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”

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

34 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.

      • Musician replied:

        But theyre talking about music, not TV shows. Its a totally different subject idiot

      • neo replied:

        in my opinion movies and video games have always been good, but for the radio it seems like around 2010 somehow music on the radio became dead. Don’t get me wrong their is still good music, but a lot of what is played is pop somehow fused with rap it’s like out going music losing it’s IQ level. There is some great Techno out there but no. The so called young generation at least most of them, have to be all about teenage love. Many people in my school can’t handle this music with IQ called rock, i’m not saying all has rock IQ, but can the people in my school be more open to something different. The rock played on the radio is to repetitive. How many times have you heard cage the elephant on rock stations, or muse. Yes I like muse and cage the elephant but come on something that’s new. As for techno I am not even sure if the radio has a station for that, because their variety is so low class, and over rated. They have much better mixes on YouTube. Even YouTube is running out of great music, because a lot of new music is flooding, most songs bad some good.
        It’s easy for many people in my school to think they are cool for listening to crap, well much of the music the people listen to has low intelligence. Ironic many of the kids in my class who feed into this so called music made by artist are not much more educated than the crap on the radio, recycled. What is with people and the beat of music, here is an example: “Yeah this music looks like it was made by satin worshipers but the beat was good”. There is an example. Who said the beat of music is an exception for lame singers who get most of the money out of that song. Even pop had a downfall, when prince and Michael Jackson faded, I don’t know what happened. But Adriana grande, and this generations wrecking ball rider mile Cyrus, in addition with Taylor swifts blank space, should not have taken pop in just a couple of years. Pop had a meaning with Michael Jackson and prince. And somehow lilo Wayne, Nikki manaj the faces of the hood join with pop. Well thanks a lot you people in my school for giving them power. Why are many people in modern society going to part of the hood with rap. Not all rap is bad but lately rap has to talk about how they are above the get-to with there ten ho’s and money. How have these artist rised above that, they brought get-to to modern generation with new rap. What happened to that i’m not afraid song that was good rap. Or when rap and rock fused with Lincoln park and Beasty boys. Not all rap is bad but the radio ruined new rap and pop by far. I hope that music well change for the better in 2020 or soon because the radio went into the trash.

  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.

    • JERRYUUC replied:

      YES..I AM SO HAPPY TO HAVE FOUND THIS BLOG…NOT BECAUSE OF THE WAY THE MUSIC HAS DIED …BUT BECAUSE NOW I KNOW SO MANY OTHERS ARE OUT THERE WHO FEEL AS I DO,,,UNLIKE THAT STICKER DOWN THERE SAYS… “I AM AN OLD DUDE ” AND I WILL SOON BE 70… BUT MUSIC HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY LIFE ….I STARTED OUT IN SCHOOL PLAYING THE SAX… THEN IN HIGH SCHOOL I PICKED UP THE GUITAR AND PLAYED FOR SEVERAL YEARS IN A ROCK BAND … WHERE I PICKED UP THE KEYBOARD AND THE BASS TO GO ALONG WITH MY LEAD GUITAR…. THE ONLY THING I NEVER REALLY PLAYED WAS THE DRUMS… BUT I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO SOUND LIKE ….AND IT AIN’T WHAT I BEEN A HEARIN FOR MANY YEARS …WHERE DID THE SNARE DRUM GO ..WHERE’S THE DRUM ROLLS …BREAKS.. ROLL OFFS …DRUM RUNS …
      THATS WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR WHEN I FOUND THIS BLOG…. REMEMBER TWO VERSES …THAN A CHORUS…(BREAK)AND A THIRD VERSE….I SWEAR SOMETHING I HEARD YESTERDAY HAD NO MORE THAN FOUR WORDS IN THE WHOLE SONG!…CAN YOU BOOOOOOOORING! I GOT SO SICK OF FAKE ROCK I TURNED TO COUNTRY ….AND THAT ISN’T MUCH BETTER ANYMORE…. SO I GAVE IT ALL UP NOW FOR OLDIES … AND THE BEST PART OF MY LIFE NOW IS FIRING UP MY MP3’S PLAYLIST AND WALKIN TO THE BEAT FROM 50’S 60’S 70’S AND 80’S EVEN A COUPLE FROM THE EARLY 90’S OF ALL TYPES … IF ITS GOT A GOOD DRUM BEAT ALONG WITH ALL THE STUFF I MENTIONED ABOVE….. IT’S ON MY PLAYER ! NOW PLEASE EXCUSE ME ….. DONNA SUMMERS “HOT STUFF” A GREAT ONE TO MOVE OUT TO…. IS A CALLIN ME … AND IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE YOUR PLAYLIST OR SEE MORE OF MINE LET ME KNOW WITH A REPLY ….. THANKS :)

