Modern music is continually getting worse — and won’t stop doing so anytime soon



You’ve probably heard it over a thousand times in your life and brushed it off – “music hasn’t been good for a long time.” 

I know I have been nicknamed “grandpa” or “old man” for my musical taste, among other things. But regardless of who you heard it from, you might want to listen to them in the future, because there’s a very solid case to be made that modern music will never live up to the old days.

While music as a whole is getting worse, I think it’s safe to say that the leaders of this new generation of sound are the pop and rap genres (we could also throw in country, but let’s be honest – country hasn’t been good for a long, long time).

But don’t take my word for it, because in 2012 the Spanish National Research Council ran 500,000 samples of music from 1955-2010 through an AI program to answer this very question. Yes, there are scientific studies on this topic. Shocking, I know. While this study is a bit dated, the findings are still more than true a little more than 10 years later.

The study measured the music samples in three distinct categories: Harmonic Complexity, Timbral Diversity and Loudness.  (Timbre is described as the texture, tone quality, or perceived sound quality of a note or chord. Basically how rich and deep a song sounds.) 

What the researchers found is that harmonic complexity has decreased (making music sound homogenous), timbral diversity has dropped exponentially after peaking in the 1960s (meaning modern music is less deep and rich), and loudness has increased (which means that volume is now favored over sound quality).

Since this study came out almost a decade ago, shouldn’t artists take this information and try to change? You would think so, but I can guarantee you they do not. I created a Spotify account just to listen to the current top 10 songs (Miley Cyrus is at No. 1 with “Flowers”), and let me tell you, the researchers are definitely right. 

Every song on the top 10 sounds at the least very similar. Often, I can’t even tell when one song changes to the next. There is definitely no extreme chord progression as the beat and melody stay largely untouched for the duration of the song, and of course the booming bass is the most prevalent element in all of them. They all had the same electronic drum kit you hear in every pop song and nothing that really distinguished one song from another. For those keeping score, that is timbral diversity checked, harmonic complexity checked, and loudness checked.

However, the problems outlined in the study only scratch the surface of the defects of modern music.

As an example, consider the effect of the digital age on music. Gone are the days when you had guitarists, bassists, drummers, pianists and a singer who came together in a studio and put in long hours that made their fingers and brains hurt to produce a quality song. Now any old Joe can just get on a computer and mix pre-recorded (or even worse, digitally synthesized) sounds into a beat that’s catchy and reach the top of the charts.

Vocal quality also suffers. The obvious giant in this conversation is autotune. Modern artists need not train their voices to the levels of Brian McKnight, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Prince or Michael Jackson. Instead they can just digitally pitch their voices to make it sound somewhat decent. And still, artists like this manage to sell concert tickets (I’m looking at you, Post Malone and Luke Combs). That’s not to say that there aren’t good vocalists today – Ariana Grande and Sam Smith, for example, have incredible vocal performances on most of their songs. However, again we’re talking about modern music in general – and in general, vocals are atrocious.

Not to say that this is a new thing in music culture, but at least in the old days there was no pretending to be something you weren’t (vocally that is). Even then, there were major stars who were nowhere near others in the business. 

For example, one of my favorite singers is the “godfather of shock rock,” Alice Cooper. If you were to isolate just his vocals, you would most likely dismiss him as a low-tier artist who has a niche fan group. But he knew his strengths and weaknesses and what kind of music would best suit his voice. 

Not to mention he more than made up for his vocals with his horrifically great stage performances (mock guillotine executions, building Frankenstein-like monsters on stage, etc.). The one thing he couldn’t fake was his voice, and yet he is still one of the most influential (and recognizable) faces in rock and roll.

On the topic of godfathers and genres, when was the last time an artist was unique enough to pioneer an entirely new genre? Answer: not for a long time. While recently certain artists have made niche genres like EDM popular, a new genre hasn’t been invented in quite a while. Back in the good old days, you had so many godfathers or godmothers of music. There was the
“godmother of soul” Patti Labelle, the “godmother of punk” Joan Jett, the “godfather of soul” James Brown (one of my personal favorite singers) and the “godfather of heavy metal” Ozzy Osbourne (my personal favorite rock artist ever).

More than singers, one story in particular really inspires me. Tony Iommi was the lead guitarist for one of the most influential rock bands of its time, Black Sabbath. Tony is also credited with the title of “godfather of heavy metal” because of his unique guitar playing. When he was 17, he worked in a factory and had the tips of his fingers cut off. Rather than give up guitar, he fashioned fake fingertips out of rubber and plastic that he could put on when he played guitar. His unique style laid down the standard for all future heavy metal guitarists.

Today, we just don’t see this level of innovation.

Another large problem with the industry today is it is far more about making money than making music. Because people no longer buy albums and instead click on songs on streaming services, artists have to think differently. Instead of coming up with songs and establishing their unique presence in the musical sphere, modern singers create more familiar and worn out beats with familiar and worn out topics to make sure they get the clicks and the money.

Perhaps one of the most obvious problems in modern music however, is messaging. On the Spotify top 10 list, the only song that didn’t sound like a carbon copy of the others was a song by Sam Smith titled “Unholy.” While the beat was somewhat different, I couldn’t help but be shocked by the lyrics. 

They’re overtly sexual (which I probably should have guessed from the title). But this doesn’t surprise me considering we live in a country where the No. 1 song for three weeks (two consecutive) was “W.A.P.” by Cardi B.

Other than overtly sexual songs, most songs today are just about drugs, fast cars, relationships that are extremely problematic, being rich or even just bragging about how good a singer has it (“Suffering from Success” by DJ Khaled, anyone?). 

Now again, this isn’t to say that messaging is a particularly new issue. Plenty of old songs have very bad messages. I mean, why else would you think

Ozzy Ozbourne’s “Prince of Darkness”

’s other title is the “Prince of Darkness” (Answer: For songs like “Suicide Solution” that landed him him in court not once but twice.) 

What especially worries me is how the old artists who still played a role in the modern music sphere are going away. Elton John just played his last North American concert and said he wanted to focus on family life. Legendary guitarist Jeff Beck and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young just died this month. Many of the legendary musicians that the world has come to recognize as extraordinary are increasingly fading away, leaving only the new uncreative, untalented, vulgar, arrogant and money-focused artists of the world we live in. 

In his 1971 song “American Pie,” Don McLean sang about what he profoundly called “the day the music died.” I think we are sadly crawling closer and closer to that dreaded event every single day.