Last winter, my friend asked me if I would DJ for our friend’s surprise birthday party (and by DJ, she meant, plug my iPod into some speakers and put it on shuffle). I’m a good friend and I love playing music, so I accepted. There was just one issue- my iPod needed some refreshment. I listen to a lot of older music and it takes me quite some time to integrate new (especially new pop) music into my library.
The remedy? I basically decided to download the Billboard top 40. This party, of course, was a college party (her 21st birthday, to be exact), so I knew people would want to hear upbeat, catchy, and popular songs to dance to.
Now, I knew that there was a certain amount of standardization in popular music these days. I listen to the radio and I go to the dance clubs, I know what’s up.
I was still shocked at what I heard when I listened through the 30-or-so songs, most of which I was familiar with already. I found myself not being able to decipher which song was which. Humans can normally identify a song after hearing less than a second of it and here I was listening to song after song without being able to identify them until many measures after their start.
A handful of songs by artist like Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Mike Posner, Rihanna, and Nikki Minaj (many of whom had multiple songs on the charts) sounded so similar to one another that one could likely argue plagiarism. Even different songs by the same artist sound the same. It’s as if Katy Perry recorded “Firework” and then said, “Hey, let’s make another song that sounds exactly like that, but in a different key and with different words.” Then Ke$ha said the same thing, as well as Mike Posner.
It’s one thing to recognize how similar all these songs sound on the radio, but if you are listening to them in succession, it’s just straight confusing.
If there is one thing that the modern music industry does well, it is sticking to a format, even if it is not always a good format. The record labels want the same thing over and over again because they know it works. As a result, creativity suffers. The same chord structures, the same AutoTune, the same synthesizer sounds, and the same choruses are used, and every other song tells me to put my hands in the air.
The party was a great succsess and the kids were able to shake their rumps and whatnot because a lot of these songs are really good for party music. Even still, I have always found that the most successful and loved songs are those that maintain a certain level of uniqueness, while many others are popular, they just get forgotten about in the haze. There may be elements that are used in hundreds of songs, but what makes a song great (and artists, as well) is that it has something that sets it apart. Sometimes it’s easy to identify: a catchy riff, a dynamic vocalist, creative lyrics. Often, though, it can only be identified as The X-Factor - you don’t know what it is but you know that you like it when you hear it.
Nowadays, instead of attempting to find a new version of The X-Factor, labels just make the same exact thing over and over again because they know that it won’t fail. It’s bad business and bad artistry. If you flood the market (i.e. increasing supply), demand will go down and that is a big part of why the music industry is failing.