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[Pop] "Music as an art form is dying. It is being replaced by music which is a disposable product designed to sell but not to inspire." ??

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#1
I stumbled across this excellent 2017 video by Arran Lomas, a Brit who publishes his videos under the handle "Thoughty2." It is 20 minutes long, and has been up on YouTube for a bit over one year. In that time, it has garnered nearly 5 million views and 70K comments (which I didn't read except for the first few, and those comments are mostly thoughtful and reflective, and not spammish or sophomoric idiocy).

For me, pop music is simply a subject of passing interest, but it is economically huge, and therefore the video is relevant to the discussion of consumerism and global economics discussion on the current tariffs thread in another forum here.


I agree with much of what Lomas says, and enjoyed the excellent integration of audio and visual elements in the video. The discussion of dynamic range and it's effect on music was very good, and his explanation of compression as the "louder is better" marketing meme was interesting. It included an example of how compression degrades the "quality" and "artistic expression" of music., which I will listen to that again, but on my main system this evening.

Also interesting were his thoughts on the concept of strong, long-lasting intimacy with individual songs which we older folks cherish over the years via repeated listenings. Lomas claims that the evolution of recorded music and its marketing methods has diminished that factor significantly. In the early days of recorded music, such attachment to pieces of music was partly the result of the technology and economics related to the limited numbers of songs on early media such as records and tapes.

Like many music lovers these days, I am guilty of possessing thousands of downloaded music tracks. I have done a lot of "streamripping" which is legal as a form of time-shifting for individual listening. My limited retirement income is what prevents me from buying more music as in the past for most of my adult life. I listen to classical music, jazz, classical and other acoustic guitar, folk, Americana, electronic, and other non-pop music, and I will buy such music from artist or small-label websites, but not from corporate rip-off sources where the musicians only get pennies on the dollar.

As far as personal listening habits go, I don't use playlists. Digital storage is cheap and compact these days, so rather than using playlists or tagging favorites, I simply copy songs that I like into separate folders and subfolders and play them by the folder, usually in random order.

And finally, just out of curiosity, and since there are many headphone fanatics here at ASR, what are those headphones at 16:05 minutes into the video? They remind me of the world's first cellphones...
First Cell Phone.JPG
 

SIY

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#3
These kids today! Their music is just noise, there's no tune, and you can't understand the words! It's not like the music in MY day!

/grumblers since time immemorial. You can probably find a version of this in Attic Greek carved on a tablet.
 
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#5
This guy needs to stop calling the Beatles 'pop'...
Although I am not a big fan of Quora, this discussion covers the topic of Beatles and genres pretty well. The Beatles covered a lot of musical territory in their heyday, but "pop music " in the 1950's and 1960's was much more diverse than today, as "top 40" lists from that era demonstrate. This quote from the Quora link says it pretty well:
Early Beatles was Rock and Roll, which was pretty much synonymous with pop. Later, they experimented with psychedelia (Strawberry Fields Forever, I am the Walrus), art-pop (A day in the life), music hall (Maxwell's Silver Hammer), art-punk (Happiness is a Warm Gun), blues (Yer Blues) and Country (Rocky Raccoon). But for the most part their later output was sophisticated pop-rock.
 
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#6
These kids today! Their music is just noise, there's no tune, and you can't understand the words! It's not like the music in MY day!

/grumblers since time immemorial. You can probably find a version of this in Attic Greek carved on a tablet.
Exactly, it's the job of every "older" generation (us) to complain about the music that the kids are listening to.

I reckon we are the problem, not them :)
 

maverickronin

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#7
Although I am not a big fan of Quora, this discussion covers the topic of Beatles and genres pretty well. The Beatles covered a lot of musical territory in their heyday, but "pop music " in the 1950's and 1960's was much more diverse than today, as "top 40" lists from that era demonstrate. This quote from the Quora link says it pretty well:
I think much of the problem is the confusion of "popular music" as lists of bands and tracks which enjoy commercial success with "pop" as a distinct genre.
 
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#8
"pop" as a distinct genre.
You're right - "pop music" was not a separate genre in the early days of rock and roll, and there were only a handful of genres that identified radio stations. "Popular music" on top 40 stations might include rock and roll, country, folk, classical, novelty (Stan Freberg, Ray Stevens), to name some of the most commone ones. But now there are so many genres - many overlapping - that I cannot always identify the genre of a particular song.

Allmusic has a pretty good definition of modern "pop music":

Pop as a musical style, however, began in the late '90s and early 2000s, when a pair of major forces began narrowing and focusing commercial tastes. First, the heavy influence of rap and R&B made the pop singles charts more homogeneous than ever. Then, the advent of the television contest American Idol further centralized what people agreed on as pop music.
 

maverickronin

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#9
But now there are so many genres - many overlapping - that I cannot always identify the genre of a particular song.
With the nearly infinite multiplication of sub-genres I can barely pin-down anything either so in my own tagging schemes I often stick to broader labels and sometimes invent my own.
 
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Cosmik

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#10
These kids today! Their music is just noise, there's no tune, and you can't understand the words! It's not like the music in MY day!

/grumblers since time immemorial. You can probably find a version of this in Attic Greek carved on a tablet.
Even if that was true, it wouldn't mean that music wasn't degrading over time.
 

andreasmaaan

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#11
I have some sympathies for the point of view put forward in the video, but various aspects seem overly simplistic or outright disingenuous.

