Opinion: The Bar For Good Music Has Significantly Dropped

Nicolas Read

With the world, today being fully accessible with your phone, communication has never been easier. Anyone can be anything, and becoming famous now has been easier than it ever has before. Before the internet became so integrated into our society, reaching fame was a treacherous path with slim to no chances to actually make it. Not only did you need to be extremely talented in your field, but you also had to reach the top. No better example of this is in the music industry.

One thing every successful musician before the advent of digital home production had was their mastery of the instrument(s) they played in their songs. Whether it be Jimmy Paige and his godly guitar playing, or Flea’s complete control of his bass, they needed years of practice to reach the point they were when they first became famous. The mastery of their instrument was how they kept their music unique, innovative, and extremely popular. It gave them the ability to become more and more creative, allowing for popular music to always be unique, even if they used similar song structures. Not only that, but you had to record music at a professional studio which was extremely costly unless you were signed to a record label, increasing the standards for popular music.

The advent of Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs, essentially gave anyone the ability to play any instrument they wanted digitally, as well as creating their own sounds that have never been heard before. Pioneers in DAW manipulation such as the late J Dilla, who famously produced Nas’s Illmatic album, as well as many other classics, and Kanye West, who has influenced most of today’s music with his groundbreaking albums including My Big Dark Twisted Fantasy, treated their DAW not as a tool to arrange music, but as the instrument itself. Mastering the ways of production allowed them to innovate in new and interesting ways and essentially brought on a new generation of music. Although it may seem like this is when the bar dropped, it simply isn’t true. Social Media was still in its baby stages, and reaching high levels of fame was still only mainly achieved through large media companies.

As social media became the new form of entertainment, reaching fame became a lot easier. When I analyzed songs specifically from 2010-2021, I saw a discernible reduction in uniqueness around every 2 years. This is especially significant from 2017-2019, where I believe the rise of trap music started overtaking pop music, with viral hits from Lil Baby, Gunna, and various other artists consistently reaching billboard charts. With lyrics reflecting their story of poverty to fame, it inspired an entirely new generation of young artists to attempt to achieve the same dream. Underground hip hop that was mainly posted on the streaming service SoundCloud, a free-to-use platform that allows anyone to publish music for free, became extremely popular with the rise of the late XXXTentacion, with his Soundcloud songs reaching mainstream listeners around the world. The increase of independence in the music world is what inspired a new generation of artists that attempt to reach the same status. The openness and easiness to publish music now have basically flooded the world with millions of songs, and as more people became famous off of viral SoundCloud hits, more new artists started making music and generally started trying to copy the sound of their favorite hits in an attempt to get their own song to become popular.

Since most new artists and music being published are basically trying to copy each others’ sound, this leads to a cycle of music becoming more and more simplified with top billboard hits right now being the same structure of 2 bar melodies played throughout the entire song. Music containing hooks, verses, and bridges that are catchy yet unique in their own way are becoming rarer and rarer, and I believe that it will only continue to worsen. Even though I believe it is amazing that anyone can create music, I also think it has the disadvantage of decreasing the bar for what we consider “good” music. Take for example the most recent song by Polo G, called “Rap Star”. Though a hit, I believe it is because it was made in a way to sound like his most popular song, “Pop Out”. It uses the same piano and 4 bar melody structure, with his flow being practically the same. Now compare that to “Leave the Door Open” by Silk Sonic, a duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. These two artists are extremely talented and make various hits, with the ability to keep them unique in their own way, with no one song trying to sound like their previous hit, and always innovating and evolving their image and genre. How are they both on the top charts? This example stands out in particular of the much larger talent gap that is accepted as good music.

We will always have good music on the top charts. But the music industry in general needs to look at how many of today’s hits are just a recycled version of last year’s hits. With so many artists wanting to become famous, they believe that copying the formula of a successful person’s song is the best way they can do that. In a way, they are right as the majority of listeners have gotten used to listening to that. But I believe that someday there will be a time when true talent becomes indicative of whether your song becomes popular again.