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“Music was better back then”: When do we stop keeping up with popular music? (skynetandebert.com)
48 points by eloy on April 24, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 58 comments

I think the real point is that "pop" music sucks and has always sucked, for the most part at least. A teen is more likely to listen to "what is popular" rather than "what I like best" to fit in, but once they grow up they realize a lot of it sucked.

The music we remember being good "back then" is really just a hand-picked set of artists/songs that stand out in our memory. I remember listening to a Classic Rock station in high school with my dad, and him commenting on how he loved the station -- it was the music he listened to when he was young, but he didn't have to sit through all the crap, since it was basically a "Greatest Hits" from an era. I mean, we tend to regard the 60s and 70s as a great time period for music, but how much of that music was terrible and has since faded into obscurity?

I guarantee the old, grumbly people who say "music was better back in my day" can find artists and songs they like in the current generation of music. It's probably going to be different, and they're probably not going to find it on Top 40 stations or whatever (so yeah, they're less likely to try if it takes effort), but it's out there.

I think what you're saying is: Survivor bias. We are comparing the best songs of the past to all songs of the now.

That is not a fair comparison. I think that there is a lot of very good pop music being made today. Non-pop as well. Just a lot of very good music in general. But you have to give it a decade or two to really separate the grain from the chaff.

I'm 27 and I discover awesome new music I like almost daily. These days a lot of it is pop because pop is amazing music to work to. Upbeat, high tempo, just varied enough, plenty of loops. Can't think of anything better for getting in the flow.

I also think pop these days is more varied than it was in, say, the 90's. For instance both Uptown Funk[1] and Summer[2] fall into pop[3] even though they sound like different genres.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPf0YbXqDm0

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebXbLfLACGM

[3] pop defined as hitting tops of charts, getting thousands of hours of radio play, and winning pop music awards

> I think what you're saying is: Survivor bias. We are comparing the best songs of the past to all songs of the now.

I hate how quickly people are to trot out "survivor bias" or "survivor fallacy" here. It doesn't apply to his argument at all. He's saying 90% of everything sucks and this includes pop music.

He's also saying that we form emotional attachments to less than stellar pop music for reasons that have nothing to do with the music. In high school, we signal social (ie: tribal) alliances by dressing a particular way and becoming fans of particular things. People tend to like things they normally wouldn't because popular people they respect like them. Social proof. Unfortunately, social proof doesn't hold up after you leave the social structure (ie: leave high school). Hence, how we can love something in the 80's that we despise a decade later.

We also associate the music with other things that might have been happening in our lives at the time. For example, Barbie Girl by Aqua is a terrible, horrible song that deserves to die in a fire. But, it will always have a special place in my heart because of a radio show in 2004 where my co-host decided to sing both the ken and barbie parts himself on the air.

He's also saying time has very little effect on musical tastes. If you liked the musical brilliance of 80's hair bands, there are still newly formed bands pumping out new music that sound very similar. Because of that, the whole concept of "new music sucks" has no basis in reality anymore since you can go out and find whatever tickles your fancy.

As for "pop these days", I'm not sure the term even applies anymore. After digital music displaced the radio, it's much harder to figure out what qualifies. It's no longer curated through an individual system, as it was in the past.

I don't quite grasp why they use those spiral graphs in the article. They don't seem to give any more information that a plan old line graph would.

Graphs were better back then.

the data isn't periodic. its just a stupid display choice that actually makes it harder to see the slope of the graph

The circular areas are presumably meant to suggest the number of artists at each level. The innermost circle contains only 1/7th of the total number of names, etcetera. (Though this would have been more appropriate if each ring had increased by the square, instead of linearly.)

probably because according to pi * d, they can squeeze more data in the chart and still fit within the width of that layout column.

that's just a guess tho.

It's awful.

I definitely do not like most current pop-music. But I never liked most top-40 pop music growing up in the 80s and 90s either. I was always into oddball music genres, and though I do a lot less exploring than I used to, I still constantly find new stuff to enjoy.

