The following blog entry developed out of an online discussion elsewhere. I wondered how others felt about the subject, so I'm blogging it.
It's funny how there's a virtually infinite number of ways to combine musical notes into a song, yet only a select few styles and genres dominate popular music at any given time. Until the advent of free (or pirated) .MP3 music files, I used to think the limited variety of popular music was due to record labels and radio stations pushing groups and artists that fit a formulaic mold determined by perceived trends. But with everybody (for a decade now) downloading any song they wish, we're finding that popularity still conforms to existing genres.

Much of American culture has been exported (and emulated) around the world via our music. Blues, jazz, rock and roll, country western, motown, rap, gospel, etc. Why does our music hold such sway in other cultures? This might be a good thing for American music companies but I don't think it's good for original, innovative, music.

I've felt, for quite a while now, that popular music needs an infusion of new and unique creative influences. Musical stagnation has been increasing for decades. Have you noticed how the practice of "covering" older songs (or parts of them) has grown over recent years? It's as if artists are finding it more and more difficult to create original material.

Maybe it's the audience and not the performers who are in a rut. Perhaps there's a world of great music out there that goes unnoticed because the audience is conditioned to favor existing musical formulas. Trends are normally short-lived and in constant flux . . . I don't know that we can say there's anything really trendy about popular music any more. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Views: 16

Comment by Doug Reardon on May 23, 2010 at 9:45pm
Humans seek affiliation, if we go with established genres we have groups to affiliate with, if we go with the arcane and esoteric, we a pretty much on our own.
Comment by Atheist Exile on May 23, 2010 at 11:36pm

That was short and sweet. Brevity is an aesthetic value for obvious reasons.
Comment by Roy The Infidel on May 23, 2010 at 11:41pm
Good post, FT.

I am an avid music listener. I was born with Ozzy's mark of the beast on my forehead, I grew up collecting records (oldskool vinyls) by Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zep, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Montrose, and tons of other great bands. But, I also dig other genres like classical music, jazz, new wave (in the 80s), early techno in the 90s, and house and dj music.

Now I listen to mostly minimal techno (German artists) and it's sub-genre dark minimal techno (of which there are a few promising American artists like Tiari,) dark ambient, and SD black metal like Total Self Hatred, a band from Finland and Thy Light from Brazil. Not your regular pop music variety.

No rap and hip-hop on my list.
Comment by Atheist Exile on May 24, 2010 at 1:55am
Okay, Roy, I admit it . . . I'm getting old. :-)

Although I love all the old bands you mentioned, the new bands -- not to mention the (sub)genres -- are completely unknown to me. It may be that they have audiences larger than I suspect but my impression is that they are "arcane and esoteric" (see Doug's comment, above) groups with relatively small fan bases. Is that about right? If so, did you learn of these bands from Internet chatter or surfing the net? With the advent of .MP3 music downloads, I envisioned a future explosion of diversified musical genres. Perhaps I expected it to arrive too soon and it's still something coming in the near future. I would have thought that a decade or more would be plenty of time for the paradigm shift to occur.

But, perhaps, Doug is right . . . it might never come. When it comes to popular music, human nature might (as a whole) prefer a collective identity over an individual one.
Comment by Silenus on May 24, 2010 at 12:24pm
Most popular music is made by the same guidelines as everything else that's in the "mainstream", and that is "if it ain't broke don't fix it". They take a formula that's been proven to be "successful", and keep on repeating it until it proves to be less profitable, than they move on to the next formula. Popular music isn't necessarily made to be critically acclaimed its made to be commercially accepted. For example take Nickleback, their music is what could be classified as "post grunge" (a style that's been beat in the ground since nirvana). Now all the songs that i have heard from Nickleback sound just alike, and are going by whats already been commercial accepted and not changing anything. Now you may ask who is to blame for why less creative music is more popular than creative music? Is it the fans that continue to buy into this b.s., or is it the labels and artist that put out the same old thing time after time? Well neither one can exist without the other so, i'd say its like the famous "what came first the chicken or the egg" question. So they are both equally to blame for it.
Comment by Atheist Exile on May 26, 2010 at 2:28am
Hi Forrest,

So music is a market-driven business? That's undoubtedly true. The logistics of the marketplace explains a lot about the nature of commercial music. I notice that your explanation doesn't contradict Doug's. They're both valid perspectives, it seems to me. Whereas Doug explained the psychological reasons, you explained the business (or market) reasons.

But what I was really wondering was why the paradigm shift (business model to Internet model) hasn't really made a difference in popular music -- even after more than a decade of .MP3 file sharing. I had anticipated a world where music popularity was ruled by word of mouth (Internet buzz). Perhaps that's been happening to a limited extent; I don't know. It just seems to me that there must be a reason all these ground-breaking changes have resulted in so little change in popular music.


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