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pop music DOES all sound the same

Jack Campin 28 Jul 12 - 06:42 PM
RTim 28 Jul 12 - 06:58 PM
GUEST,Blandiver 28 Jul 12 - 07:39 PM
Jack Campin 28 Jul 12 - 08:00 PM
GUEST,Andy Shandy 28 Jul 12 - 08:02 PM
Jack Campin 28 Jul 12 - 08:15 PM
GUEST,leeneia 28 Jul 12 - 10:38 PM
Jim Carroll 29 Jul 12 - 07:08 AM
MGM·Lion 29 Jul 12 - 07:18 AM
Jim Carroll 29 Jul 12 - 07:45 AM
GUEST,Blandiver 29 Jul 12 - 01:33 PM
dick greenhaus 29 Jul 12 - 02:28 PM
melodeonboy 29 Jul 12 - 05:25 PM
Little Hawk 29 Jul 12 - 05:47 PM
GUEST,Keith 30 Jul 12 - 08:40 AM
GUEST,Claire M (Permanant GUEST!) 30 Jul 12 - 10:42 AM
GUEST,CS 30 Jul 12 - 12:37 PM
GUEST,CS 30 Jul 12 - 12:39 PM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 30 Jul 12 - 01:32 PM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 30 Jul 12 - 02:19 PM
Little Hawk 30 Jul 12 - 02:36 PM
GUEST 30 Jul 12 - 02:52 PM
GUEST,Stim 30 Jul 12 - 03:05 PM
Jack Campin 30 Jul 12 - 03:37 PM
GUEST,Stim 30 Jul 12 - 04:16 PM
Jack Campin 30 Jul 12 - 05:01 PM
Joybell 30 Jul 12 - 05:41 PM
GUEST,BobL 31 Jul 12 - 02:41 AM
GUEST 31 Jul 12 - 02:56 AM
GUEST,Stim 31 Jul 12 - 03:04 AM
Mavis Enderby 07 Aug 12 - 05:10 PM
Phil Edwards 07 Aug 12 - 06:33 PM
GUEST,Stim 07 Aug 12 - 08:16 PM
catspaw49 07 Aug 12 - 08:37 PM
Bonzo3legs 08 Aug 12 - 02:45 AM
Mavis Enderby 08 Aug 12 - 03:59 AM
Phil Edwards 08 Aug 12 - 04:00 AM
GUEST,Charles Macfarlane 08 Aug 12 - 05:06 AM
Mavis Enderby 08 Aug 12 - 05:47 AM
Mavis Enderby 08 Aug 12 - 05:52 AM
GUEST,foggers (on cookieless Blackberry) 08 Aug 12 - 07:07 AM
Elmore 08 Aug 12 - 04:47 PM
Elmore 08 Aug 12 - 08:05 PM
Elmore 08 Aug 12 - 08:06 PM
Jim Carroll 09 Aug 12 - 04:25 AM
GUEST,Charles Macfarlane 09 Aug 12 - 02:05 PM
Elmore 09 Aug 12 - 07:45 PM
GUEST,999 09 Aug 12 - 08:41 PM
Rob Naylor 09 Aug 12 - 09:03 PM
GUEST,Stim 10 Aug 12 - 12:17 AM
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Subject: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Jul 12 - 06:42 PM

Or, how to be a grumpy old git, but now with added graphs:

http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/120726/srep00521/full/srep00521.html

summary:

http://io9.com/5929469/the-real-reason-why

I hate to think what the same methodology would do with country.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: RTim
Date: 28 Jul 12 - 06:58 PM

Agreed!!
Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 28 Jul 12 - 07:39 PM

What utter rot. To most ears all Irish music sounds the same; all Scottish music sounds the same; all Jazz sounds the same; all Piobaireachd sounds the same; all Balinese gamelan sounds the same; all Traditional English Folk Songs sound the same; all Mozart sounds the same; all Gaelic Psalm singing sounds the same; all Gagaku sounds the same; all Swedish fiddle music sounds the same...

When don't know or understand the music, it all sounds the same. Why post just to tell us about stuff you don't care about or understand? Tell us what you know, not what you don't; after all, considerable knowledge is always offset by a greater ignorance.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Jul 12 - 08:00 PM

Somebody didn't read the article.

The surprising thing is how many different parameters they looked at, and that the trend was the same for all of them.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Andy Shandy
Date: 28 Jul 12 - 08:02 PM

Errrmm..

pop is fun - that's why we like it.

Similarly, for many millenia all human orgasms aint changed that much and have more or less felt the same -
but we still likes them too.

Bread, beer, cheese; give or take acceptable variations - always very samey, but nonetheless also very nice - still like 'em..

plenty more popular/populist examples of 'always the same, never changing, but we still like them' !!!

getting the drift ....???

Ok, of course this does not apply to Folk music
which is noted for being radically different and ever changing
with every new song being innovative & sonically unique...

yeah as unique as my flatulently reverberating arse cheeks !!!
and not much more popular with the greater British public.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Jul 12 - 08:15 PM

They didn't look at genres labelled as "folk".

I suspect the trends would have been much the same if you looked at any one of them.

Commodification means homogenization. It just so happens that pop is the most commodified musical genre there is, so it's the obvious one to look at.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 28 Jul 12 - 10:38 PM

I think nations (to use the term loosely) go through brilliant periods and then lulls in their music, and that we are definitely in a lull right now.

I don't need graphs to tell me that the pop music I hear in public places lacks melody and other forms of musical interest.


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Subject: Folklore: It does all sound the same - official
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Jul 12 - 07:08 AM

From The Irish Times 27th July 2012:
Jim Carroll

Spain
POP MUSIC TODAY DOES ALL SOUND THE SAME
In what could be 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 analysed, 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 past 50 years through some complex algorithms and found that pop songs had become intrinsically louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used.
"We found evidence of a progressive homogenisation of the musical discourse," Mr Serra said.
"In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations - roughly speaking chords plus melodies - has consistently diminished in the last 50 years."
The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports. - (Reuters)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: It does all sound the same - official
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 29 Jul 12 - 07:18 AM

Why did you give this news the "Folklore" prefix, Jim? Just out of interest...

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Folklore: It does all sound the same - official
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Jul 12 - 07:45 AM

Hit the wrong button Mike, but it has been passed down through the generations so, by some peoples' reckoning it can be......!!
Thanks for he opportunity to clarify my own particular stance.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 29 Jul 12 - 01:33 PM

Somebody didn't read the article.

True; I got bored after the first few words.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 29 Jul 12 - 02:28 PM

If a genre of music didn't consist of individusl works that had substantial similarities, it wouldn't be a genre.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: melodeonboy
Date: 29 Jul 12 - 05:25 PM

If, as I assume, modern pop songs are primarily more a product of improved technology and the skill of the sound engineers using that technology rather than any creative flair, individuality or talent on the part of the artist; and if a large majority of these songs are produced by a much smaller number and variety of record companies, then it would seem likely that they would sound the same, or at least more similar to each other than would have been the case in the past.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Little Hawk
Date: 29 Jul 12 - 05:47 PM

That's the problem with the pop music audience...they get bored VERY easily! ;-) It only takes about a verse and a half of just about any song to bore them unless there's a hook. (whoopee!) A hook and some chaotic video scenes will keep them vaguely interested for, oh, maybe one and a half more verses at the very most, and that's why pop songs are usually pretty short. DON'T ask them to remember the words! That would be soooooo boring!

In ancient times people would quietly listen to epic poems, tales passed down by word of mouth, stories that were easily an hour long and songs that told a story in 20 or 30 verses. They didn't get bored. Perhaps this was because they didn't live in a world that gave them about 600,000,000 choices of what to do all the time, thus leaving them so jaded and overfed after awhile that they weren't really much interested in anything.

It's simple. Give a child one toy and he will treasure it, give it a name, turn it into a companion that lasts for years. Give him 800 toys, 3 computers, a cellphone, an Ipad, a Blackberry, and whatever the hell else you can get out there for your kid these days and.....he'll get bored. Very bored. He'll have no patience at all. He'll have no ability to sustain any attention span. He won't stay interested long. He'll decide that almost everything "sucks", get depressed, and be depressing to others.

And he'll probably listen to a lot of pop music eventually, because it's all around him, but certainly not with enough attention to remember the lyrics of the song...but that's okay, coz they're probably not worth remembering anyway, right?

We may be looking at the most bored, overstimulated, overfed, unhealthy, and confused generation in human history right now in the developed world...mainly because we have buried ourselves under a mountain of material goods and ephemeral media and have lost our souls and our minds in the process.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Keith
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 08:40 AM

check out this site guys!

www.ThatSongSoundsLike.com


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Claire M (Permanant GUEST!)
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 10:42 AM

I'm so happy to read this & wish I'd found this place before.

I like some pop music, but wouldn't want my shelves full of it. It could be because it wasn't played at me, while blues/folk always was. I'm so used to the latter that I get in a foul mood when I can't listen to it for some reason, & as soon as I put some on it goes away.

As a disabled person, my life is (& will be) very different to that described in standard pop songs, so I tend to gravitate toward nastier songs because they make more sense; me 2 fine legs were, in a sense, taken away (because they don't work), I do get lost (but unfortunately not in the pines), a lot of people I know happen to be very ill, so they do tend to die quite young.

I can cope with some pop music, but most people I know who like it seem to want to play it too loud, & think I'd be happier if I didn't listen to the music I do. They seem to get bored easily too. I don't & I don't think I ever have. In their way of thinking, if you like something you must own it, even if you're not sure you like it. Get me a decent cd & I'll be happy for ages.

As for toys, I still treasure Katy the rag doll (ooooh, I luv you just the way you are) & Midnight the toy cat.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,CS
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 12:37 PM

There is exciting pop music out there, but it seems to be even more at the fringes of 'popular' music than it was when I were a young thing and me and my best friend were going silly over this strange pixie woman singing in Icelandic on the Indie chart on C4's (then excellent) The Chart Show.

Nevertheless, with tools like Gnoosic / MusicMap, YouTube, Grooveshark etceteras, good pop is much easier to actually discover now than ever, so we're no longer dependent on the late John Peel to act as our musical ears and likewise there's no excuse for limiting oneself to the safe formulas of the top ten muzak machine either - where the so-called 'art' of performers like Gaga, still regurgitates the same top ten formulas of twenty plus years ago.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,CS
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 12:39 PM

Oh, and I love a good hook.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 01:32 PM

[punkfolkrocker: with his serious head on for a few moments]

I've mention before on mudcat how much I love "The Archies";

manufactured bubblegum pop perfection churned out on the factory production line
by some of the cream of late 60's USA commercial song writers
studio producers, session singers & musicians.

Even the LP filler tracks and B sides are timeless pop music
instant acting maximum effect anti depressants.

I rate The Archies high up there with The Turtles, Monkees & Lovin' Spoonful.

Maybe occasionally since the glories of UK glam rock
maybe, just maybe, during the last 35 years
isolated pop singles almost as good as the vintage golden era classics emerge
to brighten up a a few short minutes of day to day modern alienation & misery.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 02:19 PM

..interesting Guardian article on my mrs's current favourite new pop group
and their 'grooming' for stardom by UK music biz industry.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/mar/08/stooshe-girl-band


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Little Hawk
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 02:36 PM

A good hook can definitely be really neat, no question about it. What troubles me is when a song has a good hook....but it doesn't have anything else good in it. ;-) If you know what I mean...

Some pop music is quite good, by the way. Most of it is pretty lacklustre stuff, but there are a few gems to be found here and there.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 02:52 PM

The pop music of the present will become the "traditional" music of the future. That's how it's always been. It is slightly amusing when people who embrace traditional and folk music complain about the "sameness" of whatever music it is that they don't like. As Dick Greenhaus pointed out above musical genres are "genres" because they share a lot of common elements. Nine times out of ten, the things that the don't share are borrowed from other musical genres.

Bottom line is the reason that genres exist is because certain people, in a certain place, at a certain time, happen to like a particular rhythm, coupled with a particular sort of phrasing, following a small variety of melodies, with lyrics that tell stories that reflect the ideas and values of their place and time. Musicians, smart people that they are, endeavor to give em what they want.