There are, however, genres I definitely stopped growing with and a few I fell out of love with. I'm pretty sure the only rock music I really like happened in the 70s and 90s -- I lost interest in 80s rock, especially hair-metal. I love 80s New Wave and Synth-pop/rock, and its grown on me more over time. Some of the really experimental EDM from the mid 90s still gives me goose bumps (the Artificial Intelligence #1 and 2 collections are my favorites, but old Moby, Underworld, Orbital, Autechre and the Orb are still amazing all these years later). I love the new revival of 80s type music, Mitch Murder, Com Truise. I like more poppy modern-rock, but the hard stuff comes across as trite and angsty, which doesn't resonate with me any more -- but there was a time when I would have soaked it up like a sponge.

I go back and forth on World Music, Trance (especially Goa), old 78s Swing and Jazz, Classical (especially Baroque period and older), demoscene music fairly regularly.

I'll put in an Huun Huur Tu (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0djHJBAP3U) live performance and absolutely milk it for weeks and listen to nothing else, and then I'll be ready for something else. Maybe M83's newer stuff for a couple weeks.

Shuffling my music collection is annoying because there's too many genres to make a cohesive listening experience.

But I find that many groups and bands I really like for a period...it ends up being the only period in their discography that I like, ever.

Are you me? 100% 1:1 with the musical tastes, including Huun Huur Tu. Just out of curiosity, I will list a few more and see if we still coincide:

Web-of-mimicry style, e.g. Mr. Bungle, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Faun Fables, Fantomas, John Zorn and other avant-rock-jazz Nu-Jazz/electro-acoustic: Floex, Hidden Orchestra, Bola, Moon Wiring Club, Alif Tree, Mr. Projectile

I'm going to say I've never heard of any of these (except for Bola who I quite like), I did a quick check:

Likes right off the bat: Faun Fables, John Zorn, Floex, Alif Tree, Mr. Projectile

I think I might like right now, but have to listen more: Moon Wiring Club,

I think could grow on me: most of the rest

Thanks for the list!

Here's some more I like (going through my list): Abakus (great coding music), AKOV, Alpha Conspiracy, Amon Tobin, Autechre, Bibio, La Bottine Souriante, BT's more experimental stuff (this Binary Universe is amazing), Crystal Method - Vegas, The Cure right around Disintigration and All Mixed Up, Deli Spice, Emiliana Torrini, Cinnamon Chasers, Empire of the Sun, Friendly Fires, Imogen Heap puts out the occasional amazing song, International Observer, Iris, Johnny Clegg and all his various bands (Gijem' Beke is one of my all-time favorite songs), mid-90s Juno Reactor, the recent M83 post-rock stuff is great, the original Mike Oldfield Tubular Bells, Mree (her covers are great stuff), The Naked and the Famous, Psy-S (an amazing 80s Japanese Band), Sasha, Smashing Pumpkins (Gish, Mellon Collie, Siamese Dream, all the recent Solar Fields music (especially Movements, OMG it's absolutely amazing especially "Discovering"), Steve Reich's later music, Tangerine Dream has some great music, Toro y Moi, Cocteau Twins.

Mindblow by Huun Huur Tu here. High vibration music. Thanks for the reference.

BTW a remix using their basics would be huge :)

Either high tempo or down tempo would do great.

What a gift that youtube link is, thank you!

You're welcome! there's a small number of groups out there in this Tuvan style, but Huun-Huur-Tu is probably the most well known.

I was introduced to it through an English professor who had been pressed into teaching a Junior Technical Writing class in my undergrad and thought she might connect with us by having us study Feynman's writing. Did she ever, I remember she played a short documentary (linked below) on Feynman's quest to go to Tuva and the music was like instant frisson juice.

I became obsessed with Tuvan music for a few months after that class ended and hunted down everything I could on it.

Here's the style in the wild


And Feynman


> at any age, people with children (inferred from listening habits) listen to a smaller amounts of currently-popular music than the average listener of that age.