  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………..

    • Musician replied:

      Died in 1983,

    • Rob Honer replied:

      I would say the music died in 79 I think one of the reasons not entirely though was when New Wave came around and made heavy use of the synthesizer, then used by pop, rock and other styles. This made industry lazier since the synth could emulate different instruments and no longer required the human touch. During the late 60’s and early 70’s when progressive bands used the synthesizer, like Yes, Gentle Giant as a accompaniment to the other instruments when New Wave began, the synthesizer was “The Band” in fact you did not even need other instruments as accompaniment, just the singer.

  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.

    • Alberto Gutierrez replied:

      Whaaaaa…..? I am always amazed by this opinion. Fact, today`s pop music is acquired by using sampled phrases from past artist, the same chords are used over and over again, the music lacks dynamics, the music is programmed not written and composed while introducing a catchy idea, the music is not artist driven, there is no musical virtuosity performed by musicians, the music is Repetitive and formulaic. How can you make an unintelligent opinion. The corporations have you punked man. Wake up.

      • improvisatoryminds replied:

        Alberto is absolutely correct. I sat in a barber shop yesterday and listened to a series of ‘songs’ (no melody) certainly all programmed in a mechanical way, no live instruments, dead-sounding voices, with all having remarkably the same beat (a heavy artificial snare drum on beats 2 and 4), all almost the same tempo, all with the same washed out, heavily processed vocal sound, so it could have been the same singers on every track singing the same lines and words. No vocal artistry, no phrasing, endless repetition without any rhythmic variety, and occasional melismatic hysteria in the vocal line. (The words were barely discernible from time to time). This may be an extreme example, but it is a radio station without any humans announcing anything, which is typical of corporate shortcomings. And there is a lot of that on the airwaves. Again, Alberto is right-there is too much programming, and not any composing. There is no understanding of harmony except the most basic stuff which any 12-year old who actually plays a saxophone or clarinet has already surpassed. And I would rather hear a 12 year old play a clarinet and hear the AIR in the sound instead of the dead electronic graveyard that pop radio has become.

  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

    • Musician replied:

      Were not, its just a mass majority of your generation loves it. Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, 1 Direction, Nicki Minaj etc Which is all garbage. And mind you, I was in the generation when Soulja Boy, DJ UNK, Chris Brown and Rihanna came out. And I havent liked any of them since day 1. Even when everyone was all over Soulja Boy and Yung Joc (who also sucks)

  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..

  14. Michael Albanil replied:

    I am 14 years old and I absolutely hate the crappy pop music of today. I only listen to things before the year 2000. Not all of us teens listen to the shit music of today. And also the rap of today is garbage. Old school rap, classic metal, and rock is what I live for.

    • Andrew replied:

      I only listen to Classical, Jazz and Opera. Now, that’s real music.
      I’m 16.

  15. Sonny Roquette replied:

    It`s not all bad these days, the industry moguls are the ones loosing the plot and choose lame songs to plug instead of the tons of good stuff still being produced by overlooked artists, surely if they plugged the good stuff they would make more money, but they seem blinded by their poor taste.

    I make my own music now as learning to play an instrument is so much more satisfying than TV or Computer games, also when the lights eventually go out the people who can really play instruments will be back in vogue.

