Is Music Getting More Energetic Over Time?

September 10, 2013

This is the second in a series of posts based on research by The Echo Nest data alchemist, Glenn McDonald, which charts various aspects of popular music over the past few decades to find out how it’s been changing. You can read the first installment here.

Does it seem to you that today’s music packs more energy than the music that came out last year, decade, or century? You’re onto something.

Chalk it up to music having to compete with an increasing number of distractions, an overall increase in the speed of our lives these days, or some other factor or combination of factors, but the energy level of music has been rising steadily over the past five-plus decades of popular music.

By running the 5,000 most popular songs from each year through The Echo Nest’s deep musical understanding of music, which not only incorporates what people everywhere say about music, but also listens to it — as in the actual files themselves — The Echo Nest data alchemist, Glenn McDonald, was able to show that music has grown increasingly more energetic since 1960.

Notably, popular music’s energy level plateaued slightly during the ’80s. Other than that, we’ve seen a pretty consistent ramp-up in the energy level of our favorite jams.

The Echo Nest’s “energy” attribute, which is available for every song in our database, is computed by a combined analysis of many parts of the musical signal — the loudness, beats, structural changes and sounds of the instruments. This “energy” attribute results in a scaled floating point metric from 0 to 1, where 1 is the most energetic. From this analysis, popular music’s energy level started out around .3, and has now climbed to .7 — a big increase, and one that took decades.

To find out how “energetic” your favorite band is, simply enter its name into our ArtistX web app to generate a neat graph.

And, to get an idea of what we mean by “energetic,” have a listen to this Rdio playlist. Songs 1-5 have a very high energy rating, while songs 6-10 have a very low energy rating: