Why is modern music so awful?

I had fun with this video. At twenty minutes in length it asks for more of your time than you are likely willing to give, so if that is the case, jump ahead to minute 7:00 where Thoughty2 discusses modern songwriting. He credits most of the big hits of our era to two men, a Swede named Max Martin, and American Lukasz Gottwald, or Dr. Luke. Sure enough, a quick search shows that these two men are acknowledged to be behind many hundreds of songs.

Thoughty2 talks about many other aspects of our modern music scene, why the tunes and lyrics seem so mediocre, why LOUDNESS drowns out lack of quality. Last year my wife and I were in a station on a mountain side in Switzerland waiting for a tram. We had about forty minutes before it arrived. Even though we were the only people there, loudspeakers were blaring popular tunes. It was horrible! I now consider it to have been a near-death experience (NDE). I had to leave the building.

Several things I noticed, however: Drums were canned – drum machines. Singers projected their voices, but did not have much in the way of vocal quality, the lyrics were simplistic and the tunes one-dimensional.

Below is a video of the British group Badfinger singing No Matter What, circa 1970. You don’t have to spend much time with it to realize how bad it is, but what struck me most is that the lead singer, Pete Ham … cannot sing! It is my opinion, and that of my ex-blog mate Straight, that Ham faked his death and now goes by the name “Bill Maher.” I can only imagine that he spent hours in vocal lessons to become Pete Ham, and those lessons consisted mostly of having him pretend his audience was on a faraway cliff, and that his voice had to reach them. That is why most of us think we can sing in the shower, as we do not have to both hit the right notes AND project our voices. The shower walls project for us.

I happen to like classical music, but that is a conscious choice I made because of all of the above – I could not find anything I liked in popular culture. I kept going back to Pink Floyd and the Beatles, but I was very tired of them too. It took me quite a while too, as I do not like most classical music, only some of it. If I made a list and played the tunes, no doubt you would recognize them, as I am very conventional. For instance, Barber’s Adagio for Strings … take a moment to listen here to the opening bars. You’ll recognize it instantly. I am no expert on music, classical or otherwise.

That piece evokes such sadness, which is why it was used in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. I consider the classical composers (only a few of whom have survived the ages) to have been immensely talented, as they had to convey complex and deep emotions using only sound, and no words.

Back to modern music, if I were to go back to the 60s and 70s, no doubt I would find that most of the songs on the radio suffered from the exact same defects as those we experienced that day in the tram station. In truth, only a few songs survive from each era, most blow away like fluff from the cottonwoods in late summer.

One final thought – the idea that most of our music comes from just a couple of song writers … consider the following: What does a pop music star have to have?

  • Singing ability, at least to a degree. (Let’s all agree that Britney Spears cannot sing. She is aided by sophisticated computer programming that corrects her as she goes.)
  • Stage presence.
  • Good looks.
  • The ability to play one or more instruments, though instrumentation too can be ghosted while a performer is on stage.
  • The ability to write catchy music that people like.

Now think of all of the people you know, including yourself. How many have one of those attributes? I’ve known a good piano player or two. I know some good-looking people, and I know people who can stand in front of a group and hold its attention. I’ve known hundreds of lousy guitar players, and was once part of that group. (I gave up the guitar, by popular demand.) I have never known anyone who could write good music.

The point is that to have all of those attributes wrapped up in one person is extremely rare, in fact, so rare that I would say it might happen once or twice a generation. So that the idea that two (and kind of a third) of the Beatles not only wrote and played all of the complex melodies and wrote the complex lyrics on Sergeant Pepper is … ludicrous. I think they supplied the voices, with heavy coaching going on all around them, and that the musical instruments were played by studio professionals. I suspect they never attempted any of these songs on stage for the simple fact that they could not play them behind the scenes either. That sound could not be replicated in public.

The Beatles were, in my view, a committee of far more than four.


PS: Here’s a topic I have long wanted to revisit: go to this comment under the post The John Lennon Twins: Six Beatles and Counting for a discussion of the possibility that the famous Rooftop Concert was lip-synced.

18 thoughts on “Why is modern music so awful?

  1. When music is art: “Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” – Marshall McLuhan

    We seem to be left with form, lacking substance. Music went the way of real food and fine beverage.

