Do you think country music is starting to sound all the same? This new video proves you may be onto something.
Back in November, YouTube user Sir Mashalot (songwriter Gregory Todd in real life) conducted a little experiment to vent his frustration over trying to break in to the country music establishment.
He was having a hard time getting his songs heard and came away feeling like the powers that be were only looking for a very narrow definition of “country songs.”
Then Todd decided to back up his feelings up with some hard evidence.
The songs are “Sure Be Cool if You Did” by Blake Shelton, “Drunk on You” by Luke Bryan, “Chillin’ It” by Cole Swindell, “Close Your Eyes” by Parmalee, “This is How We Roll” by Florida Georgia Line and “Ready Set Roll” by Chase Rice.
Todd chopped them up into smaller pieces and adjusted things like tempo and key so they could be compared, and voila, six songs that “sound the same.”
But do they, really? And is that unusual? A few things to keep in mind:
(1) This is only six songs out of the hundreds that mainstream country music puts out as singles each year. That’s not a large percentage, and with this small of a sample size I suspect we could get the same results from a more artistically-focused style of music as well, like my personal favorite, Americana.
(2) There are really only 12 different notes on the chromatic musical scale. You can play them in different registers and on different instruments to get different sounds, but still, that leaves a finite number of ways a melody can be expressed, meaning some overlap is virtually guaranteed. (This is also part of the reason copyright infringement cases are so hard to “prove.”)
(3) Rhythm patters are also finite in nature, and that is exacerbated by people’s personal taste. We get used to hearing certain rhythmic patterns and they become pleasing to us, so those rhythmic patterns are bound to be repeated in various ways by professional songwriters who want to make something pleasing to listeners.
(4) The same goes for this song structure (verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus) which is one of the most common in all forms of music, ever. You will hear variations of this pattern, quite literally, everywhere.
(5) Mainstream country music is a format within the country genre, and it has to be viewed in context. Like it or not, it is created with commercial goals in mind, just like the big Hollywood movies. People pay to go see superhero movies, so studios keep making superhero movies. Likewise, folks don’t change the channel when songs about dirt roads and cold beers come on the radio, so record labels will keep making them. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is the idea here.
So, there are some real constraints on musical variation. And when combined with commercial considerations in a downward trending market, this is what happens.
With that said, I think this is a really awesome project and some things stand out as truth. The pseudo-rap lyrical rhythms are way too predictable. The lyrical content itself is begging for an update. And the instrumentation is all pretty much identical.
But these songs were not meant to change anything. They are meant to fit in to what people already assume they will hear on country radio. In that endeavor, they are completely successful.
Also, I think it’s important to note that Todd understands that, too.
“I just want to be clear that this Mashup is all in good fun,” he writes in his video’s description. “I am not bashing these songs. I understand and even appreciate why the ‘formula’ continues to dominate the airwaves – not only in country music, but in pop and other genres as well. I simply enjoy mixing and producing on Pro Tools, and when I heard the striking similarities of these particular hits, I thought it would be fun to throw them all in a mix and see what I could come up with. And it looks like people are having fun with it too, so I couldn’t be happier!
“My current experiment is working on a song specifically designed to become the 7th entry to this mashup formula (hence the “To Be Continued” at the end of the video). I figure hey, at the very least, they won’t be able to say it doesn’t sound like a hit! :)”