I’ve said it before and will say it again, “Music isn’t what it used to be”. Of course, I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s where the predominant influence was from the 60’s British Invasion and of course Elvis Presley. So rich and diverse was the musical landscape that it seemed it would never end. True Artistic freedom and an astounding array of creativity was discovered with every turn of the dial. Imagine a time where experimentation in the studio was a necessity to achieve your artistic vision. The Beatles and RUSH for example, were always experimenting and creating new sounds. Utilizing a huge array of instruments and even featuring orchestras to expand the sound stage in scope and depth.
A bold proclamation indeed, but one which only today’s youth seems to disagree with. But what if the issue isn’t my bias or nostalgia for the good old days? What if todays music really is bad? How did we go from The Beatles to Bieber, from RUSH to BTS? Moreover, how does Grace change the current state of decay? To find out we will need some help from science. There have been 5 major studies regarding the current state of music in the last 10 years, but I draw your attention to the Scientific American report whose findings are especially striking.
The researchers based their analysis on a Million Song Dataset from nearly 45,000 artists. Of the million songs therein, 464,411 came out between 1955 and 2014 and include data on sonic characteristics for each year of release. The researchers focused on 3 main characteristics of those songs; TIMBRE (which “accounts for the sound color, texture, or tone quality”), PITCH (which “roughly corresponds to the harmonic content of the piece, including its chords, melody, and tonal arrangements”), and Loudness.
The researchers found that over the last 40 years timbral variety has been in steady decline to the present day. That implies a sterilization of the overall timbral palette, which translates into less diversity in instrumentation and recording techniques. Instead of experimenting with different musical techniques and instruments, the vast majority of pop music today is built using the same combination of keyboard, drum machine, and sampler (using computer software). Although Grace does utilize some of the same technology with her music, it serves only to enhance and further experiment with her sound. She has also used piano and cello along with her ukulele to provide more depth and emotion unlike the majority of familiar sounding pop songs.
Similarly, the pitch content of music has diminished tremendously. The same basic pitch ‘language’ has remained unchanged whereas the same notes and chords that were popular decades ago are still popular today although it has become more restricted. Today’s Musicians seem less adventurous in moving across chords or notes, instead following familiar paths led by their predecessors. Researchers noticed that hundreds of pop artists were using the exact same sequence of notes that alternate between the fifth and third notes of a major scale. This is usually accompanied by a vocal “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern known as the “Millennial Whoop”. The Millennial Whoop can be found in hundreds of chart-topping pop songs created over the years, and it is becoming even more frequent. The reason is quite simple, familiarity. The millennial whoop is a powerful and predictable way to subconsciously brainwash the masses “Hey listen to this, you’ll like it, it’s so familiar”.
How could they Brainwash you? Have you ever noticed “that” popular new song seems to follow you around and it’s everywhere you go? It’s on every radio station, it’s played in the mall, the supermarket, it’s everywhere online and it’s in the latest Movies and TV shows. This is no coincidence. It’s the Label insuring they get their money’s worth by making their new song inescapable. Our brains love familiarity, the more we hear a sound or song, the better we like it. Hence, the gravitation towards the same sound on every song for every Artist and the same song over and over again.
Our saviour is Grace, for she is anything but static or familiar in her plucking and chord progressions. She writes her own songs which play a huge role in her bucking this trend. She finds the sequence within the notes that fit the complex lyrics and vice versa. It’s likely the main reason some people need to listen to her songs a few times to really appreciate the musicianship and underlying quality of her music. It simply is not familiar. They are more likely to skip or dismiss her sound initially for something more ‘comfortable’. Personally, I am not brainwashed and I loved her songs within seconds because they sound ‘different’.
What about the lyrics in modern Pop Music you ask? It’s bad news there too I’m afraid. Lyrics are getting shorter, more repetitive, less sophisticated and quite frankly less intelligent. We’ve gone from poets like Bob Dylan and Neil Peart to… well, “Blurred Lines”, for example. It makes sense since the vast majority of chart-topping music in the past 20 years was written by only a handful of songwriters. Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Ellie Goulding, Robin Thicke, Jessie J, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, Pink, Leona Lewis, Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera, Kesha, The Backstreet Boys, Westlife, NSYNC, Adam Lambert and Will.I.Am. Yup, same songwriter. Still wondering why everything sounds the same? Once again Grace diverges from the norm when it comes to lyrics because she writes them. Her lyrics are deep and meaningful and the message within is always inspirational. Is she on the same playing field with the great poets of yesteryear? Read the lyrics to “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me”, “Clay” or “I Don’t Know My Name”. That’s right, debate over.
Finally, unsurprisingly, music has gotten louder. The iPod and Cloud-based music platforms have allowed us to flick through songs without much thought to each song’s subtleties and unique qualities. This has caused musicians and record companies alike to favour heavy bass lines that steal our attention and stuff the song full of “hooks” (yes, you again millennial whoop) to instantly grab and keep our attention. For the past twenty years music producers have also been engaged in the “loudness war”. A piece of music’s loudness is a characteristic of the recording, not to be confused with the volume control. They use dynamic range compression, by boosting the volume of the quietest parts of a song so they match the loudest parts, thus reducing the overall range. This makes the whole song sound louder than the un-compressed version, no matter what volume you have your device set to.
Loudness compromises the artistic quality of the recording. Compressing a song’s dynamic range strips away its timbrel variety and muddies the sound. All of the subtle nuances that would have been very noticeable and appreciated are gone, they sound the same as the rest of the track. Grace has not been compromised in this way. Her producers were well aware of the negative impact of DRC on Grace’s voice with all of its subtleties and nuances. The instrumentation would also have been irreparably harmed. In particular, the stringed instruments such as ukulele, cello and piano would have lost their depth and timbre. All of those nuances were captured and we are captivated by her vocal performances which is lost on many top charting Artists performances.
The slowly dying artform that was once Music is being replaced by a disposable product, designed to sell but not inspire. We shouldn’t allow factory produced, sterile, systematic music to dominate or else beauty, soul and artistic creativity could soon be a distant memory. Grace is bringing back that creativity and originality we all once loved in pop music. Her penchant for song writing and artistic integrity has assured that a new generation can embrace the beauty of music. Music can be what it used to be with some Graceful inspiration.
This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Yfl9ID8F0g&lc=UgyZWn2LIZqwGjAIToJ4AaABAg