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It's Official: All Pop Music is Loud and Sounds the Same

by July 27, 2012
Make it stop! Please make it stop!

Make it stop! Please make it stop!

According to a report on Reuters, our original take on the shrinking Dynamic Range in Modern Recordings was spot on. Scientists in Spain were able to more or less use a database of the past 50 years of music to "prove" that modern pop music really is louder and, yes, it does in fact all sound the same. The researchers used a huge music archive called the Million Song Dataset to compare the last 50 years of music. It's a database that actually catalogues and analyzes audio and lyrics into numbers that can be crunched. The database is filled with pop songs dating all the way back to 1955 and is current up to 2010, which is apparently when all of the scientists committed ritual suicide after listening to one too many Lady Gaga remixes...

"Artificial intelligence specialist" Joan Serra led the team from the Spanish National Research Council, running their algorithms and discovering that, yes indeed, pop songs have become both louder and more homogenized when it comes to chords, melodies and the  types of sound used. As a good friend of mine (and composer) used to say, "Hey, there's only 11 notes!"

"We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse. 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."

- Joan Serra, Spanish National Research Council

Other interesting observations from the article:

  • The "timbre palette" has become poorer
  • Intrinsic loudness has increased over the years, making songs sound louder than others at the same volume setting

While we've known fora long time that the music industry was engaged in a senseless "loudness" war, this is the first time that has actually been proven conclusively using data. You can see it in the waveforms of any modern music tracks, of course, but the progression over time is what's fascinating to us. Of course, the article's conclusion absolutely floored us - it turns out that if you take the same recording of 50 years ago and simply "dumb it down" and re-record it with simpler instrumentation and decrease the dynamic range, you can "modernize" it and make it "fresh" again. We'll keep our old music, thanks.

The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.


About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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