problems with contemporary music

This post was kind of inspired by a post I read quite a while ago about why today's music is no good. While I was familiar with dynamic range being an issue, due to listening to musicals, I hadn't realized how bad the problem had gotten. I also wasn't aware that the problem had been getting worse and worse for a while.

So first, let's sum up one of the ways that dynamic range makes a difference. Let's say that you want to listen to something at a pretty low volume. If there's little dynamic range, you can turn it down, and won't really notice any difference, other than it being quieter. If there's a wide range, however, then you'll find yourself wanting to turn the volume up and down a lot.

For instance, if you listen to the musical Chess, and you get to "Mountain Duet", you might want to turn it up a bit. But the very next song is significantly louder, and you might want to turn it down. Certainly, by the time you get to the one hit from it, "One Night in Bangkok", you'll want it a bit quieter.

My main reason for writing this, though, was that I wanted to show this visually. So, I'm going to show the visualizations from Audacity, to show how little range there is in today's stuff.

But first, for comparison, we need to look at some old stuff. Just because I mentioned it earlier, here's "Mountain Duet".

The key thing to note here is how small the blue bars are. And also note the difference between the smallest and largest bars. This is where much of the emotion in the song comes from. This is what gives it feeling.

Now, for comparison, here's "One Night in Bangkok". This one doesn't have as much emotion in it. As I mentioned, it's a bit louder. Now that I look at it, though, it isn't as much so as I thought. In any event, though, you can see that there's still a lot more range to be used.

Now, to stay with Andersson and Ulvaeus, here's some of the pop music they did previously. This is their breakout song, "Waterloo".

As you can see, it has a lot less dynamic range than the songs out of Chess. But there's still quite a bit of space around the music, so they still have range to show emotion. Now let's look at some fairly current pop. This is Ricky Martin's "Cup of Life".

Just to see if I could find anything with even less range, I took a look at Lou Bega's "Mambo No 5". It is a bit more extreme. And other people could probably find music with even less range. I doubt I can find anything in my collection, though.

Anyway, hopefully this will help people see the difference, and part of why much of today's music has no impact, no emotion. You just can't get much emotion when you're staying at the same volume all the time.

Yes, there are other reasons, such as overuse of a few chords, verses too short to really say much, songs too short to explore a musical idea, no ideas that span multiple songs (like 70's album rock did); but I hope this really shows how current production values really undermine the music that they're supposed to be showing off.

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