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On the boundaries of the derivative in pop music

The "Blurred Lines" lawsuit has (pun definitely intended) blurred the lines of how copyright can and should be interpreted and enforced in the popular music world. Popular music of all kinds has for generations been predicated on iteration, from the transmutation of blues into rock and roll, vocal jazz into soul, and on and on. The precedent that a song can be marked as theft because of similar "feel" is one that may cross from a defense of intellectual property into one that has a chilling affect on creative extension of our shared musical heritage (particularly for up and coming musicians who have no resources to fight off a potential copyright claim). How is our culture defining these legal boundaries, and has this process become inherently unfair to those musical artists who are young (ie not in the baby boom generation that notoriously owns much in our copyrighted cultural landscape, since they came up alongside the new mechanical media that enabled mass-marketing of musical works), and without financial resources to defend against such suits? Was "Blurred Lines" genuinely too derivative of Marvin Gaye’s work, or is this a case of judicial overreach?

  • Using a particular genre of music, like pop, alternative, or folk(etc.), as well as what culture you would be referring to, would be a good way to keep the article on track. The influence of instrumentation, into how this affects an interpretation of similar "feels," could also add another dimension to the article. – BlackLion 3 months ago
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Locked

I watched you Nae Nae, now what? - Is the lack of lyrics a reflection on the attitudes of today's popular music listeners as a whole?

Comparison between songs that are more recent and ones that are older throw up a large number of differences in terms of lyrics. One prime difference is that newer songs have an increasingly decreasing (heh, see what I did there?) number of lyrics.
Examples –
‘You a Stupid Hoe’, ‘Turn Down For What’, ‘Now watch me whip, now watch me nae nae’, ‘I know you want me, you know I wan’cha’

Is this constant reduction in the number of words in a song a reflection on
a) Our memory – we can’t remember words to songs anymore, or it seems like a waste of time to do so.
b) Our attention span has dropped so low, that we can’t be bothered to listen to music that isn’t composed of repititive phrases, we can’t be bothered to exert the effort to figure out what longer, more extensive lyrics say.
c) Just bad taste.

Is it a combination of all three?
Is it a different reason altogether?
Is there a more complex reasoning behind this?

  • I think the simplicity of minimal and shallow lyrics isn't exactly a reflection of our intelligence more so that it's necessary for certain moments. There are several music genres that thrive with complex, poetic lyrics such as Hip-Hop, Alternative and arguably some Pop music and they are highly praised. Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Kanye West are insanely successful rappers if for nothing else then for the complexity of their wordplay. All of the songs you listed weren't created with the intention of making people come to profound revelations; they are simply dance songs. The only job they have is to get you to shake what your momma gave you and they do it well. – sastephens 6 months ago
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  • I agree with sastephens. I think different genres of music are meant to satisfy different drives and relate to different moods. That's why if someone has an eclectic taste in music, he or she can more easily adapt and access a range of different personas than someone with a more limited musical palette. There are certain songs that are meant to be shallow, but incredibly catchy and there are deeply meaningful songs that aren't designed to get burned into listeners' brains via radio overkill. Obviously, there are those instances where songs are both catchy and deep (and it's really terrific when that happens, but not every song has to do that to be a good song). I do agree that there's a trend recently of repetitive, catchphrase-type songs. It may be an attention-span thing as you mention since our tech-obsessed world is dealing with that problem as a whole. I've heard this trend's been happening with movie titles for that very reason. – aprosaicpintofpisces 6 months ago
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  • I think its a combination of bad taste and the fact that it will simply make millions of dollars. Those songs are what dominates the charts. They aren't groundbreaking; they are just meant for a night out. And that's fine, but it would be great to get back to songs with more substance. That's just how our culture is right now. The attention span is decreasing. I like to believe that there are still a lot of people who respect and identify with great lyrics. Right now it's the trend but I think people want more depth in a song. – joshmccann 5 months ago
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Taken by itsverity (PM) 2 months ago.
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Has Pop Music Simplified Over Time?