Another time, another place, another kind of music.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 03:05 PM

To remedy the good hook/boring song problem, "The folk process" allows the performer to trim the boring parts and use the hook on its own-the way "I rolled and I tumbled" got taken from "Knoxville Girl" and turned into a whole stack of blues records.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Jack Campin
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 03:37 PM

The point of the paper (which it seems you haven't looked at) was NOT to slag off pop as a genre. It was analyzing developments WITHIN the genre, which are most likely paralleled in many others. (I can think of a few exceptions, from widely differing milieus).

How about you cut out the dimwitted cliches and actually read the thing?


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 04:16 PM

That Guest was me. I hope you don't think that my comments were dimmwitted, Jack, because I actually read the article. I was responding to the people in this thread who are "slagging off" pop music.

As far as the research, their observations are correct, but music is written that way on purpose, so they aren't telling anyone anything that isn't widely known already. Why is is written that way is the better question, and even that question has some pretty well established answers.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Jack Campin
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 05:01 PM

the reason that genres exist is because certain people, in a certain place, at a certain time, happen to like a particular rhythm, coupled with a particular sort of phrasing, following a small variety of melodies

As the researchers pointed out, if you look back a few decades you find a far wider variety of sounds WITHIN THE SAME GENRE. Genres do not start out stereotyped.

A few examples within folk/trad:

- the range of voice types for performers entering the field is far less than it was; who's a 20-year-old Sheila Stewart or Jock Duncan?

- in Scottish trad, the range of keys used routinely is far less than it was 200 years ago. Where did B flat go?

- the range of durations for songs commercially recorded has always been far narrower than for uncommercial music. The cliche is about long ballads, but there are far more very short songs that never make it onto commercial recordings because there is no way to pad them out to fit anything longer than wax cylinder, if that.

- religious material used to be part of the same genre as secular folk songs and dance music, with performers like Father Sydney MacEwen crossing over between them. Not any more. The Americans can get away with it to some extent but it had better be something the Carter Family recorded.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Joybell
Date: 30 Jul 12 - 05:41 PM

True-love still teaches children to accompany themselves as singers. I work with children producing commumity shows. It's comforting, though really, really sad, to know we're not mistaken. The popular songs they want to learn to sing, and the way they expect to sound, agree with this study. *sigh*. Luckily for me we live in a rural community and the kids just love the old songs I teach them -- so far. This is within the context of theatre so they don't see it the same way. When they want formal lessons, though, they expect to sound they way their ipods tell them they should.
Joy.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,BobL
Date: 31 Jul 12 - 02:41 AM

Pop music has always been stereotyped, or at least standardised in some way. Songs of the 50's invariably had the same form: V1, V2, bridge, V3, repeat bridge, repeat V3. Songs of the rock & roll era almost invariably followed a 12-bar blues chord sequence. To look at a different aspect, styles tended to alternate between simple "D-I-Y" (think skiffle) and more developed (think Sgt. Pepper), the simple styles showing less variation. Dunno about the present day, I gave up on pop as a bad job thirty years ago.   

It would, however, be interesting to see how pop compares to other music genres under a similar analysis.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST
Date: 31 Jul 12 - 02:56 AM

Here are three songs that are popular this year--you can probably still hear them on the radio, if you still use a radio. Listen and decide if you have trouble telling them apart, etc. Out of deference to folk tastes, I have not provided links to anything with a strong club/dance feel, such as, say, Jessie J's "Domino", Alexandra Stan's "Mr. Saxobeat" or anything by The Black-Eyed Peas, so you'll just have to trust me that there is a lot of range there, too.

a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf_l3EGQvL8">Andrew in Drag

Somebody that I Used to Know- Gotye

Someone Like You


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 31 Jul 12 - 03:04 AM

That was me. Here's the link again--
Andrew in Drag


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Mavis Enderby
Date: 07 Aug 12 - 05:10 PM

Reviving this thread as it's been mentioned in another

Surely this study is only as good as the dataset used. Reading the supplementary information, the "million song dataset" is slightly misleading in this study as more than half of it was discarded due to lack of date information or duplication.

Also, Jack, Country is included...


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 07 Aug 12 - 06:33 PM

The pop music of the present will become the "traditional" music of the future. That's how it's always been.

