Music is one of those things that everybody has an opinion on - what's a good genre, a bad one, who's a talented artist or who's not...everyone's got their own different tastes and preferences. But one opinion that many people share has to do with modern-day music: it sucks.
We've all rolled our eyes when our parents or grandparents listen to a new song and moan, "Music was just soooo much better back in the day," or "I don't know how you listen to that new crap." You might have felt the same notion already, too - I know I have. I'm only 21 years old, but I can't help but cringe whenever I accidentally tune in to one of those "Top 40" radio stations. It's not even mainstream pop music that's entirely stale to me - I'm a big fan of the metal, pop punk and rock genres too, but I'm almost always disappointed when I try to find new tunes, even from bands I used to really like.
So what is this phenomenon? Is it just nostalgia, or is music actually getting worse over time? A researcher in Spain had the same questions in 2012 and ended up designing a study that tracked changes in popular music over the last 55 years. And the results were, well...disappointing, but not unexpected, to say the least.
The study analyzed around half a million songs, measuring characteristics such as timbre (the tone quality of a sound), pitch (the harmonic content of a piece, including chords, melody and tone arrangements) and loudness, which form the "base" or "palette" that an artist uses to compose a song. The amount of information in a song is dependent on how widely these characteristics are used and how they vary within the scope of that song.
The study found that, since 1955, the timbral variety and pitch content of music has decreased. The number of chords and different melodies has gone way down, and songs are becoming more and more homogenized over the years - meaning that modern-day music contains much less musical information and is less distinguishable.
Music has also become much, much louder, which is a problem for not only your hearing but for sound quality as well. Scientific American says that loudness lessens a song's richness and depth - and the study found that loudness of recorded music is increasing by one decibel every eight years. So the general conclusion from the study confirmed that popular music has indeed become more homogenized (i.e., it all sounds the same now).
These results are disappointing, for sure, but not entirely surprising. Some argue that in our modern world of commercialization and mass media, there isn't room for music with so much information in it in the first place. Some people enjoy popular music because it doesn't contain much complexity or variety - it's predictable, easy to listen to and able to be enjoyed on "autopilot."
Ultimately, science has confirmed that popular music all sounds the same nowadays. But does that mean music really is getting worse, and it's not just feeling nostalgic for the "good old days"? Well...the answer is still not a conclusive "yes" or "no," because, in the end, music is all about personal preference. Some people enjoy the simplicity of new music, so they don't interpret the fact that it all sounds the same as a bad thing. Others (myself included) don't exactly appreciate the repetitiveness and prefer more complex arrangements and higher varieties of musical characteristics, like the ones measured in the study.
So, yes, music is getting worse for some. For others, though, it's just getting better. We all like what music we like, and we don't like what we don't like - which we should feel free to do. The one thing we shouldn't do is be a music snob.