Wait, did you just use listening habits to infer a non-listening habit variable and then correlate that inferred variable back with listening habits? Because it sounds like when you unpack that, what it really sounds like you found is that "people who listen to a higher ratio of (particular not-incredibly-popular-subset-of-music) to (overall music that they listen to) listen to proportionally less (incredibly popular music)." Which would seem to be an obvious conclusion whether the subset of not-incredibly-popular music is one that you assume correlates to having children or not.

They looked for people who stream kids' music, then removed the kids' music from those profiles and compared them against profiles which never contained kids' music.

I wish they'd include a graph with "free time" as an axis on that list. When I had lots of free time, I loved to listen to music.

Also of interest is the rise in popularity of podcasts and other audio material (audiobooks) - much more available since the iPod era than before.

I think it may depend on your work environment. I listen to music all day long while I'm coding.

This really hits home for me. Back in my late high school / early college days I was obsessing over not only finding new music but being the first to recommend it to my friends.

Some professor in college made a comment once about how at around his mid/late 20s he stopped putting much effort into finding the latest and greatest bands, and just kind of got comfortable with what he already knew and it seemed to be a common thing among his peers.

I vowed to never let this happen to me, but here I am at 29, comfortably listening to most of the same music I did in college, with little new addition over the past 3-4 years.

Back in college, you probably had a lot more free time to seek out new music to listen to. There are lots on confounding variables. Maybe your budget for entertainment was such that you could only afford to go to concerts or buy CD's (compared to going on a vacation, or buying an expensive meal at a trendy restaurant, or fancy bottle of wine). Maybe you were more willing to go to "bad" side of town to see a new unpopular new act. Maybe since you've graduated college, you've found other hobbies that you care more about than music. We're the same age, and these are some things that I've noticed happening to me.

According to the article, when you become a parent your music taste stagnates as well...

Try soundcloud.

Over 40, still enjoying new albums, artists, and genres. I hear about this a lot, but it didn't happen for me. I blame being a band student, as well as my general love of getting into new things.

I have been a kid of the 80s Punk and New Wave era. I never liked Pop Music. I listen to new Indie music all the time, but Pop Music drives me nuts as much as it did when I was a teenager.

Maybe people learn to apreciate talent and quality more with age? Combine that less time to find new music, and the case is closed.

And alright, people that wasn't that musicalical to start with probably just can't be bothered. Given whats on radio I guess that's perhaps the most common case.

Heh, I still haven't found much of a liking for pop, even in retrospect.

I think according to their data, you would probably still end up high on the chart (low on the popularity). I think their data basically says "teens listen to what they are fed, older people start seeking out new things".

Interesting data. I just disagree with the interpretation. It could be that teens are just new to the whole concept of music, of course they go to the first thing they hear about which is the currently popular stuff. Because by definition it's played in the main stream. That quickly (as the data showed) changes once they start to think about what they actually like.

It's like, if you were new to programming you don't dive into some obscure lisp dialect to start off. You probably go with what is currently the most popular thing, the thing you were most likely to hear about first.

Then as you age, you start being more adventurous and thinking for yourself about what you like. There is so much music out there, it isn't a one dimensional slider of bad to good. So with all that diversity, if people are exploring and making up their own minds, by necessity it won't be "popular" music.

> That’s why the organizers of the Super Bowl — with a median viewer age of 44 — were smart to balance their Katy Perry-headlined halftime show with a showing by Missy Elliott.

I'm 41. I listen to Katy Perry all the time. I've never heard of Missy Elliott. I can dismiss that by saying maybe I'm not average.

> people with children (inferred from listening habits) listen to a smaller amounts of currently-popular music than the average listener of that age

This is one that I have a hard time believing. Now that my son is starting to listen to music on his own, I get exposed to currently-popular music all the time. For a long time I only listened to the old stuff. I don't know anyone for whom that is not true. I don't even understand how that can be true in principle - is it really the case that being exposed to currently-popular music causes you to listen to it less?

Missy Elliott was big your college years. Katy Perry was for the younger ones I believe.

> Missy Elliott was big your college years.

Not really visibly so for someone who was 41 and had the normal timetable getting through college; she didn't start to become a big name until the late 1990s, first as a songwriter/producer and later as a solo artist. Someone who is 41 and graduated from college at 22 would have graduated before her solo debut, and in the same year as the Aaliyah album for which here work as a songwriter/producer/feature artist was credited with first bringing her into the public awareness.

> she didn't start to become a big name until the late 1990s

That would explain it. I was in grad school at that time. Taking time to do the laundry was a luxury, to say nothing about listening to music.

being exposed to currently-popular music causes you to listen to it less?

Wouldn't surprise me if that were true. I learned to avoid the pop music radio stations because while lots of it is good, even more of it is crap and annoys me.

I find lots of new music I like, but most of it isn't popular. It's generally something I track down from a commercial, or I hear a few times on the local public radio alternative station, or heard in a movie. Heck, I discovered I love Concrete Blonde from a TV show 25 years ago.

I find that having Xbox Music & YouTube available makes me listen to a lot of stuff I otherwise wouldn't find.

OTOH people who don't have kids might not drift away from their single life habits the way people with kids have to once the little ones are there. They have a lot more time/freedom to continue going to concerts, bars, parties, etc., all of which have the potential to expose them to newer music. Even if children expose their parents to new music, it takes awhile for kids to start discovering their own music, so there's a ~13 year gap where parents are spending a significant amount of time raising kids that can't show them anything new.

I interpret the article to be referring to parents of young children (e.g. identifying parent listeners via kid/nursery music). These parents may well be curating their non-kid music listening for their children.

That's what I did. When our kids were born, I wanted them to hear historically-significant popular music, not just the currently popular dreck. Think Motown or 80's Michael Jackson, not {fill in the blank with anything popular this minute}.

I don't much listen to either... but I do listen to a radio station(stations) that tend to play a lot of old and new music. I don't do a lot of discovery on my own these days... but given the likes of Pandora and those radio stations that do have decent, human DJs it's entirely possible to not have a freeze in music tastes.

My buying habits in music have skewed towards pop in my 50's. In my teens, while I did have Frampton and Fleetwood Mac as anyone did then, those were gifts and most of my collection was of ELP and Tangerine Dream. So I enjoy "discovery" but I'm taking a conservative shortcut by buying off the "new" rack at Barnes and Noble or chance encounters on Conan O'Brian's show, instead of whatever it was I went by in the record store as a teen. I do own CD's of ELP and they are imported into my iTunes, but my most important playlist is the 2000-or-later list.

So I feel like the phenomena in the article have happened to me, but I don't necessarily exemplify the data.

The way I think about it is that music is associated with emotions, people have a finite number of emotions, and can associate a finite number of songs with each emotion. Once you "fill up your slots", there's less incentive to find more music (or rather, it's harder for a new song to earn its way in). Good luck to any aspiring songwriters looking to unseat "Walking on Sunshine" from my happy slot, or Baby Mine from the 'love my child' slot, for example.

I'm not sure that the "Music was better when I was a kid" conclusion follows. Anecdotally I'm a childfree male in my 30's and while the popularity of the music I listen to definitely has diverged since I was younger, I'm listening to new obscure bands, from genres that aren't the same or especially similar to those from my highschool and college years. I find pop music to be roughly the same, and I got tired of it.

Semi-related topic, NPR put a podcast up earlier today talking about simplicity vs. complexity in pop songs (4:29): http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2015/04/24/401925095/all-s...

You can tell I'm old because it took me longer to decipher that Missy Elliot tweet's meaning than it did to read the rest of the article :)

When do we stop keeping up with popular music? Well, I guess it depends to a great deal on the day of your birth - seriously! The pop industry is like every other industry in that its products (songs) are defined by the last game changing technology. Whenever a new paradigm shift occurs, two things are given:

1.) incumbents who rely on old technology are not all too creative (and this for already quite a while). As with other mature products it is not so much about creativity/expressing yourself but optimizing processes. At this stage (and many people don't agree with me here) a MBA could become a pop music producer as everything is set in stone by now. Things just need to get done causing minimal costs. At this point "pop music sucks"

2.) New artists enter the scene. It is again about making the perfect product. Every few weeks you hear something really exciting. At this point it does not matter whether or not you master the new technology. What matters is that you are truly expressing yourself and this (thanks to technology) in an exciting, new way. For example, the Beatles weren't great at using the stereo field but they started to use the "modern studio" as an instrument. A few decades later, another major change in technology occurred: Producing records in your own bedroom became affordable. And so Rave music was born. By now, electronic dance music (at least the currently popular form) has matured. As a result we have (imo) to listen to shit again.

