Do they make music like they used to?

I did a radio interview the other night on the topic of the IFPIís legal action and there was an interesting trend in listener response: that the issue is not piracy (physical or online) but the quality of the music [that it has deteriorated]. There certainly appears to be a growing public perception that this is the case, and to a degree there is some truth in it.

With current music production techniques and technology it is much harder for artists to stand out from the crowd. Almost all music is heavily produced these days with similar compression, EQ and enhancement used for most genres of music. For example, the kick drum sounds just as punchy on many Shania Twain songs as it does on many Leftfield tracks and the bass on many Radiohead songs sounding as deep and resonant as on many Sugar Babes songs. Yes, improvement in desk, outboard and processing technology is the enabler, but it is the engineers and labels who have caused it to be used in a much more uniform manner than in previous decades. The irony is that music is marketed in a far more segmented and pigeon holed manner than before, yet the difference between the broader genres is narrowing. What that means is, if you instinctively donít like a heavily processed and compressed sound with punchy bottom-end and sharp top-end, then youíll find it harder to like songs with this feel. To an untrained (and unenthusiastic) ear, it really will ďall sound the sameĒ.

Iíll skip discussing the killer tracks vs filler tracks debate which I have discussed at length in this web log. But there is another related issue, which is the average length of tracks. In the early days of Chuck Berry, Elvis and Cliff Richard and the Shadows, a song lasted approximately 3 minutes (sometime less) with a fairly rigid verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, chorus etc. structure. Songs were punchy and concentrated. Even in the 80ís 3 and half minutes was still common, for rock and pop acts alike. With the advent of CDs has come a trend for longer tracks. The average song lasts for 4 to 5 minutes and consequently the power of the song is diluted. It is much more difficult to write a song the holds the interest for that length of time and quite simply many songwriters donít pull it off.

So, maybe music isnít as good as it used to beÖ

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