I don't think it's always been like that at all - any more than pop music has always sounded the same. I think all you can say is that some folk songs collected 100 years ago had originally been popular songs (music-hall songs and broadside ballads). Either side of that one period it doesn't work - popular songs from 1750 weren't being labelled as folk songs in 1800, and songs from the 1950s haven't magically become 'traditional' with the passage of time.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 07 Aug 12 - 08:16 PM

In order for a song to become traditional, it has to be well known, and it can't really be well known if it isn't popular...here is an interesting thread about how pop songs turn into folk songs.Soul Asylum's Runaway Train, Folksong?

From my point of view, self-proclaimed "folk and traditional" musicians are not necessary, and may actually get in the way.(just threw that in to stir up trouble::-)


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Aug 12 - 08:37 PM

Great research under the "Who Gives a Shit?" classification and obviously there are some folks with a sincere interest in shit! The dumbass lines in the article and on this thread just keep on coming! I think I particularly like the bit about genres not starting out as stereotypes..........of course they don't since at that point they aren't genres!!!!!!!!!!


Spaw


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 02:45 AM

It never used to, for instance compare Shakin' All Over by Johnny Kidd with Rubber Ball by Bobby Vee - the second is crap and the first is one of the best ever! Compare Moovin' & a Groovin' with any of Bert Weedons pap.........


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Mavis Enderby
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 03:59 AM

Funnily enough I do have a sincere interest in shit...


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 04:00 AM

Stim - you're missing the point. "Folk songs being created out of the entertainment industry" is something that happened quite a lot between about 1850 and 1900. 1900-1950, not so much; after that, hardly at all. And before 1850 there were songs, but there wasn't so much of an entertainment industry.

Life in Britain changed out of all recognition between 1800 and 1900, and what we now think of as folk songs are a product of that history. You're mistaking a historical fact for a general law.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Charles Macfarlane
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 05:06 AM

> From: Burton Coggles
>
> Surely this study is only as good as the dataset used. Reading the supplementary information, the "million song dataset" is slightly misleading in this study as more than half of it was discarded due to lack of date information or duplication.

You're obviously a glass-half-empty person. They still managed to find 464,411 individual pieces they could use, which is surely enough to be statistically significant in this context?

> From: catspaw49
>
> Great research under the "Who Gives a Shit?" classification and obviously there are some folks with a sincere interest in shit! The dumbass lines in the article and on this thread just keep on coming!

Just because you don't consider something relevant (1) or even just interesting to you, doesn't make it shit.

(1)        You may not even realise its relevance. The article proves that the Loudness War is actually happening. This is something that *should* concern you if it doesn't already, because the louder on average music becomes, the less overhead there is to accommodate peaks. IIRC, when I borrowed the CD from the local library, Lene Marlin's "Sitting Down Here" actually clips and distorts as early as about 8s in and constantly thereafter - given that it's an otherwise approachable track with more variety than many in both lyrics and use of acoustic instruments, that's rather depressing.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Mavis Enderby
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 05:47 AM

You're obviously a glass-half-empty person - maybe. That means there's room for more beer though...

More seriously though it could be argued that the data-filtering & reduction makes the dataset more statistically significant as only songs which have date tags in the MusicBrainz database are included, which could arguably be the more popular or well known songs. As it's a study of popular music this seems valid.

Be interesting to know what an analysis of the "less popular popular" half million songs would reveal though. Arguably this might be the more interesting side of pop? I suppose that was what I was trying to get at...


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Mavis Enderby
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 05:52 AM

...and I suppose it's because my pedantic-scientific side reacts to the "analysis of one million songs proves they all sound the same" type comments. It proves nothing and doesn't by any means include all western popular music (define that!).


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,foggers (on cookieless Blackberry)
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 07:07 AM

Yep the esteemed Mr Coggles (who holds a doctorate in shit so he does know what he is talking about) is right to point out that if you start bandying research around, those of us with a scientific/academic leaning will be interested in the minutiae of the size of the data set and the inclusion/exclusion criteria because that seriously affects the validity of any conclusions offered. I know it is not as much fun as jumping on the "pop is homogenised rubbish" bandwagon.

I also agree that we humans are creatures of habit and this goes some way to explain why we may tend to like things that fit a certain pattern and consistency, whether its beer, cheese, murder ballads or 12 bar blues.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Elmore
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 04:47 PM

I haven't listened to much pop music since I was seduced by folk music in the late fifties. My wife took me to concerts by The Eagles, Elton John, Jimmy Buffett,and Steely Dan. They were all pretty good, and didn't sound alike. Is that pop music?


