The Sound of (Pop) Music: Too Loud, Too Much the Same

In case you've tuned out of Top 40 radio lately (and we wouldn't blame you if you did), we're happy to fill you in: all pop music sounds the same. And scientists have confirmed it.

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In case you’ve tuned out of Top 40 radio lately (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did), we’re happy to fill you in: all pop music sounds the same these days. And scientists have confirmed it.

A team of Spanish researchers specializing in artificial intelligence dug through the freely-available Million Song Dataset — in which algorithm-happy researchers from Columbia University turned a million hit songs from 1955 until 2010 into mineable data bits — to determine what the musical trends are in today’s most popular songs.

Their findings: Pop songs are louder and more “blah” than ever before.

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The combination of turning up the volume when recording the songs mixing with fewer varieties of notes and chords makes today’s musical appetite for creativity a shrinking lot. Joan Serra, who headed up the team of researchers at the Spanish National Research Council, told Reuters that you could call this trend a “homogenization” of today’s popular music. “In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations — roughly speaking, chords plus melodies — have consistently diminished in the last 50 years.”

To further this sameness, our timbre — the term used to explain the same note sounding different on varying instruments — palette has also shrunk substantially, giving us an even greater reduction in the variety of sounds (and instruments) we hear, according to the evaluation released in the journal Scientific Reports.

By turning up the volume during recording, songs play back louder — even while set to the same volume on your personal device — than those recorded at a softer level in the studio. That marginal increase in volume has been anecdotally shared over the years, but the new findings establish that soft-playing songs now appear out of date, compared to what our ears have grown accustomed to hearing.

But even with the tricks of the trade applied, the continued trend toward a monochromatic-like sound of our pop culture makes listening to today’s tunes quite different from the past, but so similar to everything else in the now. So here’s a hint: if you’re looking to make the trendiest, most in-demand pop song – just crank up the volume and use those pleasant-sounding chords. You’ll have a hit in no time.

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