You have heard it before. The latest single sounds just like the classic, and whether it is someone from an older generation, or perhaps your own ears telling you, songs and melodies do sound similar. The Axis of Awesome proved this in 2011, where they managed to play several modern pop songs using the same four chords.
The fact that artists are inspired by other artists is not new. The recent Pharrell Williams & Robin Thicke v the Marvin Gaye family lawsuit, ruling that Williams & Thicke are to pay $7.4M, is indeed testimony to the fact that there are still blurred lines when it comes to creative inspiration. There are, however, more interesting dynamics going on in the music industry than lawsuits motivated by greed.
According to William Giraldi, between 2008 and September 2012 there were 66 no. 1 songs, and almost half of these were performed by the same six artists: Katy Perry, Rihanna, Flo Rida, The Black Eyed Peas, Adele, and Lady Gaga. This indicates not only a concentration of top hit artists, but also a consensus around what the sound of the decade is.
What is more, the length of the average song has seen a decrease from 4min to around 3.5min since the early 90s. The convergence around the 3.5 min mark suggests that the music industry is narrowing in on the optimal attention span of the listener. As music is more available than ever, both through technological leaps in portable devices and streaming services allowing access to vast collections of music, there are signs that the attention span of the average listener is becoming shorter.
Songs not only sound the same, they are the same length, and performed by the same artists. It sounds like a market with little differentiation and lots of competition.
This presents a situation where songs not only sound the same, but also are the same length, and are performed by the same artists. To most ears, this sounds like a market where there is little differentiation, and competition is high. And this is precisely why artists are no longer competing in music.
Artists today are mega brands. They appear in movies, they design cars, they are in fashion, and if you don’t have a perfume forget about it! Like other global brands, artists are branching out into other areas outside their core competence, and by doing so become competitive, differentiated, pop culture powerhouses.
Music is a utility and artists matter more than ever. With millions of people streaming music every day, the opportunity for the next frontier of innovation has never been greater.