Music, Inc.

Today’s top 40 music worries me.  It’s not that I just don’t like it.  It’s not about taste.  I am too artistically educated I guess, because I can plainly see the cheapness of it.  I think it has the same kind of dangers to our well being as industrialization techniques did to our food supply.

To illustrate,  well,  . . . most of you know the difference between homemade-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies, and a bag of cheap grocery store industrially made cookies that look like cookies but taste like notebook paper.

As you know, there’s a big difference between cookies made with Icelandic butter, and those made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, not to mention the other artificial flavors used in industrially made baked goods. Even so, a fair number of people still consume the latter.  And we see what it does to them.

Alas, I hate to be the one to say it, but the popular top 40 music we hear today is somewhat analogous to industrially made cookies.  There is not much in it.  The ingredients are the cheapest available.

This is not a discussion of taste, nor is it me being nostalgic for music of my youth.  It is not my imagination.  It is about actual demonstrable numbers.

The major record labels are run by corporations that are very much focused on the bottom line.  Musical ideas, like nutritious food, take time and effort to make.  But sadly, much of the music that is being presented to us these days is being produced on the cheap.  In case you think this is just a matter of opinion, here is how to tell the difference between industrial music and real music:

It’s actually very simple: the way to tell an industrially produced song is by looking at the amount of repetition it contains.  It’s a dead giveaway every time.  Granted, the performers are young and sexy, but that does not make the song itself any better.

Real songs contain melodies. Melodies are the musical version of sentences. They have an arc of a musical idea.  Standard “song/sonata” form includes at least two separate freestanding melodies, typically labeled A and B, and played in the form AABA.

Conversely, an industrially made song typically doesn’t have even one actual melody. In fact, technically speaking, industrial songs aren’t even songs. They are “chants.” Chants contain just fragments of musical ideas, and those fragments are repeated over and over.

Industrial cookies are all about making you think you are buying a cookie, rather than letting you judge for yourself.  Industrial Top 40 song/ chants are all about constant visual distractions from their lack of musical ingredients.

For example, after a sexy young singer repeats a single 2-4 note simplistic sonic idea for half the song, another singer, usually not even a singer but a rapper (who is mentioned in the title as “featuring xyz rapper”), will come in where you would normally have the “B” section.  But it’s not a real B section.  It’s just a guy speaking in sixteenth notes.  Once you become conscious of this technique, it becomes strikingly cliched.  Fully half of all Top Forty Pop songs use this structure to create really just an illusion of a song.

The lyrics, too, are often little just short phrases repeated over and over.

The role of an artist is to tempt us into broadening our perceptions beyond the norm. But listening to this bare minimum music can actually have the opposite effect, of numbing our emotions and lowering our expectations in terms of the spectrum of human feeling. For many people, industrial pop music songs are fabulous, because they are cheap, quick,  easy, and familiar.  They never challenge one with a political idea, or explore any new avenue of the human experience.  It’s vague issues of narcissistic teenage romance.

We often speak of “food deserts,” where is there is no nutricious food to be had, and “hostile food environments,” meaning, much of the food in grocery stores induces diabetes and nutritional imbalance by removing the nutrients.  I think this cheap industrial music is doing something similar.   But instead of corroding our bodies, it is doing something very similar to our souls.

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