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ONLINE Pop Music and Formulaic Writing

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Karen Marston

on 22 October 2018

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Transcript of ONLINE Pop Music and Formulaic Writing

"The key is to switch things up without straying from the proven formula." - Clay Stevens (about pop music)
The Millenial Whoop: What makes pop music so infectious and catchy? Well, the truth is that song creators of today WANT you to get hooked on their music - there is a huge financial return when you listen again and again. One way to get you to do that is to embed little musical hooks that you've heard before, so that your brain will grab onto the familiarity of the music and get stuck there. You probably aren't fully aware that this musical recycling is happening, but I bet it will sound totally familiar to you. Check out the video below for more information about this phenomenon.
The Loudness War:
Compressed audio
Who writes pop music?
The Hook: Max Martin
Four Chord Pop hits:
Here's another version of the same idea. This video is presented as part of a comedy routine, and these guys are definitely clever, but the implication is still very clear. Pop music uses a lot of repetition and recycling, and this is part of what makes it successful. Formulas that have worked before are used again and again. Were you aware of this before now?
i Heart Radio
Pop Music Discussion Activity
Introduction: Some primers to get you thinking
Examples http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality
Formulaic writing in the Age of Enlightenment
At the same time, music has gotten LOUDER (and therefore less detailed) over the past 50 years. Watch this example for a demonstration.
So, who is responsible for making all of this recycled music? I think the answer might surprise you. Although artists like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry are presented to audiences with an air of authenticity about their image, the truth is that they are hit machines too. Their music comes not from their own personal experiences and creativity, but from a team of hit-makers who know how to manufacture something that will sell. Did Katy Perry REALLY kiss a girl? Who knows! But it made a fun pop song that everyone bought. Watch the video on the next slide to learn more about who makes the pop hits on the radio.
Do you agree? Is Max Martin "inspiring," or is he....kind of scary to think about?!
Watch the next video: A mash-up of MANY Max Martin songs. Notice that the song credits for each include a long list of people. You will learn more about this phenomenon in the articles you will read this week. For now, understand that writing credits yield more money than performance credits...
Much of what you are looking in this lesson emerged over the past fifty years, as radio turned from an outlet for artists and music, to a corporate model aimed at selling advertising units using pop hits. You might be tempted to say that streaming audio solves this problem today, but the same company - i Heart Radio (formerly Clear Channel) - that in the 90's bought up almost every radio station in the US and homogenized the programming, now commands 50 million users listening habits through their streaming audio. At the same time, they STILL control most of the radio stations across the country...
This is an excellent documentary, and I invite you to watch the WHOLE thing, but for this purposes of this lesson, the video will start at 11:08. Watch until about 28:00 (or, feel free to KEEP watching).
The truth is, pop musicians were not the first to think this stuff up. Formulaic writing originated in the Enlightenment period (1750-1800), when composers first looked to public concerts for their livelihoods. Since they had to appeal to large audiences, they figured out rather quickly that repetition gets people hooked, so they came up with some standard forms for making that work. The difference between then and now, of course, is mass media. Enlightenment composers were reaching only a few hundred people at a time, and so formulaic writing wasn't nearly as saturated as it is now. Nonetheless, we can definitely trace this innovation back to the 18th century. Watch the video on this slide to learn more about the origins of musical form.
Before the Music Dies
Watch this video
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Full transcript