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  2. I considered myself to be a music lover all of my life. I’ve been listening to music going on four decades now. The “soundtrack of my life” includes 213 songs totaling 13 hours. That’s it.

    It’s embarrassing how our generation blindly accepted the “beautiful genius” template. If I had to pick one legitimate pop artist, it would be Joni Mitchell.

    Max Martin fronted a writing committee? Who woulda thunk it?

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    1. I have been trying since I read your comment to think of a true musical jack-of-all-trades and the closest I could come was supplied by my wife, Glen Campbell. He was a good singer and a master of the guitar, had stage presence, but … never wrote any music on his own. His greatest hits were wirtten by others. But he was a truly gifted man.

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      1. Glen Campbell is not my wife.

        Another possibility was John Denver, but I do not believe he wrote his own music. It is too pat, formulaic, and his death being fake indicated he was a project. Campbell hung around for a good long time and died of Alzheimers, indicating a real death at advanced age.

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      2. There are a number of musical jack-of-all trades that I can think of…at least, in my opinion. My favorite is Neal Morse. He’s very popular in Europe, but virtually unheard of here in the U.S. He can do it all (and does!). His voice is nothing special, but he writes all of his music…and his music is complex. His genre (prog) is an acquired taste. But if you enjoy that type of music, he’s pretty amazing.

        Other talented musicians who can do it all:
        Daniel Gildenlow
        Ian Anderson
        Arjen Lucassen
        Eric Gillette

        Those are just a few who come to mind immediately. They all do prog and aren’t the least bit popular on the commercial side of the music business…which perhaps is one of the points you were making. I’m sure there are plenty of others who I’m not thinking of presently.

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        1. I met a guy a few years back who worked in the music business in LA – his music store lent out equipment so that kids could make affordable demo tapes. He would take them in and listen to all of them, and I said “I’ll bet there was a lot of garbage to sift through.” No, he said, not at all. There is a lot of talent out there, but it never gets a break – these kids were not connected, not juiced in any way, and have only talent. So they rarely get a break. So I don’t doubt that there is lots of talented people out there that I have never heard of … like those on your list. I would like to hear them, however, based on your recommendation.

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  3. popular music is not simply played. It is being produced. That means there is a production line involved with lots of skilled artisans. And the artist on the stage is only one of them. The music is constantly being reduced and simplified so talent of any kind is no longer necessary. Take Rap music for instance. Or what today is called R&B. It has nothing in common with previous rhythm and blues. What we call classical music required real skills. Not only the ability to play an instrument perfectly but also skills in writing complex arrangements. This music will stay eternal. Popular music no matter of what quality always falls into insignificance. Take The Beatles. I loved them when I was a young girl. My daughter had to sing “Yesterday” in school in her singing course once and got familiar with The Beatles and their music and did not start to like it. Older pop stars work even less. Who’s listening to Elvis today? Except those over 60.

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    1. There is another phenomenon, less important today in our time of audio correction and ghosting of instruments and voices while on stage … back in the 1960s and 70s American pop music was largely a product of The Wrecking Crew, a group a studio musicians assembled by Phil Spector, who I need to look into as possessing a Get out of Jail Free card. Glen Campbell was one of them, the only one ever to break free and have his own career. The Monkees were not unusual in that they could not play their instruments, and were only brought in to lay down the vocal tracks after everything else had been set up. They were the only ones up front about it. This as true of all of the groups of that era, to my knowledge, though there might have been real talent among all those sons and daughters of Intelligence agents pretending to be musicians.

      But what about live concerts? How did they pull those off? They might have used ghosted instruments, but something else was going on too. The tracks from the albums went through the kids’ heads as they sang on stage, plus most were high on pot anyway, so the sound in their heads, which was the album tracks, became the sound coming from the stage. Concerts were highs, but the music stunk.

      Another aspect … I’ll catch hell for this, but Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin (the one who performed on stage – there were two if them) were not very talented. In fact Dylan disappeared for a long period of time, motorcycle accident we are told, and Joplin faked her death, I suspect, due to difficulties in maintaining the illusion of talent. What propelled them is a force that still has great sway and is used in promoting most of the feeble performers who pass for musical stars to this day, the power of suggestion. It is the only means by which mediocre talent passes as real. Think Madonna Ciccone, and no further to get the point.