You put too much emphasis on technology. Its true that technologies like amplification, multi track recording, and synthesizers, made new types of music possible. But shifts can occur without corresponding advancements in technology. The rise of alternative music in the 90s, for instance, can't be explained by technology.

Personally I find the new stuff coming from people's bedroom the best in what electronic I've seen. Reading you I have a hard time understanding if this is what you're referring as shit music, a few examples:

Madeon, Teemid, overwerk, sound remedy

> Personally I find the new stuff coming from people's bedroom the best in what electronic I've seen.

Yes, I do not disagree. What I am talking about is mainstream music that has matured. For example, Trance music was exciting when it came from bedroom studios in the 90s. You could hear individuality. Nowadays it does sound very same-y because, for instance, every one uses the same presets.

So what I meant was: The kind of music that has been founded by the first generation of bedroom musicians is boring by now.

If I were to go out on a limb, you could perhaps arguee that the artists you've named certainly rely on bedroom technology but also have something new: access to huge online networks. For example, progress in electronic music would have been slower if there were no youtube tutorials or soundcloud to find like-mindeded musicians etc.

I'm in the latter half of my 20s and am discovering new music at a rate faster than I have ever before.

Granted, none of this is popular music - the latest discographies I've added to my collection are some unsigned metal bands from the Middle East - but I'm curious how this changes when you go from just pop music to music discovery in general.

Which metal bands? I'm in my mid thirties, but in my late twentites I was also discovering new music I liked at a high rate -- and playing in a metal band, which helps a lot. Invariably musicians are listening to things that most people don't; they're on the leading edge.

In other words, I think you can avoid the frozen dad syndrome by hanging out with musicians :)

There has been some recent press on AlNamrood, so I went and looked into a bunch of other bands from the region - basically went to metal-archives.com and searched by country, and went and grabbed a bunch of stuff off bandcamp

http://www.metal-archives.com/lists/SA http://www.metal-archives.com/lists/BH http://www.metal-archives.com/lists/IQ

(The country list feature on MA is pretty awesome! Plan on using it some more in the future to try and find interesting bands)

I had a bit of shock when I recently heard my grandmother singing a song probably from her childhood and realized that much of what I listen to, she would probably not even consider music. I be curious to see a timeline of music "ages" (a la Baroque -> Classical -> Romantic), but for more styles than simply classical music.

It's true, my grandmother described some of my music as "just noise". On the other hand, I had a woman only as old as my mother say that about jazz music, so maybe it's just what you're used to!

http://www.hypem.com is a great way to stay on top of what's "trendy". Quality can be hit or miss, but it is a great way to stay in the loop.

i suspect there is more to do with music discovery becoming more accessible today than it was 20 years ago. Nowadays you have online streaming of seemingly unlimited sources (soundcloud, spotify, pandora, etc). The only large-scale access to music before the internet was based on retailer shelfspace, popularity and public broadcast.

I suspect this is the cause of the more-or-less flat line around 33 years old. Most people older than that dont have familiarity with these new streams of music discovery which are now available. I suppose we'll see in 10 years, if that line moves out quite a bit?

If spotify et al helped people discover more diverse music, you should see popularity in teenage listening habits decline, since teens would get exposure to more diverse artists.

i dont think they would decline immediately, peer pressure and societal norms still push popularity in their face. I'm just saying their divergence from the mainstream might happen much sooner, and continue into old(er) age, and not plateau like it seems to on the graphs these folks are showing (look at 33+, it's relatively flat).

Dern kids and their "Romantic" claptrap. If Jean-Baptiste Lully was good enough for the French court, it's good enough for me.

I stopped at the age of 13.

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