Turns out that grumble you make every time you inadvertently tune into Top 40 radio, cringing that “all these songs sound the same”, is not merely a sign of your sophisticated music tastes, or that you’re perhaps a grumpy curmudgeon. The truth, according to Aussie producer producer Styalz Fuego, is that a lot of pop songs are exactly the same.
“A lot of the time people are writing to briefs,” he explains to news.com.au. “I’ve seen people put a hit song into the Pro Tools session, mute it, do their chords, write their chorus, unmute the song to reference it, think it’s pretty close and then keep going to get the exact same feel and tempo of that original song.”
“They change enough so it feels new and everyone will love it because it’s familiar. People will get a brief like, ‘Write a song for J-Lo that’s like Katy Perry meets Diplo‘ and they copy elements from both songs. Sometimes you can have five great writers in one room and make the worst song.”
Styalz Fuego, real name Kaelyn Behr, is a noted Australian producer, and songwriter known for his contribution to many of 360’s multi-platinum hits including Boys Like You, Child and Price Of Fame.
He’s also worked with Kelis, Illy and Seth Sentry while his influence stems beyond hip hop into other genres, having also collaborated with Owl Eyes, Aston Shuffle, Elizabeth Rose, Peking Duk and, amusingly, comedian Chris Lilley.
His inside knowledge of these dubious practices is supported by a 2012 study conducted by researchers in Spain who, after analysing music from the last 50 years, concluded that modern pop music really is louder and does all sound the same.
They used a huge archive known as the Million Song Dataset, which breaks down audio and lyrical content into data, to study pop songs from 1955 to 2010. Their research found that pop songs have become both louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used. Or as they put it “a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse.”
Which makes sense if they are all in fact merely carbon copies of each other. Another contributing factor of course is that many chart-topping hits are often written by the same person.
43-year-old Swedish man Max Martin, who just nabbed ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year for the seventh time, has written more than 50 top ten hits worldwide. He shares songwriting credits with the likes of Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears and Ariana Grande.
It’s not all bad new for pop music though, explains Fuego. You only have to look at a handful of the most successful pop hits over the last few years to see that their chart success can be directly contributed to their unique sound.
“Songs like Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know, Macklemore’s Same Love or Thrift Shop — the production is so weird or different you couldn’t emulate it without sounding exactly like it,” he explains.
“The weirder or more unique a hit song, the less likely people are to copy it. And if you put the biggest songs of the past two years together they’re all kind of weird. Lorde’s Royals, that’s four sounds and a vocal in that song. How do you copy that? The most unique songs are the biggest hit songs.”