In numerous studies, people are finding that pop music is homogenizing, both harmonically, stylistically, and even in vocal variety (i.e. very similar sounding artists being appreciated). Some claim that pop music is being "dumbed down" by becoming harmonically and melodically simplified. While pop music nowadays may be more harmonically and melodically simple, are there other factors that make it more complex/varied? Should we judge music based on these factors, or should we appreciate other aspects of the genre? What are those factors that we should appreciate?

  • A big factor is how formulaic a lot of the music is. Everyone wants to climb to the top via popularity and they do so by following the mainstream and taking the place of those who came before them by doing the same act. Many musicians don't even write their own songs, they just perform what their companies give them. It's a struggle between capitalism and the rise of the artist. – LaRose 12 months ago
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  • I'm not sure this topic fits into any of the current categories. According to the guidelines, music is not currently a category, but might be in the near future. Once this comes to pass, I would give this topic a second look. – BoomBap 12 months ago
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What Characteristics Cause a Song to Reach the Top 40?

Looking at the current USA Singles Top 40, what causes a song to be a huge hit? Are there similar musical characteristics? Does it have to do with marketing? Are certain themes prevalent? Based on these popular songs, what would you say the "formula" to having a hit is? If the songs share many characteristics, would you say that this is positive or negative?

  • If anything, I think there has to be something in the beat, the tune, and the tempo. Because often times the lyrics are pretty "by-the-numbers," and have been used countless times for decades, always saying the same things. Some songs change it up with modern concepts and modern slang, and even build the whole song's hook on it: which can make a song fun strictly because of it's hook. But most times, I think it's just the tune and how it grabs you. That's the main reason why I love J-pop. I can't understand a word that's being said, nor do I usually need to know: I just love the beat and the tune. I'll even sing along as best as I can because of how energetic the songs often are. – Jonathan Leiter 1 year ago
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  • The writer of this article should check out scoreahit.com. The site explains the "Hit Equation" and has scientific formula on how to create a hit song. – Lexzie 1 year ago
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What is the future of opera?

Opera houses are closing all over the world. Audiences are becoming increasingly smaller (and older). There is also a certain stigma surrounding opera, possibly because it is now considered somewhat elitist. Opera has been around since 1597; is it possible that this art form is no longer relevant? Is it doomed to die out entirely?

  • I don't know of any sort of stigma attached to opera per se, but this may be something that is demonstrable. Also, you may wish to look at the emergence of atonal music, and see if you could find any correlation - there may not be, but I think it is an avenue worth investigating. – JDJankowski 1 year ago
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  • Most opera is tonal, actually, especially the ones performed regularly in major opera houses. It might be worth a look, though! However, it is possible that the average ear is no longer used to complex harmonies or vocal acrobatics in music, which could be why people are less interested. Perhaps it also has to do with attention span; popular songs are usually around three minutes... is three hours just too long for a modern audience? I personally find that there is a significant stigma surrounding opera. Most people assume that it's terrible without ever having listened to it or seeing one. It seems that it's not "cool" to like opera. In my music history class, we discussed that classical music and opera is now considered somewhat classist and elitist. Perhaps this is because people seem to dress up to go, listen politely and wait their turn to clap (instead of the general freedom of audience reaction in a rock concert, for example), and often pay large amounts of money to go. That's not even considering things like lavish sets/costumes and the years of training and discipline that the performers must have to reach a level where they can perform in an opera or symphony. I'd be curious to read an article about this! – Laura Jones 1 year ago
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  • Opera goes through periods of popularity and non-popularity. Take Thatcher's Britain, for example, where high art was very "in" and other forms of performance such as musical theatre sought to mimic opera (les mis, phantom of the opera, and other "pop-eras") In writing this article, one would benefit from talking about where opera has been and the circumstances under which it was popular in order to unlock its future. I, for one, guarantee, it will not die in our lifetime. – Cmandra 1 year ago
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Sampling in music: Is it stealing or creation of its own?

Sampling has always been a big controversy in the music industry, especially since the emergence of hip-hop and electronic music. Numerous legal actions by the original artists have been taken over the music where their music is sampled. Is it a legitimate technique in creating music, or is it ripping off another artist’s composition?

