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Late Night Thoughts: Homogeneous Music, Millennials, Something Out of Nothing, and More (October 10, 2018)

(About a 4 minute read)

Have you ever thought pop music increasingly sounds the same?  If so, that might have something to do with the fact that most of it — the majority of chart-topping songs — are written by just two people.

Max Martin, who is Swiss, and Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, who is American, account for over half the chart-topping pop songs heard in the world today.  Or so I’ve been hearing (shameless pun intended).

There seem to be other reasons music today might all sound the same to many of us — most of it is digitally compressed, for instance, in order to make it sound louder and thus better grab our attention — but the fact just two humans are responsible for so much of it seems to me a large part of why it seems all alike compared to the songs of, say, 40 years ago.

To me, this development unfortunately supports my fears that globalization will not mean an increase in cultural diversity, but rather a decrease for most of us.

We now have easy access to the music of places as dissimilar as Finland and Brazil, but the stuff getting the most exposure worldwide isn’t, as a rule, what’s relatively unique to any country or culture, but rather the music that is similar enough to previous successes to be most likely a success itself.

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I cannot fault the millennials for demanding something be done about their high tuition costs and an economy that creates all too few quality jobs.  In the first place, it’s not as if those conditions came about magically.

They are largely the result first of government policies that at the very least made them possible, and second the result of the failure of the government to adopt policies that would ameliorate or reverse them.

In the second place, one really has to ask whether it’s fair to ask millennials to live out their lives serving the economy when most of the rest of us grew up in a world in which we could expect and demand that the economy be our servant.

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Popular music these days is largely marketed via what marketers and scientists call “the mere exposure effect”.  In essence, the mere exposure effect is the fact that, if you hear a song often enough, it is likely to become a favorite of yours.

At least for most people it is.  The reason for that is, the mere repetition of music is enough to cause the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released in the body.  In popular accounts, dopamine is often seen as the main cause of pleasure.  But that is not quite the truth.

Without getting too technical, one of the functions of dopamine seems to be to help rewire the brain so that the brain can become motivated to seek new rewards and pleasures.  For instance, the release of dopamine when you hear a new song played over and over again in effect changes your brain so that you can now be motivated to seek out that song and play it yourself.

By the way, much the same thing happens when you meet that “special someone”.  Dopamine is released in the brain so that you can now be motivated to seek them out. I don’t know, however, whether merely seeing someone over and over again is enough to cause a release of dopamine.  I suspect not.

According to one source, it typically costs a music company these days anywhere from half a million to three million dollars to create a hit song by arranging to have it played everywhere from radio stations to shopping centers and beyond.

The days when the audience itself decided what would become a hit song by “voting” via what songs it bought in stores, or by which songs it requested played on the radio, are long gone now.

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“Why is there something, rather than nothing?”  Oddly enough, there is no record of that question being asked earlier in history than the 1600s, when the philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz, apparently became the first person to ask it.

I have no idea why the question didn’t occur to anyone before Leibniz, although human history is chock full of simple things that nevertheless took centuries and millennia to be discovered or invented by someone.  We are, after all, the species that took approximately 249,500 years to invent the wheel.

Leibniz, by the way, was a genius who, along with Issac Newton, invented differential and integral calculus, hence happily enriching the lives of the world’s schoolchildren to this very day by — of course — making possible the scientific advances that were ultimately responsible for the internet, and thus the porn they watch when they should be doing their calculus assignments.

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As it happens, quantum field theory provides a possible route to the creation of the universe out of nothing.  That is, it describes how a pocket of nothingness could at least in theory suddenly inflate into reality, apparently without prior causation.  Or so I’ve been told.

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5 thoughts on “Late Night Thoughts: Homogeneous Music, Millennials, Something Out of Nothing, and More (October 10, 2018)”

  1. I didn’t know about those 2 people being responsible for over half of pop music. That sucks! Also your thoughts about globalisation and diversity sparked some thoughts of mine as well. I guess when you think about it it isn’t all too surprising that we are losing cultural diversity from globalisation. It all becomes “the same” when it’s everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The days when the audience itself decided what would become a hit song by “voting” via what songs it bought in stores, or by which songs it requested played on the radio, are long gone now.” ‘Tis true, Paul, that many things about music have changed, and one of the things that have drastically changed is choice. While I believe there is still such a thing as ‘pop music’ it is not as pervasively ‘pop’ as it was before the internet and satellite radio. I listen to SiriusXM radio. My fav stations are Octane (modern hard rock) and Alt Nation (alternative rock). Each has their own weekly Top Music lists, AND those lists are determined by their listeners. So… those days are not gone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed reading your late night thoughts for this morning. I’ve been referring to homogeneous pop music for some time as “corporate music”, which I think is accurate. It’s music manufactured for a generalized, global market, thus is watered down in passion and artistry. Modern American pop-country music is of an identical affliction, only worse, because it often touts values of blind faith, mindless patriotism, and a glorified “redneck ethics”. As you may have picked up on, few things are more irritable than this particular music, in my opinion!

    As far as why there is something rather than nothing — it’s a question which tends to baffle me. I cannot come up with a decent answer, other than that I think there is no ‘why’. There is, however, a ‘how’ there is something rather than nothing, which physicist Lawrence Krauss elegantly tackles in his book: A Universe From Nothing.

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