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Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel may have cranked it up to eleven when he needed one louder back in the 80s, but even with the extra kick, it seems pop musicians today have him beat. Researchers in Spain have spent the past few years going through popular songs released between 1955 and 2010, and their work has yielded two clear findings.
First, the intrinsic loudness of the average song released in the past decade is far higher than those of previous generations. That means, if you were to keep the volume knob on your stereo at the exact same number, you’d be able to hear Lady Gaga from a greater distance than The Beach Boys. Second, recent music is not nearly as diverse. According to Reuters, there are far less instruments being used in most pop songs today, and the tracks feature less transitions between note combinations.
So, in short, the radio is playing louder blandness. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t musicians today creating complex arrangements or that every band in the 1960s was creating something entirely original with each song. There’s just been a clear progression, or regression, over the past few decades toward aggressive uniformity.
Art tends to go in cycles. More than likely, there will be a push toward complexity at some point, but for the time being, we seem to be in store for more of the same.