Is this why every pop song sounds the same?


A couple of months ago I tripped across this article about how pop music is becoming more homogenized. It’s an article that’s been written before, but for some reason the argument gains traction each time it comes around. I meant to write about it at the time, but as I kept thinking about it I kept wondering what the new thought was within the piece, other than it providing more detail about how it works in 2014.

What’s baffling to me is it’s like people forget history. Phil Spector had the “Wall of Sound.” Motown’s songs were written, performed and produced by a small tight-knit group of people. There was a lengthy period of time that most high-profile albums didn’t ship without a Diane Warren Ballad. Linda Perry of 4 Non-Blondes fame was a sought-after producer for years; Greg Kurstin is an of-the-moment producer today.

Despite the fact that labels are supposedly taking less chances, that hasn’t stopped EDM producers from breaking through in the past few years: David Guetta, Avicii, Calvin Harris.

Other genres also have had their favored producers. At various points the Neptunes, Darkchild (Rodney Jerkins) and Timbaland were high-profile producers for R&B. On the pop side you don’t have to look much farther than Max Martin. A dance remix from Thunderpuss 15 years ago was instant credibility for many songs.

The viral video “4 Chords of Pop” reached across decades of music to show how so many pop hits use a similar structure. When the swing goes from The Beatles to Lady GaGa, John Denver to the Black Eyed Peas, with the same chord progressions, it’s not a new phenomenon. Meanwhile, indie bands that eschew pop tradition and go different ways continue to have their own opportunities in the more democratic world of the web.

Pop music by its very description is “popular” music, and as such there’s a tendency for it to be crafted in a way that targets the masses. For some reason this is a surprise to some people. But for all the discussion about pop music is manufactured, that’s been said for decades – I’m not sure what the news here is.

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