Music Production and Songwriting Trend Insights for 2020
Look, none of us can predict the future. Not yet, at least. What we can do is make estimates and assumptions by looking at where things are going. Besides, isn’t it fun to make speculations and try and predict how things will change in the coming years? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here. We’ll be looking into some of the current and recent trends about music production and songwriting, and see if we can predict where things will take us in 2020.
After all, it’s the end of the year and the decade, so everyone is all about the change and the future, which might give them somewhat of a boost in creativity. You know, the usual stuff – new year/new decade, new me, and all the other clichés. Anyways, we’ll cover a few topics regarding music production and music writing and try and predict where things will be going in 2020 and the coming decade.
Before we begin – the Guitar Sumo team has done thorough research on the matter and we’ll be looking into Google Trends and a few other sources to help us make these estimates and come up with a full picture of how things might change. Let’s get into it.
“Tiktoktization” and “Spotifyization” of music
Yes, it’s a total boomer thing to say – but everyone seems to be obsessed with shorter formats these days and don’t have enough patience to listen to longer songs. It’s as if the younger generations are all hypnotized with their TikToks and Instagrams and that they can’t get their heads out of their phones!
But all jokes aside, there’s some truth about the collective ADD, and it seems that we just can’t keep enough attention. We could partially “blame” social media for that as it’s true that shorter formats are getting more and more popular along with a new platform like TikTok that dictates this trend of shorter songs.
Of course, this in itself doesn’t mean that the song will be short, but just that the songs will possibly have certain catchy parts that could fit the short format of a TikTok or an Insta story video, with the fans miming over the song in the background. And seeing that TikTok has the fastest rise in the number of users in such a short period, we wouldn’t be surprised to see that this speculation turns out to be true.
Looking into song lengths released between 2013 and 2018, the average track on the Billboard Hot chart became 20 seconds shorter, from 3 minutes 50 seconds down to 3 minutes and 20 seconds. This is, however, mostly due to the fact that streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music are on the rise and the fact that they’re paying artists and other rights holders per plays. It’s only expected for anyone to be financially motivated to move things in this particular direction.
Current trends tell us that there’s a high chance the songs will keep getting shorted well into the 2020s.
The album as a format, which in itself was established due to physical formats that were available in the 20th century, will continue to decline. For instance, the CD format sales are going down.
This means that we’ll be seeing less full-length albums and more singles, which will definitely have its impact on the writing and production processes.
On the other hand, we’re witnesses to the unexpected rise of the good old vinyl records. However, even though vinyl records can provide better sound quality for true audiophiles, this could potentially be a throwback fad. What’s more, the records are another way for artists and labels to earn more cash after the exponential growth of streaming service, which we all know don’t pay off the rights holders that much. The only way to handle this is to boost the numbers.
Despite this rise, vinyl will have its own limited following. It’s great to see it back, but it’s not like it’s going to take over very practical and budget-friendly streaming services.
Going away from the “in-your-face” approach
Dare we say that the current situation somewhat reminds us of the very beginning of the 1990s and the rise of grunge music? For instance, the 1980s were filled with glam rock/metal and the unavoidable cliché “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” topics. While it was fun, people just got fed up with it, and we saw the rise of those quiet kids wearing jeans taking the spotlight. Of course, the themes dictated the music writing and production practices, and we saw these new guys outselling the spandex-wearing hairspray-drenched ’80s musicians singing of breakups, partying, adrenaline, and sex.
The change is a bit slower to what we saw in the early 1990s though. We all remember the 2000s and the obnoxious approach of certain artists, songwriters, and producers. Some of that stuff didn’t age too well, the artists slowly began shifting into other directions, covering more serious topics.
These days, Billie Eilish is getting bigger and bigger, and she’s a great example of what we’re talking about. The approach to production and songwriting is more low-key compared to what we got the chance to hear in modern music. Her quiet and almost sleepy voice, as well as the topics she’s singing about, perfectly fit the bottom-end-heavy sound and a somewhat lo-fi approach that’s increasing in popularity. It’s quite plausible that in 2020 we’ll see other younger artists with this same approach – a bit less sterile and corporate and a bit more honest.
Rap and hip-hop are at its peak right now, and we’re still subject to tons of auto-tune. In this case, auto-tune is somewhat comparable to the glam metal of the 1980s, and we can only speculate (and hope) that the trend of the excessive abuse of it will start to decline over the coming years. Another thing we were able to hear in the music over the years was the so-called “millennial whoop,” melodic pattern, usually sang with no particular lyrics other than “wa-oh-oh,” alternating between the third and the fifth degree in the major scale. Google Trends, however, can’t really tell us much about these two topics at the moment. But so far, it seems that the (in)famous “whoop” is on a steady decline and that we’ll be hearing less and less of it.
Lo-Fi is the new Hi-Fi
While we’re at it, the lo-fi sound is getting more popular. Although not completely taking over the mainstream, the low fidelity-style of production is getting some traction. We could only speculate why this is the case, but we’re hearing a lot of it lately. Looking over at what Google Trends are saying, this production style has been on a steady rise for the past five years.
And even back in the early 2010s, we heard the likes of Bob Lefsetz say that we’re living in the lo-fi era, referring to the general decline of audio quality. It’s only expected to have this approach in production knowing that people usually won’t have any ways to reproduce and play high definition audio the proper way.
It would be too harsh to say that electric guitar and rock music are dying. We have seen that electric guitar starter kits and electric guitars for kids selling better than ever. But the thing is, after the decades of success, it’s pretty obvious that the guitar-oriented genres cannot stay at the top forever. They had a great run, but during the next decade, they’ll be getting closer to the status of jazz and classical music.
Yes, we have certain throwbacks and reunions of Motley Crue and Rage Against the Machine happening in 2020. But these are just the last signs of lives since – let’s face it – these bands aren’t getting any younger and the biggest “rock” bands these days are considered to be Imagine Dragons and Twenty One Pilots.
If we were to look at the interest in guitar between 2004 and today, it’s been on a steady decline, only to hit a lower plateau in the past year or two. The only unavoidable peaks in interest are during Christmas time when people are either buying cheap guitars as presents or are learning a few holiday songs to strum along with the family by downloading guitar tab apps. The only exception is June 2011, probably due to some current trends at the time.
The death of melody
This is in no way a diss to modern music, but just an obvious change of direction in almost any style today. Many have reflected on this trend in 2019, noticing that over the past years even some of the great film composers are simplifying their melodies. It’s not something we could single out by exact Google Trend searches, but it’s pretty clear that the trend is present in the modern media. But despite the trend, this doesn’t necessarily mean that these don’t serve their purpose well.
This is another topic where we could just speculate and expect the trend to continue in 2020. On the other hand, a complete opposite could happen, as it often did in the past, and we could hear the rise of the melody in modern music. For that, we’ll just have to wait and see.