The following developed out of an online discussion, elsewhere. I wondered what others thought about the subject, so I'm blogging it here.

It's funny how there's a virtually infinite number of ways to combine musical notes into a song, yet only a select few styles and genres dominate popular music at any given time. Until the advent of free (or pirated) .MP3 music files, I used to think the limited variety of popular music was due to record labels and radio stations pushing groups and artists that fit a formulaic mold determined by perceived trends. But with everybody (for a decade now) downloading any song they wish, we're finding that popularity still conforms to existing genres.

Much of American culture has been exported (and emulated) around the world via our music. Blues, jazz, rock and roll, country western, motown, rap, gospel, etc. Why does our music hold such sway in other cultures? This might be a good thing for American music companies but I don't think it's good for original, innovative, music.

I've felt, for quite a while now, that popular music needs an infusion of new and unique creative influences. Musical stagnation has been increasing for decades. Have you noticed how the practice of "covering" older songs (or parts of them) has grown over recent years? It's as if artists are finding it more and more difficult to create original material.

Maybe it's the audience and not the performers who are in a rut. Perhaps there's a world of great music out there that goes unnoticed because the audience is conditioned to favor existing musical formulas. Trends are normally short-lived and in constant flux . . . I don't know that we can say there's anything really trendy about popular music any more. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

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Comment by Tom Pandelaere on May 26, 2010 at 7:47am
American music holds sway in other cultures because other cultures have been Americanised.
My favourite American bands are Cinema Strange and Shock Therapy . Apart from that, it’s mostly British and German. Americans never really got the heck of new wave.
Comment by Atheist Exile on May 26, 2010 at 5:25am
Thanks for your replies, everybody,

I enjoyed the humorous exchange between Bill S and John D. The response from Denis Robert echoes other responses I've gotten elsewhere.

One response, from a guy with a penchant for brevity, stated that, "Humans seek affiliation, if we go with established genres we have groups to affiliate with, if we go with the arcane and esoteric, we are pretty much on our own." This psychological explanation, it seems to me, is entirely in keeping with the "market-driven" explanation that Denis Robert provided . . . just different perspectives.

The first reply, by Bill S., was beautifully and thoroughly expressed. I agree that there's nothing ever truly original in music any more. But the same can be said of literally anything. Einstein stood on the shoulders of Maxwell and others. One could say originality started fading with the advent of the wheel.

With the advent of .MP3 music downloads, I envisioned a future explosion of diversified musical genres. Perhaps I expected it to arrive too soon and it's still something coming in the near future. I would have thought that a decade or more would be plenty of time for the paradigm shift to solidify.

But what I was really wondering was why the paradigm shift (traditional business model to Internet business model) hasn't really made a difference in popular music -- even after more than a decade of .MP3 file sharing. I had anticipated a world where music popularity was ruled by word of mouth (Internet buzz). Perhaps that's been happening to a limited extent; I don't know. It just seems to me that there must be a reason all these ground-breaking changes have resulted in so little change in popular music.
Comment by Denis Robert on May 24, 2010 at 8:13am
It's neither the audience, nor the performers. It's the producers, and the apparatus which supports them. There is a vast array of non-formulaic music out there, some pop, some not; it doesn't get any airplay because the major media are all controlled by a very few people who determine what will make it or not. Producers know that, and they build (not create) their music with that in mind.

But things *are* changing, albeit slowly. People are looking and finding for something different, and the Internet is making it available to them. Bands like the Decembrists and Vampire Weekend can hardly be thought to fit in the ClearChannel mold, yet them manage to get significant attention.

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