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Elmore
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 08:05 PM

Is Leonard Cohen pop music?


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Elmore
Date: 08 Aug 12 - 08:06 PM

How about Tony Bennett?


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Aug 12 - 04:25 AM

Further thoughts
Jim Carroll

Brian Boyd Irish Times 3.8.12

NO, IT'S NOT JUST YOU-SCIENTISTS PROVE POP REALLY HAS EATEN ITSELF

RELAX. YOU'RE NOT prematurely old, there's nothing wrong with your hearing, and your musical sense and sensibilities are still in full working order.
If you've felt alienated and irritated by the pop music charts over the past few years, console yourself: it's been scientifically proven that the music you listened to when you were younger actually was a whole lot better than the beat-infested, pop-assembly-line rubbish that now thumps its way out of your radio and clutters up the charts.
This week scientists showed, and they can provide tons of white-coat data to back up their findings, that pop music today really does all sound the same - and is annoyingly loud to boot.
Those redoubtable types at the Spanish National Research Council fed almost half a million pop, rock and r'n'b/hip-hop songs from 1955 up to the present into a computer. A special program broke down the audio and lyrical content into crunchable data, and once a bunch of hyper-complex algorithms had been thrown at the songs it emerged that pop music today has effectively eaten itself.
There is a blandness now that simply wasn't there before - and that refers to the number of chords used, the construction of the melody lines and the overall sound. Modern pop has a more limited "timbre palette" and there has been a consistent diminishing of anything approaching "interesting" in how a song is composed, recorded and played.
Look at the top 10 singles listed below and you'll get some idea of that uniformity of sound. Simple chord progressions with a generic rhythmic background and a homogenous use of instrumentation abound. It's battery farm pop.
If you really listen closely you'll hear that "rhythm" and "energy" are the new lodestars of the pop world, which may be fine for something clattering away in the background on daytime radio. But pop used to strive to be so much more than just surface. Listen to what Human League accomplished, for example - and they're not that long ago in terms of the study.
These days, best-selling pop songs are increasingly written to order by committee. A song such as Umbrella (ella-ella) was originally written for Britney Spears who, displaying characteristic insight, turned it down. It ended up in Rihanna's in-tray, and at best she's just the "face" of the song. It has got to the stage where you could swap songs around the handful of pop artists who dominate the singles charts and no one would really know the difference.
"We found evidence of a progressive homogenisation of the musical discourse," commented the boffins behind the study. "In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations - chords plus melodies t has consistently lessened in the last 50 years."
The tragedy is that the industry still doesn't realise it's hit an iceberg, that it's chasing the lowest common pop chart denominator and squeezing out the innovation that could help save it. Boilerplate pop isn't doing anyone any favours, despite the dead cat bounce it might be give sales.
The predominance of "loud and bland" is a betrayal of pop's protean strengths. Furthermore, the increasing listen-to-me loudness of pop music is a desperate last throw of the dice in the playlist wars. Loudness is now baked into the pop song and is used as much to hide what isn't going on as to ramp up its meretricious appeal. Dynamic richness is sacrificed at the altar of commercial appeal.
Now that we have actual scientific data about how pop has atrophied over the years, surely it's time that all concerned, from the A&R department to the songwriters and producers, realised that it's the maverick and the counter-intuitive who have been responsible for the great leaps forward.
There are enough flagrant examples from the past two years alone to show that free-range pop is cherished, rewarded and acclaimed - and universally so.
bboyd@irishtimes.com


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Charles Macfarlane
Date: 09 Aug 12 - 02:05 PM

Well that just shows that one should always try to read and understand the research itself rather than rely media reports.

Quite like the phrase "battery farm pop" though ...


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Elmore
Date: 09 Aug 12 - 07:45 PM

Are Norah Jones, ZZ Top, Ben Harper, U2, John Mayer,Big Brother and the Holding Company Barbara Cook Pop? When I listened to pop music the big names were Frankie Laine, Bing Crosby, Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Patti Page.

c


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,999
Date: 09 Aug 12 - 08:41 PM

Thank you for posting that, Jim. I thought my hearing was going.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 09 Aug 12 - 09:03 PM

How did they decide what's "pop" when selecting the half million songs to base their analysis on? Since it was Spanish researchers, did they use Spanish charts, UK charts, US charts of what as selection criteria?