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  4. Milli Vanilli comes to my mind. Completely faked. There is a difference between playing a melody on an instrument and playing the same melody perfectly. I think, they use master instrumentalists often and the performers only pretend to play or sing. Even if they are really skilled. It looks better then. They don’t have to concentrate on playing that much. Videos of concerts are often made from several different gigs and they compile the best parts together. The most interesting thing in all this is the instance of a pop star (or rock star or movie star or whatever). The pop star always makes really big money and lives extravagantly to the point of absurdity and this is part of the show. And when this pop star suddenly dies, this big money is gone somehow. Relatives get nothing or have to play their role like Paris Hilton. Other super rich tend to “spend” their bazillions on charity foundations when they retire from the main business like Bill Gates did. So their big money also is gone. Madonna had no talent but big ambitions and always worked hard which I respect as much as talent. It simply is a lucrative and nice job to be part of the show business and at the end it doesn’t really matter if you’ve made hundreds or only a couple of millions. There still are many real skilled musicians performing life without any help. If you like Jazz check Chick Corea Live in Cologne. He improvised the entire concert on piano completely alone and it is so great many pianists learned later how to play this improvisation.

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    1. Mill Vanilli, I suspect, was a psyop designed to convince us that since they were outed, the rest of music does not do what they did. Pete Rose, all time hit king, served a similar purpose, outed for gambling, convinced us that baseball polices itself.

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  5. Speaking of popular music and musicians… Anybody has a theory or know something about Jim Morrison’s Blue Lady? Jim’s Shelby GT500 car that disappeared in the fall of ’69…

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  6. Mark, don’t know if you are a car racing fan, but if you find it interesting, let me ask you take a look at what happened on 5/1/94 in Italy: Death of Formula 1 Legend, Ayrton Senna… Even if you don’t like Formula 1, if you skim his wiki bio page, I guess you would like to take a look at this event.

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    1. I was a huge Senna fan as a kid and watched his crash “live”. After waking up I have wondered about that accident being faked. But on the other hand it could have been real, it’s a pretty dangerous sport. That same weekend another driver died at Imola.

      Interesting question.

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      1. Lean towards murder. There is no way in the world that was fake. Also, there is no way in the world Senna lost control of the vehicle. Seems like he was already dead when out of the track and into the unprotected wall. Some say a sniper shot him, but who knows. Who? and why? A real enygma.

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    2. back then this really was a racing competition. Then Michael Schumacher started to win every time and it became almost boring. Everybody expected MS to win and they had to end this and create new heroes. They changed the rules so the winner does not have to be the first who finishes. Laughable, no? Even then MS did not stop being a star. So he had an accident and then a comeback and still was a star. So he had to have another accident and retire. I think Senna really was an accident, the last one in the Formula 1. MS-accidents were faked. He retired, he’s not in a wheelchair as they suggest. It is a scripted show now. Football (soccer) World Cup started soon. It is scripted too. The winner is already decided.

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  7. Regarding the link to the Beatles rooftop concert: I found this video on YT and this soundtrack to Get Back is an alternate take much different than what was presented in the original movie. That is, they took the studio (single) version that they tried to pass off as live and replaced it with an alternative take… which, I suspect, could have been produced in the very recent past with the current Macca doing remade vocals and ad libs. Not 100% on that but I would not be surprised.

    I don’t know the provenance of this video, which has clearly been formatted for official posting without taking a bite out of DVD sales if you want the original visuals, but I also suspect that recent DVD versions have this alternative soundtrack on it.
    Perhaps POM et al has indeed struck a chord with the high and mighty.

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    1. I have the same problems as with the original … one, John prior to the end of public appearances was a rhythm guitarist, but here is very proficient as the lead. The whole thing, again, could be lip-synced with another studio cut of the original. I was trying to count cameras and realized that the facial shots could all be the same camera with those shots spliced into the original to make them look contemporaneous. So at most there are three cameras on the band.

      Then at 2:14 there is a shot from across the street, but it is blurry in the lower parts so no people are visible in the streets. Then they splice in all of the street scenes and the people on other rooftops (and the lady in red making her appearance – the camera was ready for her) – they want us to think it is all contemporaneous. I doubt it.

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