 1979, followed by a different Donna Summer song from 2008. It’s very clear that the first is far more “musical” than the second:

Donna Summer – “Journey to the Center of Your Heart”

Donna Summer – “Mr. Music”

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July 29, 2012. Tags: , , , , , . Music, Science, Technology.

16 Comments

  1. Bret replied:

    Music died around 1997, and has sucked ever since, but its not alone. TV, movies, and video games have also sucked since about that time. Our whole culture seems to be rotting away.

    • John replied:

      I’ll have to disagree with you on that one. Sure, pop music may have started to suck around that time but other genres have continued to put out good music. Don’t limit yourself to what is heard on the radio. There are also some great TV shows, movies and video games out nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classics, but there’s some great stuff out there right now.

  2. George replied:

    I think contemporary movie soundtracks also sound incredibly bland compared to the classic movies of yesteryear. Think of the classic and very distinctive John Barry scores from the Bond flicks or the exoctic use of unusual instruments in such 70′s fare as The French Connection, Enter The Dragon, and Dirty Harry.

  3. Meme replied:

    I totally agree with Bret above, although I think that the good music ended in 1989. Tv, movies, horrible! I don’t play video games, but have seen some of my son’s and in a work, ICK! I haven’t watched network Tv in YEARS aside from one show and that’s only recently: Shark Tank. It gets worse all the time, dragging society down with it all. One thing that really baffles me: the guys making millions of dollars for (c)Rap music. I mean c’mon, just HOW many words really rhyme with bitch? What a total waste of money! Give me the old ‘crooners’ anyday!

  4. Joel Hess replied:

    As far as I’m concerned, music died around 1972,

    • William Ma replied:

      The Bee Gees doesn’t suck that bad. They were a great group throughout the 70′s………..

  5. Jim replied:

    I doubt the author seriously follows to pop music. Pop music has actually improved over past 7 years thanks to a new crop of producer/songwriters such as Dr. Luke and Max Martin, and others. Pop music really stagnated when rap dominated the industry starting in 1990s and continuing up through around 2007.

  6. Scott Healy replied:

    Reblogged this on Professorscosco and commented:
    This one deserves reblogging for sure.

  7. MacMahler replied:

    As a professional musician, I can tell you that pop music has gotten much worse. Tightened corporate control of media and the process of songwriting has gorged on the automata of the “fake”, such as auto-tuning, which makes the voice lose personality, individual timbre, expressiveness, and more. It creates a “dead” flat sound that I can hear a mile away as unconvincing. If a voice needs to be auto-tuned, that singer should not record until they learn how to sing in tune-for their own benefit and preservation of their own sound. Other malpractices include the making of beats (any good human drummer can do better and sound more alive), a toxic focus on hyper-marketing(instead of allowing singers and songwriters to develop their craft gradually so they become individuals-see what John Mellencamp has to say on that), an emphasis on dreary special effects and strobes to the detriment of the actual music (like Vegas on steroids…i.e., fake), the criminal exploitation of fine artists such as Michael Jackson, until the life is sucked out of them, the use of samples (some may be better than others, but there is still no air in the processed sound, thus no soul, resulting mostly in the same dead flatness as auto-tuning), and the sheer astounding inability and lack of education we as a society have in really listening, with all of contemporary life’s mechanical distractions. When you have young kids who literally cannot play their instruments masquerading as bands on national late night TV, something is wrong. Pull the plugs, turn off the computers, tell the engineers to hold off, and see if they can play or sing with any competence just using their own bodies, minds, and hearts. That would allow for connection and that is what people want, if they would get rid of the superficial hoopla surrounding pop culture. Frankly, if someone today wants to get into music and be real, they should take the time to learn an instrument and play jazz or classical music, two genres that still have standards. Although they too have been affected by the media’s foisting of instant gratification needs on society, they still have content. Which is why they last, even if cheated of media exposure.

    • Terry replied:

      Excellent professional comment. Glad to see that someone who really knows what they are talking about is commenting on this subject. Today’s music is all electronic and a mishmash of sound. I will take the Phil Spector “wall of sound” any day over what we now hear. At least you know there were real live musicians involved.

      Speaking of professionals, ever notice that when Tony Bennett put together his album with all the guest singers, how much better they sounded? Is there a lesson there or what?!!!!

  8. Aw replied:

    I agree music has sucked since the ’80s, the 1780′s that is.

  9. usrsbin replied:

    Just a quick note, as another professional musician trained in western classical tradition before moving to other areas … it is not, in and of itself, that “electronic” or “samples” are bad, but rather how they get used in the final production. A sensitive musician (and usually one trained to be competent with an instrument) can take those samples and processed sounds and use them in ways that will be immensely musical.

    But the loudness wars are a real problem — my work often utilizes field recordings and may have dynamic ranges even greater than the 18dB they talk about in the article. I spend hours trying to get my levels adjusted in the final mix so that the field recordings are in line with the rest of the sounds, only to have Soundcloud wipe it all out with their “processing” for online streaming … I haven’t prepped anything for iTunes lately, but my friends who have are all screaming about that happening over there, too.

    Sigh.

  10. Maya replied:

    Hey, guess what? I’m 13 and I cannot STAND pop music today! Don’t generalize :P

  11. Michael from Germany replied:

    I can not agree generally at the topic. I think it has become more diffucult to find the special sound that makes us interested in the first place.
    Like in the 80s you went either for the new sound of metal or more for the new wave/new romantic sound that, for me, dominated the 80s.
    The 90s had the High-NRG (to everyone in the U.S.A. aka Eurodance) that totally shaped the face of a typical 90s soundscape.
    But what is it in 2000+? Difficult.
    My prefered main style is house. I can use that as a guideline through the decades in music, especially electronic music since the 80s/late 70s.
    That way i can normally find my spot of comfort in any time. But since 2000+ it is definitly less comfortable to follow the red line.
    But i think i found it now towards the end of 2013 and picked it up.
    Collecting some Compilations that gave a new and fresh approache on 80s and 90s music to me, even though i grew up in these decades, i found another Compilation the represents the typical sound of today.
    Yet it leans towards my mainly prefered music style too.
    I just have to find out what it is called as EDM is a way too open hubword for it.
    I believe that if you want to find your favorite music today you have to dig deeper than yesterday, yes. But if you follow your heart and keep your mind open it is not that bad at all. And maybe, faster than a sneeze, it comes right at you.

  12. CM Pianist replied:

    I don’t mind other genre. Not interested. Still for me, jazz/classical-instrumental is real MUSIC. As a renowned pianist myself, I just love the soothing aura that comes from the sound of piano, acoustic guitar, violin, ukulele, harp, and any instruments without the need of words that comes from the mouth..the heart is enough to send the message of the music you’re playing.

    Listen to some of my inspirations when it comes to true music..
    Isao Sasaki
    Shinjou Hanabi
    Yiruma

    - a new-age musician myself (pianist)

    ”real music last a lifetime.”

  13. Steph Mayer replied:

    Wrecking ball of Miley and other unimpressive artists nowadays like Rihana, lady gaga, Justin Beiber, 1 direction..and the list goes on..are pure BS. come on young generations is this what music for you? I still love the music of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Bryan Adams, Aerosmith..than the singers, performers of today. I love Jason Mraz though. And btw, I’m just 17 yrs old. So yeah I admit, music of our generations..pop, rap, mashups SUCKS..

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