Newsflash: Study shows all pop music sounds the same

This article just came across my news feed (sans the Bieber photo). But I am imagining this is how Biebs would react.

Justin Bieber on

I would like to see the study they mention. But for now you can just hear these examples and more on this site.

Update: here is a link to the study:


(Reuters) – Comforting news for anyone over the age of 35, scientists have worked out that modern pop music really is louder and does all sound the same.

Researchers in Spain used a huge archive known as the Million Song Dataset, which breaks down audio and lyrical content into data that can be crunched, to study pop songs from 1955 to 2010.

A team led by artificial intelligence specialist Joan Serra at the Spanish National Research Council ran music from the last 50 years through some complex algorithms and found that pop songs have become intrinsically louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used.

“We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse,” Serra told Reuters. “In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations – roughly speaking chords plus melodies – has consistently diminished in the last 50 years.”

They also found the so-called timbre palette has become poorer. The same note played at the same volume on, say, a piano and a guitar is said to have a different timbre, so the researchers found modern pop has a more limited variety of sounds.

Intrinsic loudness is the volume baked into a song when it is recorded, which can make it sound louder than others even at the same volume setting on an amplifier.

The music industry has long been accused of ramping up the volume at which songs are recorded in a ‘loudness war’ but Serra says this is the first time it has been properly measured using a large database.

The study, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports, offers a handy recipe for musicians in a creative drought.

Old tunes re-recorded with increased loudness, simpler chord progressions and different instruments could sound new and fashionable. The Rolling Stones in their 50th anniversary year should take note.

(Reporting by Chris Wickham)

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2 Replies to “Newsflash: Study shows all pop music sounds the same”

  1. ruleof3rds

    One of the errors in this is the claim that the loudness (Root Mean Square to Peak Ratio) is determined during recording. The loudness level is determined during mastering, with a process known as brick-wall limiting. This is important to note because it means if a record is mastered too loud, it could theoretically be remastered with a lower RMS, to improve sound quality, if the fans make enough of a stink.

    It could be argued that the loudness war reached it’s ultimate conclusion with Metallica’s “Death Magnetic”, which was mixed and mastered so loud that plenty of folks noticed distortion. Some fans used the individual tracks extracted from guitar hero to create an unofficial remaster that lacks the distortion created by the limiting.

    Music lovers could possibly change tides by complaining about bad mastering like this more often. Most engineers I know hate the loudness war, and agree that music sounds better when not mastered too loud, but it seems bands and labels want their records to sound as loud as the competition. Radio stations use compression to account for differences in loudness levels between songs, and many software media players have an option to adjust for RMS differences between songs, so it would seem that the need for records to be mastered loud just so they sound similar to other modern recordings is becoming less imperative.

    It seems like no one is FOR the loudness war. I’ve never met anyone who condones it, just people who are resigned to live with it, so I don’t understand why we can’t, as a culture, demand that it stop. Well, that’s my two cents. 🙂


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