Research: Music Has Grown Less ‘Organic’ Over Time

October 23, 2013

When cave people made the first music by chanting, banging rocks, and so on, music was arguably at its most organic. Ever since, from the invention of rudimentary flutes and drums through to today’s tightly-orchestrated, technically elaborate Las Vegas EDM sets, music has grown more rhythmically precise and artificial sounding.

The drum, metronome, drum machine, MIDI, samplers, and the rest — all of this, generally speaking, has represented a march away from looser, acoustic music, and towards tighter, electronically-derived music.

In other words, music has sounded less organic over time.

As part of our research into audio trends (more below), The Echo Nest data alchemist Glenn McDonald identified this shift towards a less organic sound even in the relative microcosm of pop music from 1950 to the present day. He ran the 5,000 hotttest songs through The Echo Nest’s deep musical intelligence — specifically, an experimental new audio attribute we’ve been working on called “organicness.” In doing so, McDonald revealed that our favorite music has grown steadily less organic since 1950.

"Organicness is a combination of mechanism and acousticness,” explains McDonald, “so high organicness means more acoustic instrumentation and more human tempo fluctuations (think sumptuous, fluttery harp music), and low organicness means more electric and more click-tracky (think relentlessly pounding techno).”

As the chart shows, popular music’s organicness has declined steadily since the dawn of rock n’ roll up until 2013:

Here’s what music with an extremely high organicness score sounds like, according to The Echo Nest:

By contrast, here’s a distinctly non-organic jam:

Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule that music’s organicness will continue to decline; a folkier, more acoustic sound with lots of loose tempo shifts could always make a comeback. However, if the historical trend is any indication, music’s march towards a less organic sound will continue.

We’ve been looking into audio trends over time quite a bit lately: