Spanish researchers studied a huge amount of pop songs – they used what’s commonly called the Million Song Dataset – a set of songs dating from 1955 to 2010.
Joan Serra (Spanish National Research Council) and his team analyzed three primary aspects: intrinsic loudness, pitch (harmonic content, chords, melody and arrangement) and timbre (sonic color and tonal texture). They have run the dataset of songs through extremely complex algorithms.
The results are worrisome, to say the least. The harmonic diversity in pop music has continually decreased throughout the years; the timbral palette has gotten poorer and more homogeneous as well. On the other hand, pop music has become louder and louder, which has led to a prominent decrease of dynamics, i.e. the difference between softer and louder parts within a song; as well as an increasingly fatiguing listening experience – the questionable achievements of the “loudness war”.
There’s an ironic suggestion emerging from the study: take an old tune, increase its intrinsic loudness, change the instruments to correspond to today’s standards and dumb it down a bit harmonically. Chances are it would be received as something new, hip and fashionable.