The Song Machine

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Yorker staff writer John Seabrook talks about the relatively small number of producers and top-liners who create a disproportionately large share of contemporary hits, which may explain why so many songs sound the same. His article “The Song Machine” appears in the March 26 issue of The New Yorker.


John Seabrook

Comments [28]


daniel- comparing this, to "wall of sound". you're kidding,right? although, a lot of people, ie the beatles,got a lot of production help, from folks the likes of george martin. today however,it's just too slanted towards production.

Mar. 19 2012 03:44 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

There may have always been production tricks in music, but I think we've reached a tipping point.

Mar. 19 2012 12:38 PM
John from NYC

Regarding local NYC scene for FM radio, in addition to K-rock this FM station 101.9 has been re-formatted to an all news station. The station was previously called WXRP-FM. That station had a nice mix of new and old Rock music. There seems to be limited local options to hear new Rock music on the radio today.

Mar. 19 2012 12:38 PM
Betsy from Brooklyn

I don't think people have stopped listening to rock. I think the music hit making machine has decided not to feed the masses rock music. My friends and I all listen to and play in rock, punk, and metal bands.

Mar. 19 2012 12:37 PM
Er-nay from UWS

What is the top line again ? He never answered

Mar. 19 2012 12:32 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

..."hip-hop", sorry.

Mar. 19 2012 12:31 PM
jdd from Brooklyn

Auto-tune has been used for decades now. At first it was just to correct pitch. From Cher's use forward, it started to be used as an effect. You can widen the correction create a thick, synthesized weight to the voice - especially in many rap tracks these days.

Mar. 19 2012 12:31 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Rihanna (and all these others Beyonce, Nicky Minaj etc) are one of life's great mysteries to me. I find Rihanna to be torture- especially Umbrella ella ella ella. Mind dulling dumb stuff. And the posturing is so inane- Puffy ,Kanye and all that. AND I don't find any creativity in the music either. It is all the same.

Mar. 19 2012 12:30 PM
JFreely from NYC

Isn't it almost hypocritical that American Idol contestants get knocked off for being "pitchy" (off key) in this era of autotune? Or will these shows help because they will find us really talented singers?

Mar. 19 2012 12:30 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

A Rihanna "vocal"? Puhlease.
And this is nothing like Madonna.
The techniques and attributes of hi-hop -- which I love -- have been misapplied to pop and R&B. Hopefully there will soon be a correction from this nadir.

Mar. 19 2012 12:29 PM

This all seems part of the American Cult of Perfection. Actors have flawless features, flawless skin, hair, teeth. A person can't become president if he/she is physically flawed like Lincoln. And we have to be total conformists (in this great nation of individualists!) — Al Gore signaled he was coming back into the fold when he shaved his beard; can't have a beard and pretend to be a good American!

The perfect plastic culture.

Mar. 19 2012 12:29 PM
John from office

There is an ad for the "sweet Soul of the 70s" on TV. It really makes you long for the day when there were songs and singers. I dont listen to any of this new stuff, it will not last nor endure.

Mar. 19 2012 12:29 PM

Pls ask ur Quest if Art Kelly is the writer/producer of his song.

Mar. 19 2012 12:28 PM

How is any of this different from Brill Building? Phil Spector? Stock Aitken and Waterman?

Mar. 19 2012 12:28 PM
Broton like proton from Brooklyn

Music evolves with technology and will continue to grow.

Mar. 19 2012 12:28 PM
The Truth from Becky

3 in the morning 4 in the morning makes no difference. If you can sing you can sing! or vice versa Also, artists, actors and actresses have different lives, sleep in the day often work at night.

Mar. 19 2012 12:27 PM

It is interesting to note that WNYC has a story on entertainment viewed as journalism (while "traditional" journalism failing to clarify this) and another story dealing with the pop music industry advancing similar sounding, commercially viable songs right next to each other.

Tapioca culture.

Mar. 19 2012 12:27 PM

The first time I heard Rhianna was on a TV commercial. The excessive electronic processing of voice, music, and image led me to think that she was actually a computer generated personality. Like a modern Max Headroom.

Mar. 19 2012 12:27 PM

The emphasis on attitude and 'acting' reminds me of the description of opera singers as "singing actors" these days.

What rock figure (Madonna?) recently said that there really hasn't been much of a change in pop music in at least 20 years.

I disagree with the guest that there are real differences in the music. Textural maybe, but there has been no interesting, substantive change in popular music since the 80s.

Mar. 19 2012 12:25 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

"Melodic essence", "take all the good parts"? Autotune removes the "imperfections"?...He thinks the hooks are infectious...Not sure about this guy's taste or analysis.

Mar. 19 2012 12:24 PM
Thom from Brooklyn

Is there a relationship between this means of music production and the domination of top 40 charts by "solo artists"?

Mar. 19 2012 12:22 PM
Daniel from Munich

Songs out at the same time having the same base is not a new or strange thing. We aren't so used to it in the U.S., but it's quite common in other countries and other genres besides American pop. Jamaican popular music since the 1960s has the concept of the riddim --- a base structure for a song --- and there have been many hits that all are based on the same riddim. For example: Althea & Donna's "Uptown Top Ranking" based on Alton Ellis' "I'm Still In Love" was released at the same time as a handful of other songs using the same riddim were.

It's also very common in Soca these days.

Mar. 19 2012 12:20 PM
Thom from Brooklyn

Is there a relationship between this means of music production and the domination of top 40 charts by "solo artists"?

Mar. 19 2012 12:19 PM
Brendan Mullally from Queens

Most pop music in this style is not sample based. Synthesizers.

Mar. 19 2012 12:19 PM
Molly from nyc

The pop music world today is abismal. So awful and soulless, all it makes me think of is retail shopping.

Mar. 19 2012 12:18 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

And the beats are easy, not really polyrhythmically infectious.

Mar. 19 2012 12:16 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

"Machine" is an apt term. This muzak is so mechanical sounding and lacking soul. Not surprised that a few producers have cornered the market because they often sound the same. "Melodic essence"? maybe. But few actual melodies. Sad.

Mar. 19 2012 12:13 PM

It would have been nice to have had Steve Albini chime in on this.

Mar. 19 2012 12:12 PM

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