  • It might be worth mentioning the length of the sample. To my understanding when copyright comes into play the amount of the music sampled is important. This is an interesting topic. I would update the title so the first letter of words is capitalized. – Jordan 1 year ago
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  • One weird instance of this I've found in a few rap songs are samples of a Japanese Jazz artist named Yuji Ohno, who's written and composed music for a popular anime series since the late 1970s. I've found 3 distinct rap songs that use samples of his music as the base track and part of the percussion. And I'm assuming these artists used his music perhaps because their usage of it would not easily get back to Mr. Ohno's record label in reference to the unlicensed use of the songs. I'm also not sure how these rap artists even got a hold of Yuji Ohno's music in the first place, since I had to know about the guy before I could find out how to buy his music, and then I had to import it all directly from Japan on either CD's or Vinyl. So it's not really all that easy to find or hear his music, and especially not in the late 90s or early 2000s when these rap songs were made. Jazz from the 70s also seems to be the big thing to use in a lot of rap if samples are involved, at least if you want to hide your samples as much as possible. Many of those songs can be really indistinguishable from each other. – Jonathan Leiter 1 year ago
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  • Tough one. I believe basically almost everything is creation. But it would be hard for me to say the original artist shouldn't have rights to their original work. But at a basic level, I think that breathing new life into an old sound or idea is art in and of itself. – Tatijana 1 year ago
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  • I think that sampling music can add interesting nuances to a song, and I'm actually a fan of it in hip hop and rap, which constitute the basis of my familiarity with sampling. In addition to contributing to the creation of a multi-faceted and nuanced work, I think sampling also has the potential to breath new life into songs that have transitioned out of contemporary culture as products of a different social milieu. As a result of looking into songs that are sampled in the work of Kanye West (to name one artist in particular), I feel like I've been able to rediscover songs that otherwise would have been lost to me. I also feel that sampling can add complexity to the song if we think of it as an influence upon the work of the artist who incorporated the sample. – csheehan 1 year ago
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The Magic of Musical Scores in Movies

Why is music such a strong tool that is frequently used in films? I have always found music in movies to be great, but I am starting to realize that music is found in so many different types of film and range from dramas to animated films. Disney for instance thrive off of a successful soundtrack, but then a film like Perks of Being a Wallflower also thrives off its musical choices. My question could probably be answered with one word, but I want to know some deeper reasons people think music helps create magic in movies.

  • In Music History, we actually had a class devoted to this topic! (In fact, much of our course was devoted to the psychological effects of music) Music has such an effect on our perception; it's such an emotional thing. One very basic example is that minor music is often automatically perceived as sad, major as happy, etc. It automatically creates an emotional response, and the composer's musical choices often suggest certain themes or ideas (i.e. more bombastic music is often perceived as "masculine", while more legato and lyrical music is perceived as "feminine" - certain musical instruments are often gendered, as well). Music is necessary in film because it conditions the audience to feel a certain way. It promotes an emotional and psychological response, regardless of the film. It can help us empathize with a character (perhaps it's indicative of the character's own emotional state or struggles). It can create suspense or set the mood (i.e. many movies set in Asia will have music with a Western perception of orientalism). It can also "bend" time... have you ever watched a scene without the sound? It can turn horror movies into very long, boring things. Music tells a story on its own; it naturally supports the visuals of a story. This is a HUGE topic, actually! In regards to your specific examples, think about how music is used in each of these situations. Disney movies have music that often serve as monologues; we get a peak into what each character is feeling in a moment (of course, they have instrumental music that is valuable as well). If I remember correctly, The Perks of Being a Wallflower had more mainstream music, which was appropriate to the setting of the movie. It also had themes that coincided with the movie's themes. Each musical choice in a movie is so carefully chosen; it completely impacts our reactions to characters and events (i.e. would we like a hero as much if he was accompanied by a villain's music?). These are just some examples, but I hope they give you an idea of how music can be an effective tool in films! It could be quite interesting to compare/contrast the music of two very different films (such as a Disney film and The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and look at how each impacts the viewer's perception. Alternatively, you could look at what these movies would be like without music. Would they have the same impact? – laurakej 2 years ago
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  • One aspect of this question that might be worth exploring is the relationship between music in film and, say, MTV. Footloose, for example, was one of the first movies for which a soundtrack comprised of new songs was promoted on MTV before the movie's release. Prior to that, most live-action films utilized popular songs that, because of their widespread consumption, could be counted on to evoke a given emotional response. The success of Footloose as a film was largely due to its soundtrack's promotion on MTV. And sense then, the use of music in film has changed. How then, has the further evolution of the music industry (including but not limited to MTV) affected the use of soundtracks/scores in film? – arharrison 1 year ago
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  • Wonderful topic for one of the most important aspects of film. A well compiled soundtrack or well-made musical score can really make or break a film. – Austin Bender 1 year ago
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  • Music sets the tone, and it gives an opportunity for characters to show what is in their hearts. – Candice Evenson 1 year ago
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Composers and Major Historical Events

