When it comes to music a generational gap has always been with us, separating young from old. Thus, without fail, parents will remark that the music listened to by their kids is loud and monotonous, nothing like the varied and much better music that they consumed in their younger days.
Well, this common, and perhaps universal, observation is now backed by some ground-breaking and objective research. So, adults over the age of 40, take heart — your music really is better than what’s playing today! And, if you are a parent, you may bask in the knowledge that your music really is better than that of your kids. That said, the comparative merits of your 1980′s “Hi Fi” system versus your kids’ docking stations with 5.1 surround and subwoofer earbuds remains thoroughly unsettled.
The scepticism about modern music shared by many middle-aged fans has been vindicated by a study of half a century’s worth of pop music, which found that today’s hits really do all sound the same.
Parents who find their children’s thumping stereos too much to bear will also be comforted to know that it isn’t just the effect of age: modern songs have also grown progressively louder over the past 50 years.
The study, by Spanish researchers, analysed an archive known as the Million Song Dataset to discover how the course of music changed between 1955 and 2010.
While loudness has steadily increased since the 1950s, the team found that the variety of chords, melodies and types of sound being used by musicians has become ever smaller.
Joan Serra of the Spanish National Research Council, who led the study published in the Scientific Reports journal, said: “We found evidence of a progressive homogenisation of the musical discourse.
“The diversity of transitions between note combinations – roughly speaking chords plus melodies – has consistently diminished in the past 50 years.”
The “timbre” of songs – the number of different tones they include, for example from different instruments – has also become narrower, he added.
The study was the first to conduct a large-scale measurement of “intrinsic loudness”, or the volume a song is recorded at, which determines how loud it will sound compared with other songs at a particular setting on an amplifier.
It appeared to support long-standing claims that the music industry is engaged in a “loudness war” in which volumes are gradually being increased.
Although older songs may be more varied and rich, the researchers advised that they could be made to sound more “fashionable and groundbreaking” if they were re-recorded and made blander and louder.