“Today’s music ain’t got the same soul . . . ”
We often hear people complain that today’s music isn’t the same as music from past generations or that the halftime show at the Super Bowl just isn’t the same—and they may be right. Today’s music just isn’t the same, but that’s because music is made differently today and because some of the music is synthesized instead of being played on actual instruments.
Pop music’s timbre and pitch have changed which may affect why today’s music doesn’t sound the same as music from the past. According to the article, “Science Proves: Pop Music Has Actually Gotten Worse,” by Rose Eveleth on smithsonianmag.com, timbre “accounts for the sound color, texture or tone quality” of music whereas pitch “roughly corresponds to the harmonic content of the piece, including its chords, melody, and tonal arrangements.” So if there have been changes to chords, melody, and the sound color then there could be a huge difference in the sound of music.
Eveleth claims that the changes to timbre are making songs “more and more homogenous.” This means that while the songs sound different than the music of the past they sound the same as all of the modern pop songs because there is no variety in the timbre. According to Eveleth the changes in pitch are also causing modern pop music to sound the same because due to a decrease in the number of chords as well as melodies. Fewer melodies and chords combined with the changes in timbre results in one pop song sounding much like the next.
New methods available for artists when making music also influence the way that today’s music sounds. One of those methods is the way that melodies are digitally recorded and the concepts that melodies incorporate. Elizabeth Shockman in her article, “Why So Many Modern Pop Songs Sound Alike,” writes, “pop songs are now mostly about an underlying ‘musical bed’ focused on a chord progression, beats, and a very short melodic phrase that usually comes at the chorus.”
If artists focus on only one chord progression it limits the number of harmonies and keys that the song could utilize. Usually a chord progression has three to four chords which connects to the decrease in pitch. Limiting the number of chords used in a song also limits the pitch which not only causes modern pop songs to all sound the same, but also causes today’s music to differ from past music and its complexities.
The differences in sound may also have to do with the way artists record their voices. Shockman writes, “Modern pop also includes a method known as ‘comping’ wherein a singer records phrases or even single words over and over.” Tracks than are assembled in a computer using powerful software like ProTools rather than in the past when musicians played instruments and vocalists sang while a tape recorder captured the results.
Several artists don’t even record their natural voice anymore; instead, they are changing their voices with different technologies such as autotune so that their voice fits the style of their song. Not surprisingly, then, because artists are recording their music differently it changes the way that the music sounds especially when compared to music from the analog past.
While new technologies make some things in the music easier and better (who doesn’t love the convenience of streaming?) there are so many differences in the music creation process that the music no longer sounds as good as it once did; instead, all the modern music sounds almost identical. And with fewer actual instruments music doesn’t sound the rich or as powerful as it once was because everything is now synthesized. (Want a little proof? Open GarageBand on your iPad and realize that you have at your fingertips the technology to create and record an entire album.)
Things change over time and there is nothing we can do to stop that, but just because things change doesn’t mean that they always get better.