Do it! Go ahead, do it! It's going to be alright. Nothing horrible will happen to you, I promise. Try being different. I understand that we feel anxious and stressed whenever we move outside of our comfort zone. Our bodies release chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol, which increases our heart rates; we begin to sweat, which becomes difficult to swallow. But guess what? It'll pass. I'm talking about creating music outside your comfort zone.
We all, at some deep level, want to be accepted. We all want to be part of a community. Whether it's friends, family, religious organizations, co-workers, biker gang, or any organized group you feel comfortable being around, you want to be accepted. It's only human nature, we're social creatures, and we want to socialize with people most like us. This belonging to a group is perfectly fine. However, I'm here to tell you that it's ok to take a risk and be different from your group, to be different from your peers, especially your musical peers.
Being different isn't easy. Listeners are programmed, or dare I say brainwashed, to recognize some aspects of a piece of music. When they don't recognize the formula that they're used to hearing, then they become confused. But it's ok. There is a way to break the spell. It just takes some effort.
It used to be beneficial to be different. Using revolutionary techniques and unusual instruments was accepted. Musical experimentation was widely practiced and sought after. However, things started to change for the listener. When the digital age took hold and devices such as the MP3 player and smartphone came onto the scene, our habits changed. Instead of listening to music with intensification, people started skimming to the parts that gave them instant gratification—searching for that musical dopamine. Why not? We have the technology to go right to the good parts.
Unfortunately, music creators took notice and created songs that catered to this new type of listener, addicted to instant gratification. The listener was like a junky looking for a hit, shooting that musical dopamine right into their eardrums. Now, song hooks come quicker and more frequently. Everything is overly compressed. Compression is when you match the quiet parts with the loud parts, making it louder and destroys dynamics. The timbre, which is the depth of sound, has declined. The lyrical intelligence declined, became shorter and more repetitive. The "Millennial Whoop" was developed and used extensively. If you don't know about the "Whoop," check it out, it's that "wa-oh-wa" vocal sound you hear in every other song. It's the 5th note followed by the 3rd and then back to the 5th. To be fair to Millennials, this "Whoop" has been around for a few decades but I'm blown away by how often it's used, in all types of today's music.
Most songs sound the same, and it's by design. It's supposed to sound the same. Whatever seems to be working to brainwash the listener, it's duplicated over and over. It's a factory that's even eroding the boundaries that set genres apart. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish a pop song from a country song from hip hop and EDM. Is it a hip hop song with twangy vocals or a country song with a drum machine?
Did you know that just two guys wrote a vast majority of pop songs in the last ten years? Check out Max Martin and Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald.
So, what can we do about it? Yeah, be different. I believe we're reaching the pinnacle of this repetitive mediocrity madness in music. Eventually, the pendulum will start swinging in the opposite direction, and people will yearn for more profound and exciting music. It's up to music creators to provide interesting music with depth, dynamics, meaningful lyrics, experimental sounds, and quality musicianship. I know it's risky, but we need to be brave and be different.
Brian Lundgren is a marketing professional, musician, and family man living in the Southeast region of Massachusetts.