Artists of any sort often have major stylistic changes to go along with catastrophic life events. For example, after the Second World War, many new art movements occurred as a reaction (such as minimalism and abstract expressionism). Choose a composer/musician who had a major stylistic change due to a major event (such as a war, an illness, etc.). Why did the changes occur? What sort of changes were they? Were they for better or for worse? What do the changes express about the composer’s changed psyche, or the psyche of the population he/she represents? What does this stylistic change say about human nature?

  • Thanks for your input. You're right; the topic was a bit narrowed down to my own area of study. I revised it to be far more general... I hope this is more useful! – laurakej 2 years ago
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  • Perhaps this can be relevant throughout time. Beethoven composed music even after going deaf, and his music could reflect his struggles with deafness. Many composers also struggled with their sexual identities or other personal issues, besides major events. I hope the writer considers personal struggles on top of major historical events also. Any number of events can inspire any kind of art, and with it emotional value in music. – James Smith 2 years ago
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Modern Oral Stories

Before literacy was as widespread as it is in contemporary eras, stories were recited orally. To better help the storytellers remember the tales, these stories were often told in musical form, or at least in poetry, rather than standard prose. Although it is not as common today as in the past, there are still examples of stories with arcs and heroes that are in modern music. Although most obvious and prevalent in progressive rock and metal, it can be found in other genres as well (though most likely not in pop, or at least not in pop singles). Examine what genres tell stories and what kinds of stories are told in each genre.

Alternatively, give an analysis of Coheed and Cambria’s musical epic about The Amory Wars. How does telling this long story through music affect it? What separates this from other prog bands? from past epics? from modern story telling? Do Coheed and Cambria invoke any of the classic tropes and standards of epic poetry?

  • I am interested to see where this goes. I think the idea of rock and metal as an oral story is great! I would be interested to formulate part of this question as a comparison between a particular piece of literature that was oral, and a particular song in the rock/metal genre. Can't wait to see where someone takes this! – emilyinmannyc 2 years ago
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  • Exactly. To maybe suggest a classic oral study to compare against, Beowulf is a story known to have an oral origin that has themes similar to that of more story-central rock and especially metal songs/albums. In fact, I am sure there are plenty of songs that serve as adaptations of Beowulf – nsnow 2 years ago
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  • While not an original story written by the band, Iron Maiden's Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a musical retelling of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem of the same name. At 13+ minutes, it brings up a fair point. A thirteen minute song would have a difficult time getting airplay, especially now. How long can the story be? Can you still tell the same story in a radio edit? Does airplay even matter now with music streaming services gaining market share over traditional radio? – loridonnellynj 2 years ago
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  • All great points about Iron Maiden's take on "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I'd say an adaptation between genres like that is still relevant to the topic, and definitely this is an interesting choice. – nsnow 2 years ago
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The Universal Appeal of The Sound of Music

Fifty years after its release, The Sound of Music remains one of the most beloved musicals, its appeal ranging across all ages and generations. What are the sources of its magic?

  • Would be interesting to explore the misogynistic undertones as part of the appeal. – Mrainey 2 years ago
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