    Sonny Roquette

  16. Aaron Smith replied:

    It isn’t as if modern Pop music sucks, the reality is most people in general suck. So modern music will only reflect what most people are all about today; mostly greedy, stupid, uneducated, selfish, leeches, loveless, arrogant and feeling self important without any humility whatsoever.

    When real music was made decades ago, people were human and for the most part down to Terra fir-ma. Now people are not human or sane. They have become synthetic beings enslaved to Corporate products, services and drugs.

    People can not go a day without their prescription drugs and gadgets, and their drugs and gadgets have completely transformed their personalities. Society has morphed into a backwards and self mutilating mindless organism. Instead of people being about hope and progression, they have no real future to look forward to.

    So what do you expect from modern day musicians and songwriters when society as a whole is falling apart at the seams with no hope in sight…..?

    • Andrew replied:

      You’re right for the most part, but not everyone is like that.
      I myself only listen to real music (Classical, Opera and Jazz), other “music” sucks and is boring to me but I’m not the only one, there are tons of people like me out there. Just go to Salzburg on summer, you’ll see.
      Trust me, society is not that messed up, it’s just that the stupid ones are the popular ones.

    • susanbotchie replied:

      Guess music is like government – we get what we deserve.

  17. paul replied:

    MOST music that we listen to today is just dreadful. There is plenty of good music out there unfortunately you need to search for it and it never becomes popular because we are told by the media what is good. I refuse to listen to music where nobody is playing an instrument and the vocals are processed to keep everything in tune. Everything is in your face ,played at 10 the whole song. GRRRRRRRRRR

  18. Todd replied:

    I think the simple answer is that far less effort goes into making music today while a premium is placed on the presentation. I.e. dancing and sex appeal of todays performers. Back in the late 60’s and most of the 70’s bands could spend a year or more composing music and themes for an album and because of the lack of visual exposure, the music had to be good in order to sell. You also had album oriented radio that didn’t feel compelled to play only what was popular thus yielding further exposure to a wider array of music.

    I got into Led Zeppelin when I was about 15 during the late seventies. I had no idea what they looked like I just knew I loved the sound they made….still do.
    It was not the music of my generation rather it was the music of my parents generation so I don’t feel I’m being subjective here.

  19. Clive Blanston replied:

    To slightly paraphrase Allan Bloom; “There is a Democratic vice tied to the desire we enjoy all good things that results in packaging anything of distinction so everyone feels included.” Music falls in this category.

    It exploded onto the scene from the Beatles onward and for a time seemed to be unstoppable. Unfortunately it was too good to be true. Like pizza, it was everywhere, and the product got bigger, cheaper, and crappier as the years rolled on. (“How many feet of bad pizza can you eat??”)

    Today, it is hard to get any consensus on the difference between music and noise. Most acts are traveling light shows of narcissistic prostitutes pretending they can play or sing. Not only has everything already been done — and recorded — it’s been done better. Many bands play nothing but covers of other bands’ material.

    Can you still enjoy music. Sure. The classic stuff is still there, you can play to yourself if you know an instrument, but today’s music probably won’t speak to you because it isn’t trying to…and hopes you don’t notice.

    It’s not about telling a moving story, or sharing a common experience on a purely human level. It is at best an assembly line sausage factory built to rally a fan base around a caricatured “shared identity”; (drinking and trucks for example if it was a country song.)

    In addition, now that greed and treachery have rotted through the industry and digital music has become essentially “free,” the concert circuit has become a bloated joke. Older bands that are well known do fine and often suck all the oxygen (read available concert ticket money) out of the room. There are simply too many piglets for the teats available.

    Nope. Pop music is pretty much dead. It may still be pumped out of radio speakers in stores so no one hears customers fart, but no one is home. The radio station, like offshore corporate headquarters, is a closet with a computer playing two albums worth of music on rotations that the Geneva Conventions would probably classify as torture.

  20. yes replied:

    I think we also need to take into account that most pop songs are in minor keys now.

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