No, you are not becoming crankier as you approach middle age – music is indeed getting worse every year. And the marketing industry’s obsession with optimisation is to blame.
In late 2017, the YouTube channel Thoughty2 published a video exploring how music has changed over the decades. After starting with The Beatles, the narrator continues with an example of classic British understatement: “Fast forward to 2010, when Justin Bieber released his hit single Baby. This is generally considered to be a bad move.”
According to the research in the video, lyrical intelligence, harmonic complexity, and timbral diversity have decreased while dynamic range compression has been used to make music louder and louder. In short, songs are becoming stupider – especially since every hit now includes the “millennial whoop” as well.
“Instead of experimenting with different musical techniques and instruments, the vast majority of pop music today is built using the exact same combination of keyboard, drum machine, sampler, and computer software,” Thoughty2’s narrator states. “This might be considered as progressive by some people, but it truth it sucks the creativity and originality out of music – making everything sound somewhat similar.”
As a rule, businesses do not like risk. The video states that record companies today must spend anywhere from $500,000 to $3m to sign and market a new artist. That is a lot of money to spend on a band without being fully confident of success.
To minimise the risk and maximise the potential return, these companies optimise the music to do whatever seems to have worked in the past. Same set of instruments? Check. Simple lyrics? Check. Is it loud? Check. Simple melody? Check. Can you dance to it? Check. Millennial whoop? Check check.
But that optimisation process is a downward spiral that will result only in songs that will make Rebecca Black’s Friday sound as brilliant as Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. It is creating music by paint-by-numbers. It is ticking boxes rather than being creative. And the same thing is occurring in the marketing industry today.