Did they include, with hindsight, a lot of older songs that didn't figure as "pop" at the time, but as "underground rock" and if so did they balance them up with current non-chart "indie" songs that are relatively unknown in the mainstream?

In fact, I looked up the "million song dataset" from which the Spanish researchers extracted their half millions songs. It appears to be a mish-mash of data from:

- The Echo Nest (A US National Science Foundation grant-aided organisation)

- LastFM

- SecondHand Songs (a database of cover versions)

- MusiXmatch Dataset

- Taste Profile Subset

....and several others.

I've found it quite difficult to wade through the fairly murky logic behind the algorithms used in song selection, despite one of my specialities being statistical analysis of large datasets.

Some of the phrasing from a paper on the Test Profile Subset includes:

[Figure 2 illustrates the distributions of users-per-song and
songs-per-user in the Taste Profile Subset. Most importantly,
there is a dramatic long-tail effect in song popularity:
half of the observed songs have at most 13 unique listeners,
while 95% have at most 488 unique listeners...]

[transferring and storing a
full ranking of all songs for each test user would require
an unreasonably large amount of bandwidth and storage.
Instead, we will set a threshold  and only evaluate the top-
 portion of the predicted rankings.]

[We acknowledge that there are aspects that can not be
measured from the play counts and a ranked list of predictions.
Specifically, ranked-list evaluation indeed, virtually
any conceivable on-line evaluation may not su-
fficiently capture the human reaction: novelty and serendipity
of recommendations, overall listening time, or changes in the
user's mood.]

[The most trivial recommendation algorithm is to simply
present each song in descending order of its popularity, regardless
of the user's taste profile. Although this model
does not incorporate any personalization, it is useful to establish
a global baseline that should be out-performed by
any reasonable personalized model.]

[We also observe that the same-artist recommender significantly outperforms the global popularity model, as well
as the latent factor model. This indicates that there are
substantial gains to be had by exploiting meta-data transparency,
and incorporating domain knowledge specific to the
structure of musical items, e.g., the relationship between
songs, artists and albums.]

(From "The Million Song Dataset Challenge" by Brian McFee et al)

Having gone through this paper, which deals with the "Taste Profile Subset" I'm still not much wiser as to how they define "pop" music. From what I can see, in this dataset, a song like Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" would make the list on play-count alone, though it would never have been regarded as a "pop" song when released as an album track in 1975 and wasn't even ever released as a single until 1995! the same applies to many songs from the 60s and 70s which were never in any "commercial pop" when originally released but have since become iconic anthems of the period.

How to compare these "fairly" with what's being produced "underground" these days, and which may well be as varied in its own terms as the "non-pop-pop" of 40-50 years ago was?

If the review was confined to just singles chart tracks of the relevant period, I suspect the rexsults wwould show that "top 20 hits" of every period have been structurally limited, similar and "battery farm pop". When I look back to stuff that was in the charts in the days I started listening to "underground music" it was mostly as bland and anodyne (though not quite as loud) as what's in the charts now.


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Subject: RE: pop music DOES all sound the same
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 10 Aug 12 - 12:17 AM

As I may have let on, I think the research is lame, in addition to being completely wrong. If that's not enough, I doubt that most of the people who have voiced agreement here have any idea what the popular music of today even sounds like.

Here is a list of The Top 100 Songs from 1962, which, as the more astute among you may glean, was 50 years ago. Pretty much the songs that I remember(having been surgically attached to a transistor radio at that time). Now here's the deal: Most of the songs on that list can be played with the same Doo-woppy 1-6-2-5 chord progression. Here is an example: Dave "Baby" Cortez' "Rinky Dink"

Don't care how many Spanish researchers say different, don't care how many Irish Times music writers you line up, this statement, "In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations - chords plus melodies t has consistently lessened in the last 50 years." doesn't even make sense.

And, just so you know, I've always been a big Dave "Baby" Cortez fan...


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