Is Melody Dead?

Three years ago, I took a deep-dive into the Top Hits of 2017 because I wanted to keep on top of emerging musical trends. I ended up incorporating some of the arrangement techniques into my own songs: specifically creating shorter intros, getting to the vocals quicker, and dropping out and bringing back in instruments throughout a song- rather than having all the parts at 100% the whole time.

Now that I’m focusing my efforts largely on Spotify plays, I thought I would do a similar deep-dive using this week’s Fresh Finds playlist. It’s curated from lists of ‘top tastemakers’ (critics and bloggers), and is *not* personalized for the user- meaning that all Spotify users see the same songs when they pull up the weekly Fresh Finds.

This week there are 68 songs on it, and I analyzed the first five.

01. SOS by INNR CIRCLE

Chill keyboard into, with nice female atmospheric vocal pads. Cool groove comes in, male vocals with a gentle harmonizer an octave up. I was weaned on music from the late 70’s on, ergo I’m somewhat shocked to hear the vocal melody on this song is comprised of only two notes a whole step apart. The singer just moves between note 1 and note 2 for pretty much the whole song. The other night I watched a YouTube video that posited that “melody is dead” in popular music. To be fair, the video’s creator is an older guy from a classical music background. But is he wrong?

Well, the first track on Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist has a vocal melody with the same two notes over and over. The song also features a good deal of repetition. Ok, a mind-numbing amount of repetition. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. It just happens to be the language of the age. A limited melodic vocabulary. In fact, I’m going to take this as a challenge to build a song with a 2-note vocal melody and see if I can make it into something awesome despite the limitation. (Ah! Read more about my fascination with “creativity via limit”)

 

02. 02 20 20 by Xelli Island

More variation in the melody here. Simple beat. The first few sections of the song have no high-hat or other percussion ‘top-line’ accenting the 8th or 16th notes. Just a kick drum and snare (or modified sounds filling those roles). I’m going to use this technique in an upcoming song. Keep the beat sparse until the chorus. This song strikes me as “ear candy” and not in a horrible way. At the top of the second verse, most of the instruments drop out- a technique mentioned above that I noticed in the Best of 2017 deep-dive. This song is also very repetitious. Sounds nice, but none of the lyrics stick.

 

03. clover by glaive

Lyrics are a little more ‘sticky’ on this tune, although my ears find the repetition too much to take. It’s almost as if I have to exert energy to hear past the repetition in order to take in what he’s trying to say with the lyrics, which again, I think are kinda cool. It’s refreshing that the music of the song is built from simple guitar strumming as opposed to 24/7/365 synths.

 

04. Jumpin’ in the Rain by badmonsham

Best song of the list. What’s the difference? The singer believes in what he’s singing, and this raises the song up through the noise floor of scores of other songs. In fact, go listen to this song. Fresh Finds list changes weekly, but that link will send you right to the song. Very pretty nylon guitar parts, and a real heartfelt vocal delivery. “Why you trippin? Money ain’t a thing.”

 

05. Dynasty by Pen Pals

Decent sonically, but really nothing to write home about. Again, there’s this deconstruction going on where the song uses the same chords throughout the entire 3 minutes. The music doesn’t transport me anywhere. Ok. I’m being too hard on this song. I dunno. It seems like this guy doesn’t give a shit about what he’s singing. Hey! Here’s something interesting. This song actually fades out at the end. Haven’t heard that in a new song for a decade.

 

Conclusion

I love exercises like this. It’s great for me to hear what the new musical language of the time is like, and also turns me on to new artists like badmonsham. Basic takeaways- melodies have been stripped down to almost nothing. Repetition has taken over in favor of any kind of linear variation. So stayed tuned to the blog and let’s hear what happens when I try to make a cool song using only two notes in the vocal melody. Is it possible? Thanks for reading and see ya round!

-WS