Take Me to School (Understanding Audio Better)


Cool site for learning how to understand Audio better.


I figured this could live here as I don’t want to further clutter up the ‘All Things Music’ category. It’s a really great data expose on the repetitive use of song lyrics.


Nice read. It’s an interesting thought though. Without going into the data and just having a think as to what your personal thoughts are. It’s a tough question. Just off the top of my head I would have said pop songs were more repetitive in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Just gut feeling. I don’t know why. It just seems that there were more catchy maybe cheesy repetitive pop songs around then. I may be mistaken. Just thinking out loud really. Interesting though.


I thought the article was interesting, well written, seemingly solid in research and methodology (albeit limited in scope), and aesthetically engaging. That website is a time suck, so watch out! I think one aspect of the music industry that the article doesn’t address is the proliferation and accessibility of music. The sample set is certainly ‘Main Stream’ oriented and doesn’t include a lot of artists that don’t fit that mold. Indie, in all it’s forms (hip hop, folk, rock, etc.), isn’t overly repetitive and often socially conscious, but not included in the analysis because it doesn’t have the artist recognition (Though the same could be said about earlier generations of indie music; however, I would still argue music has never been this easy to produce or access making the potential data set that much larger and complex.). Strangely, I think the analysis is a more reflective piece on how binary, how this or that, US culture has become as a whole. The article almost reads like you either have to choose repetition or shun it all together if you want to find main stream success in today’s music industry. It’s ridiculous… There’s plenty of room and enough resources for everyone (another totally different conversation to be had here!).


This is certainly a hugely complex question with no easy answers. There are just too many variables to give a simple answer.


Oh for sure, it’s a good conversation and point of reflection though as music is a shared experience and representation of a few aspects of our culture. Couple the above data and research with the below and the conversation expands in complexity (even if the music is contracting).


Yes, interesting article. There are a thousand other factors to consider. One that struck me was the relationship between personality and genre:

Mainstream pop appeals to one social segment and one set of expectations from music. Pulling two extremes from the 1980s chart (in the original article), the Cars were a 3 minute light singles band, while Bruce Springsteen was the master of long and complex laments. Despite the common misreading of Born in the USA and the happy feelings it evoked, they had completely opposite goals for the bulk of their careers.

In addition, non-vocal artists and genres can be quite complex despite simple lyrics. Many metal sub-types as well as progressive and orchestral rock focus on musical structures while the lyrics are often secondary (e.g., Nightwish released an album with two discs: one with and one without lyrics; virtually everything from Yingwie Malmsteen is about guitar only). Also consider the moody atmospherics of the early Cure (vs. later straight-up pop), and the structured textures of Sonic Youth and the early Pixies.

For the consideration of vocal complexity, this hip-hop study made an impact upon its release:

I purchased an Aesop Rock album because of the study – and found his style was as much word salad as it was lyrics. Interesting, but certainly not for every day.

Finally, my view on ‘mainstream’ pop is that it was largely an artifact of the broadcast era. Long ago there were live entertainers, roaming bards/minstrels, high-brow court music, sheet music, and ordinary people playing folk music at home. With the invention of the record, radio, and TV networks, the means of production and distribution were costly and limited. So, mainstream music was born. This appealed to the largest market segment and offended few.

Mainstream started to break down in the 1960s with the rise of rock & roll, and then really split from ‘broad casting’ into ‘narrow casting’ around the release of The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967). Shortly thereafter there was heavy metal, punk, progressive rock, and a million niches. One couldn’t turn to a single radio station any more, and this has become every more fractured with the rise of DIY production and the web.

So, what this article calls ‘mainstream’ today is a very different thing than what happened until the 1960s. If you made it then you had the talent or charisma to get through the tight industry filters, or were chosen very carefully to be the flavor of the week. Today, mainstream is inoffensive happy-and-danceable music that appeals to people on first listen and doesn’t scare advertisers. Different era = different definition.

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Been listening to him since early 2000s, his latest stuff is hard to get into but the dude has a vocabulary for sure.

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