Firstly, when it comes to their dynamic compression comparison, they give us what they say is an uncompressed recording and then a version that they say is compressed to a level matching that of modern pop songs. This may be technically true in terms of ratio and/or dynamic range, but it is pretty obvious that they have applied that compression with absolutely nonsensical (I suspect deliberately wrong) attack, release, and knee settings. The knee in particular sounds outrageously hard; this is not something any actual producer or mastering engineer would ever considering applying to a piece of recorded instrumental music.

The result is an awful-sounding piece of compression, not particularly because the dynamic range is reduced, but rather because the compressor settings are literally designed to butcher the recording.

Another issue I have is with the discussion of timbre. The way this video discusses this topic, it seems their position is simplistically this: more different instruments = greater timbral variety. Even worse, they seem to be weighing electronic instruments on a 1:1 basis with acoustic instruments.

But that's just a stupid way of looking at it. The timbral range of a synth, drum machine or (above all) sampler tends to be orders of magnitude wider than for an acoustic instrument performing an equivalent function in a song. A sampler, in particular, is theoretically capable of the timbral range of every recorded piece of sound known to humanity... plus the additional timbral effects that can be created by the sampler's settings. No matter how many acoustic instruments one amassed in a recording studio, the timbral potential would not approach that of a bedroom producer with a laptop, a software sampler, and access to the internet.

This is not to say that pop producers exploit the full potential of that timbral range by any means, but it is to say that the conclusions they reach about timbre in this video seem to be erected on very flimsy foundations.
 

DuxServit

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#12
I took interest when Arran mentioned the inability (or lack of interest) of “young people” today to stick to listening to one song or album until completion.

Seems to be part of an overall social pattern among millennial and younger right now.

This increasingly short attention span is *huge* problem in teenagers today. They are constantly distracted and disrupted by their mobile devices. Many are showing inability to focus on problem-solving for longer periods (e.g. longer than say 5 or 10 minutes). This is catastrophic for STEM and other areas of study that require intensive long stretches of thinking/problem-solving.
 

Cosmik

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#16
What does “degrading” mean?
Is it another way of saying “music that I don’t like/understand ”.
Do you create music? Or do you know how to? If so, you can maybe explain why people "don't understand" the latest pop music and why the old stuff was just the same but different. But if not, then maybe it is you who doesn't understand anything about it at all.
 

Cosmik

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#17
How was pop music created 'in the old days'? Well, by musicians who had gone through some sort of musical education, and there were tried and tested 'formulae' for creating a pop song: three minutes; intro, verse, chorus, verse, middle eight, etc.

Musical education gave the creators choices. While they were probably not thinking deep philosophical thoughts and translating that directly into beautiful music, they could, at least, play a few chords and, if they liked what they heard, complete the phrase; maybe write it down. This might be the basis for a song - there was a TV interview with Paul McCartney where he did this in front of the cameras. Even if music is not a direct expression of a musician's thoughts, they do at least have some input to the creation - or curation - of its foundation.

Modern technology means that anyone can 'create' tracks that sound like music. They don't start off with a few notes on a keyboard or guitar, but they go to a search engine and look for 'loops' or 'beats'. Or they sample some existing music - or more likely download some samples. Completing the song involves choosing the right plug-ins. The 'song' is created almost without effort or discrimination. 'Found' stuff is shoehorned together in the hope that the resulting angularity and discontinuities will have a life of its own. Moronically-simple 'melodies' are grafted on ('millennial whoop' anyone?).

Gradually, this juxtaposition of irrelevant, unrelated elements becomes the new normal and the young listeners and creators of this technology-facilitated 'music' lose touch with the real musical reference points the 'music' was originally clinging to. Computer-generated music then begins to refer to itself.

Pop music is degrading over time.

To many people, the results of both methods are the same: foot tapping noises that come out of a radio or some headphones. But to anyone with a soul, the difference is obvious.
 
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andreasmaaan

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#19
Modern technology means that anyone can 'create' tracks that sound like music. They don't start off with a few notes on a keyboard or guitar, but they go to a search engine and look for 'loops' or 'beats'. Or they sample some existing music - or more likely download some samples. Completing the song involves choosing the right plug-ins. The 'song' is created almost without effort or discrimination. 'Found' stuff is shoehorned together in the hope that the resulting angularity and discontinuities will have a life of its own. Moronically-simple 'melodies' are grafted on ('millennial whoop' anyone?).
The thing is though that in the pop industry, it's not just anyone putting some loops and samples together; it's a few extremely experienced and well-paid individuals writing (or producing, or assisting the writing of) the music of a large number of artists. And sampling and the use of pre-produced loops is not particularly at the heart of their method - they really are creating most of their sounds using (software or hardware) synths and machines. I would suggest that, if there is really a large-scale dumbing down of the quality of their output, it is not because they are naively throwing together musical elements that they don't understand, but because they are engaged by labels to create a product with mass market appeal and they are expertly crafting that product rather more consciously than you give them credit for.

I do agree though that the new technologies have significant implications across the whole field of recorded music, beyond pop, and that the naive sample- and loop-type process you describe is a real phenomenon.

I'm just not convinced this is specifically a problem with pop music, per se.
 

andreasmaaan

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#20
I also think that, unlike the "old days", the pop "artist" has become a bit more like an instrument: a voice that the writer/producer utilises to create a piece of music, and a face that the label uses to create a brand associated with the music.

EDIT: this is not to diminish the job modern pop singers do, which involves exceptionally high-pressure performance, public relations and brand management, etc. etc. Money aside, I would not envy the job of a major pop star.
 
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