The assembly line: how music has become homogeneous

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The assembly line: how music has become homogeneous

A vinyl  on a record player, something many associate with the past.

A vinyl on a record player, something many associate with the past.

A vinyl on a record player, something many associate with the past.

A vinyl on a record player, something many associate with the past.

Clayton Hedges, Memorial Staff Writer

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Music is an intrical part of almost every culture in the world; the expressive ability of music has allowed it to be used in a multitude of ways; people use it to help them learn, connect to others and even a gateway to experience a full range of emotions. 

If music is so ingrained in the human experience, then why has the industry watered down our current experience with it?

The trend that music has been following for almost two decades has shown continued signs of regression. Gone are the days of artists and songwriters like Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Stevie Nicks and Prince who collaborated and created their own original melodies and used some practical methods of making music.

How songs are produced today is different than it was prior to the late 1990s; back in the “good ole days,” musicians would have to play through the whole track together in harmony, but with the new technology producers have many ways that they can edit music.

This technology has given record companies the ability auto-tune a singer when they are off pitch, record a few measures from a drummer once and then copy and paste it throughout the rest of the song and almost every new track now includes computer-generated beats.

Some may argue that this is a good thing because it cuts down costs, recording time and allows a band or group to synch up.

However, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. The amount of technology producers apply on songs is detrimental to the quality. 

In 2012, a group of scientists from the Spanish National Research Council published a study on music quality. They determined that quality could be broken up into three categories: timbre, pitch and loudness. The pitch and timbre were found to have no significant trends and show little change in the past 50 years but when looking at the loudness, or the overall sound of the music  compared to the lyrics, the scientists found that it had increased exponentially over time.

Loudness is determined by the production process and has little to do with physical recording. The reason behind the increase is to make the music seem more imposing and noticeable, however, this leads to lower quality music with a lack of depth. Without depth music becomes more homogenous or sounds too similar. 

There are two more factors contributing to this “sameness” present in music today. In the late 1990s a new way to create songs was developed, record companies would find catchy beats they believed would hook listeners in, send that beat to all of their artists and ask them to write a chorus and/or sing a melody on the beat. 

After this the melodies that the company liked the most would immediately go into production and they would hire songwriters to create lyrics and use their producers to alter each track different enough to not be noticed. This assembly-line has constructed a large sum of the past 20 years’ top hits and was exposed by John Seabrook in his book, “The Song Machine.”

Here is the real kicker though, the same two men, Max Martin and Lukasz Gottwald, account for a large majority of Billboard Hot 100 hits. These two have written songs for many artists ranging from Avril Levigne, Taylor Swift, Adele, Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson all the way to Rhianna with plenty more top acts in between. Martin has 22 number one hits in his 21 year career and Gottwald has had 21 top ten hits since 2008.

 This amount of hits is a great example of the lack of music variety. With only two people generating all the music paired with how songs are produced, there is not an environment for any variation or originality from artists. Music is meant to be an expression of feeling or a message from the artists but the message that’s being sent right now is that record companies are seeking more profit. 

It seems that there is no stopping the current trend in music unless a large majority of people recognize the patterns of songs that come off of these assembly lines. Until then, it is up to the listener to decide for themselves what should or should not be listened to and if quality is even important to them.

Contact Clayton Hedges at: [email protected]

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