In this post I try to explain my own personal views on the matter, based from years of experience in the varying industries of music. Anything I say is subjective and you are entitled to your own opinion. Just hear me out and make sure you read it all to fully understand the angle I'm coming from.
But before we really dive into it, we need to understand something.
I get asked a lot whether I think music today has been diluted, generalised, simplified etc.
I agree that yes, music in the charts and the "income" generating tracks are usually based around very simple, expected rules. The truth is, people like hearing what they have heard before. Whether it be obvious or not. Sub-consciously the general population enjoy predictability in there music choices. The big drops in EDM music, the fast drums and overdriven riffs of heavy metal, of course the 12 bar blues & much more. These popular genres have die hard fans. Some of which cannot stand the thought of listening to anything else. Agreed?
Well Why Does That Matter?
By understanding that people have preference, means we can understand they have certain expectations within that preference. Let me explain.
Disclaimer: Music is subjective and comes in many shapes and sizes. I get this. These examples will not be for everyone and I understand everyone is unique, but for the sake of helping me explain I am going to generalise a bit....
Person A is a heavy metal fan. - They enjoy the powerful overdriven guitars, the distorted bass and fast energetic drums. Usually topped off with aggressive vocals. When they hear a track by there favourite band they will be expecting something a long those lines. If they swapped out the guitars for a ukulele and the drums for African percussion they will be left
confused and disappointed right?
Person B is a blues fan. - They expect to hear perhaps a rendition of 12 bar blues structures accompanied with clean "strat" sounding guitars and meaningful lyrics of lost love and hardship e.t.c, e.t.c. Again swap any of those details out for something else, and the end user may not share the same thoughts for the band/artist again.
Person C is our pop/chart music fan. - In general this person likes being able to flick on the radio, or go to a party and listen to what they enjoy. Pop/Chart music as with many other genres, is ever evolving so this demographic tends to evolve with it. The kids of today can put up with current pop music a lot more than the older generations. As they have been moulded/tailored around the current styles. Currently, pop music can be generally defined as, common chords structures, four to floor drums, and singing about love. Again I know there are many varying factors but this is my set-up strategy. Just keep reading and I'll explain.
So Now We Have Understood That Listeners Have Expectations...
We will be using Person C to continue this blog post as when someone poses the initial question of does todays music all sound the same (Of course not) they are aiming the question to what they hear in the charts. The money making tracks. 70% of what people are listening to.
Person C may be looking for:
Simple chord structures
Singing about love from many angles
Up to date production techniques - Ex. the dubstep era. Everyone wanted wobbly organ based bass sections. That died pretty quickly for most though.
Ok stick with me as I'm sure there are some of you shouting at your screens at the generalisation of listeners. BUT. I need to do this to explain the bigger picture.
What Happens When You Upset the "Status Quo"?
Well assuming the listener has decided to stream/download there favourite artists new single, or flicks Radio 1 on whilst driving to school/work. They are expecting a certain degree of something. They may not know exactly what it is they are expecting, but even sub-consciously, they have there expectations.
This leads me into the modern day formula that is currently working so well in the industry.
Thats right. There is formulas.
Fun fact: What do all of these popular songs have in common.
Thats right! They are all written/Co-written by 1 man!
He has the formula. If up until this point you were priding yourself on your expansive tastes of artists, have a quick look through this list and see if you may be a subject of his winning formula. And there is nothing wrong with that at all! Were all human.
If you are in the minority and cannot stand any of the tracks listed above then, well I'm afraid you also share the quality of expectation in the music you listen to. Just for a different taste in genre. And if you don't like any music, then... I don't know what to say to you. Try sports?
Max Martin once said in a rare interview -
"If the chords change a lot over the course of a song, it’s better to stay within the same melodic structure. Once again, it’s all about the balance. Another theory is that you can also sing the chorus melody as a verse. For instance, take “I Wanna Be Your Lover” with Prince. The verse and chorus of that song are exactly the same. But as a listener, you don’t really notice since the energy of the chorus is completely different compared to the verse. Once the chorus comes, you feel like you’ve heard it before. And you have! You’ve heard it in the verse. It automatically creates a sense of familiarity. Prince does this a lot. “Let’s Go Crazy,” same thing. I’ve used this trick a few times myself. In “Do You Know (What It Takes)” with Robyn, for instance."
I have highlighted in bold some key points he made. Firstly he mentions how it is "better to stay within the same melodic structure". Here he is referring to songs that involve a lot of chord changes. This is due to the risk of throwing the listener off with something they cannot grasp hold of, sense keeping the melodic structure somewhat predictable.
Next he discusses singing the "chorus melody as a verse". This at first would seem bizarre but one production has been completed on the track the listener will rarely match up the two as identical. Changes if energy and production will allow the listener to believe they are different, however there is a hidden familiarity that helps the listener with there expectations.
I would suggest to go and watch this video on him, with some very large names commenting on his work and how he gets there. Max Martin video.
So Is It True?
Well, obviously it is not true that all music sounds the same. That is a careless comment really. However, when talking about specific genres, there are most definitely similarities that if left out, the listener is unlikely to respond to the track. This is across all genres, with no exceptions. If it falls into a genre category, then it must have similarities.
So next time someone says to you, "UGHH how do you listen to that rubbish, it all sounds the same!" just explain that it is kinda supposed to... No matter the genre. We are human beings. We like foresight. It makes us comfortable. We don't like things jumping out on us. Expectations are necessary for every listener.