Music all sounds the same these days, right? Wrong. That would be the Eighties.

 
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This is part 1 of a two-part post about music preferences. Here's part 2!

LPs and Mixtapes

Contrary to what each generation tells the one before, music does not all sound the same these days. Wait, what? I thought music back in the day, when records and mixtapes were the dominant listening formats and CDs were in their infancy, when we could literally reach out and touch the soundtrack to our life, was far superior to all the same-sounding stuff we here on the radio today? Nope.

Reading liner notes, pouring over album art and lyrics was great 'n' all. But I'm afraid research suggests that we're fooling ourselves about the diversity of those tunes. In fact, according to an elegant study by Matthias Mauch and colleagues at Queen Mary University, London, music diversity reached an all-time low in the mid-Eighties. This was a time when genres such as new wave, disco, and hard rock peaked, and arena rock flourished. I need to sit down.

Extramusical features

As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I was horrified by Mauch's results when I first read them. Who were these guys to tell me that the music I grew up with — my music! — all sounded the same?! Yet if one takes a step back, and, to mix aphorisms, listens to the bigger picture, the comparative lack of diversity in music of that decade begins to appear. At the same time, it also explains my growing interest in synthwave.

That doesn't make the music of my youth any 'worse' than music of any other decade, and takes absolutely nothing away from my feelings towards it, nor from the artists who created it. It simply highlights the fact that, like most people, I like music from the decade I grew up in not just because of the music itself, but for other, extramusical reasons, too.

A critical period of development

Our broad music preferences are usually shaped during our formative years in a critical period that extends from our mid-teens to our mid-twenties. This is the period during which we construct our musical identity, and during which most of us go through a whole host of highly emotional and character-defining experiences for the first time.

As a consequence, we tend to have very fond memories of music we were exposed to at this time in our lives — regardless of its objective 'quality', if one can define such a thing — which at least partially explains why every generation complains that music 'in their day' was better than 'the rubbish played today.' Simply by nature of being human, we become less and less open to music produced since we moved beyond our critical period and stopped listening with such an open mind.

In fact, according to Mauch & Co., removing those lovely rose-tinted glasses we all wear without even realising it reveals that the explosion of rap and hip hop since the early 1990s represents the single most significant musical revolution of the modern era. That doesn't mean you'll necessarily like these genres or other new styles of music that have evolved since. They may not resonate with you in the same way as music of your teenage years does.

But that doesn't mean music of today all sounds the same, either.

This is part 1 of a two-part post about music preferences. Here's part 2!

Geoff Luck2 Comments