Boosting Classical Music

We should have classical music that’s more like pop: compressed and bass heavy. Wait, hear me out! Here’s the oft-stated problem:

  • Classical music has an enormous dynamic range and lacks the punch of pop music.
  • This is a practical downside. Most of it can’t really be listened to in your car, or walking on the street, or many other spaces in our noise-polluted world.
  • Without that extra oomph, classical music just seems very unexciting; people want visceral music.

Now, I was building myself up for a rant on this, how the modern world is so bad and unfair and ugly and yada yada yada… But then I began asking myself, if people are accustomed to heavier music — music with a powerful bottom end — why shouldn’t there be more classical music written with this in mind? We’re not talking about digitally altering recordings or introducing amplification into the concert hall. This could be done by composers deciding to write music that is more bottom heavy, and/or orchestras restructuring themselves for this purpose.

Similarly, why not deliberately compress the music? Again, no technology is needed. We use a chasm-wide range of dynamics now, but centuries ago there was much less dynamic variation. When there was, it was used more for textural reasons than sheer volume change. There’s no reason why this stylistic trait can’t re-emerge. Composers could simply write music without having the liberty of specifying dynamics. That would go a long way.

All this could surely be a fruitful compromise with popular tastes. Good music is a product of borders, of deliberate limitations. So why not introduce a new style that takes as its borders these two traits of popular music, at the very least? And perhaps more controversially, why not use these traits as a way to reinterpret past works? Some compressed bottom-heavy classical music might just be what the 21st century needs.

It would only be appropriate to end this post with a pop song. I have come to reluctantly believe that there is but one great pop song — just one that perfectly encapsulates the absurdity, the gaudiness, the fun, the addictiveness, the danceability and the memorability of pop music. Yes, I’m awfully sorry to say, It’s Raining Men:

How many writers does it take to make a hit single?

To the extent that this question sounds like the start of a joke, it’s a tragic one. The BBC reports that ‘a new study by Music Week magazine shows it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single.’ That’s up over one person from ten years ago.

Record labels put pressure on songwriters to release more material at a faster pace, so ‘professional’ songwriters are employed (in contrast, one reasons, to the ‘amateur’ songwriters who actually perform the song). Moreover, producers have an unprecedented level of influence. Everyone wants in on the latest synthesised squelchings or claustrophobic compression, with pop music being more technology-dependent than ever.

mr-burns-monkeys-typewriters1-640x381-600x357The most amusing aspect is writing camps. The article describes them as ‘where the music industry puts the infinite monkey theorem to the test, detaining dozens of producers, musicians and “top-liners” (melody writers) and forcing them to create an endless array of songs, usually for a specific artist.’

Well, that explains a lot: why modern pop music is so homogeneous, why the stars themselves seem such lazy and musically unadventurous people. It really is, to coin a phrase, a culture industry.

I think it’s very obvious that this trend is ruinous. Their music globalises and helps eviscerate local cultures. The ‘elites’ in society, for want of a better word, all swear allegiance to it where once they would have been the patrons of high culture. Politicians become too scared to be seen at the opera. Society becomes more musically illiterate as people’s musical imagination is severely restricted by the homogeneity of omnipresent pop music, and people struggle to find ‘relevance’ in serious music. Music literacy will then genuinely become the preserve of the privileged. People lose a source of profound beauty and, in the case of pop music especially, of social and communal bonds, and are given a miserable opioid substitute.

And it’s one concocted by a small set of technicians, their scope totally dictated by market values. Entry into this industry seems to be at the whim of label companies who are the only ones with the economic means now required to produce the hit songs the public demand. Yet classical music is elitist.

Unlike pop stars (and it must be said, modern classical composers), Bach would have to compose weekly on top of his duties as organist. Here’s his cantata ‘Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis’: