Ever wonder why all those songs on the radio these days sound the same? It’s because they are the same. Rihanna, Katy Perry, P!nk, Justin Beiber, Usher, Kelly Clarkson, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj, Adam Lambert, Taio Cruz, One Direction, Britney Spears, Flo Rida, insert name here. If it’s pop, it’s pooped out of a one-stop pop shop – a top-line writer who creates the hook, lyrics and melodies, and a producer who puts together the beats, chords, synths and sounds. The demo’s for the songs they create are sent out to A&R, labels, managers and artists. The majority of those songs snatched up by labels and stars all come from the same handful of top-line writers and producers. This sometimes leads to artists recording different songs off the same demo, like Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone,” that were created from the same track, by Ryan Tedder. Or Lil Jon’s demo that led to the interchangeable songs of Usher’s hit “Yeah” and Petey Pablo’s less-famous “Freek-A-Leek“.
The producers are almost always male: Max Martin, Dr. Luke, David Guetta, Tricky Stewart, the Matrix, Timbaland, the Neptunes, or Stargate (pictured below). The top-liners are often, although not always, women: Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, Ester Dean and Skylar Grey. The people who create the songs are often in different places, sending each other files, demos, recording and mixes. The artists, who spend much of the year touring, don’t have time to come into the studio; they generally record new material in between shows, in mobile recording studios and hotel rooms, on iPads and laptops, working with demos that producers and top-line writers make for them to use as a kind of vocal stencil pattern. (The production notes for Rihanna’s single “Talk That Talk” say that her vocal was recorded on “the Bus” in Birmingham, Alabama, in Room 538 of the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg, and in Room 526 of the Savoy, in London.
It’s no surprise that pop has become so mechanical and robotic. It’s the dichotomy of technology, the ease in which music can now be created makes it more communal, but somehow less personal. Collaboration isn’t as much between band members blocking it out in balmy basements, now teeny-boppers crop pop licks in single studios or home recording rooms, send a file in Dropbox and create a duet without even meeting face-to-face. While I love electronic music, love the individuality of an indie composer, producer or artist, the cookie-cutter taste of so many listeners is fairly disturbing. Whether the industry or the listener is to blame is up for debate. Personally, like a tobacco industry, the music industry is about the bottom line. They don’t care how you get hooked, as long as you keep buying the product, they will throw in whatever gimmick people are buying. And like a smoker who decides to live a different way and quit the hand-to-mouth product feeding of the tobacco industry, that’s how a discerning audience can change the musical landscape. Quit the digital nicotine of mainstream Top 40 pop, and require something more. Something different. Something unique. Something derivative rather than merely a duplication. Originality and organic music is out there, you just have to look beyond the industrial manufacturing and pre-manufactured productions which predominate the popular landscape.
For more information, visit the original article written for the New Yorker here.