Does SEO Create the Pop Songs of the Internet? (Part 2: History of Pop)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is kind of like going out on a date with an algorithm. It’s a very one-sided relationship. It may work out in the long run. It may not.

To gear myself up for learning about the mysteries of SEO, I’m comparing it to what I know about using formulas to write songs. 

Music Theory + History = My Kind Of Pop Song 

If only blogging were that easy.

Too Creative For SEO?

In Part 1, creative psychology terms such as divergent and convergent thinking were defined. 

Reasoning styles were explored to see if working with limits (such as keywords) can assist the process of creativity when an overwhelming number of options exist. 

"Is there such a thing as being too creative? If by that one means too divergent in thinking, the answer is "yes” because some ability to place the divergent production within a context of other work is necessary. Without awareness of structure or the relationship to other parts of a larger domain, divergent thinkers only produce interesting images.” -Different Minds by Deirdre V. Lovecky

I’ve wandered down the divergent path many times. It’s my brain’s default mode.

As a consequence, I’ve often come back with interesting things, but not always useful things.

It takes effort to see where your creative needs overlap with the outer world’s wants. Therefore, studying popular music and its intersection with technology can be very insightful.

Parts of a Pop Song

Depending on your knack for pattern recognition, you’ve probably noticed that most pop songs follow a similar format. From I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton to Leave Me Alone by Michael Jackson, most pop songs operate with a similar internal logic.

Regardless of differences in tone, message, tempo, or recording quality, it’s interesting to look for commonalities between different hit songs.

In fact, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo is known for trying to balance a certain amount of change with a certain amount of variables in order to achieve perfect auditory stimulation and the ultimate brain massage.

Rivers doesn’t hide his data-driven approach to music. He’s proud of it.

Buddy Holly aside, contemporary songs have been evolving for over fifty years.  Surprisingly, parts of these songs haven’t changed much. Whether you listen to music or write it, analyzation of the mechanics behind a song can increase your appreciation. 

Top 40 songs from the past 50 years usually have:

  • An intro
  • A verse
  • A chorus
  • A bridge or middle eight
  • An ending

Of course, some parts of “the pop song system” are non-negotiable (verses) and some of them are optional (a middle eight).  That being said, more and more songs don’t follow this format. Why?

Economics Are Changing Pop Songs

Streaming services benefit monetarily when a listener sticks with a song for over 30 seconds. As a result, pop songs are getting shorter. (Some may say they are getting shorter again. The average song in the 1940s was 2 minutes 41 seconds). 

Many modern artists (and 40% of current chart-topping songs) blast straight into the hook. No build-up. No tease. No big emotional release mid-way through.

Other artists are leaving out an intro, leaving out an outro, ending with the bridge, etc. - all in an attempt to make someone listen to the song twice (or at least listen to a song all the way through).

At the same time, the music industry is about to see the physical sale of vinyl albums surpass CDS for the first time since 1986.  

Interesting.

Depending on your audience, going forward in the 2020s you may benefit from manufacturing more vinyl albums than CDs. Also, you may benefit from 1,000 fans paying you a dollar a year on Patreon versus spreading yourself around on streaming services for $0.01682 per play. (That’s Pandora’s current rate - and it’s the HIGHEST of any streaming service).

Being the old-timer I am, I’m into long albums. But why? Is it just... a listening habit?

Why did albums from the 1950s to 2000s become around 40 minutes long? Could it be because each side of an early LP had a capacity of around 21 minutes? 

Who's Shaping Who?

As you can see, music as we know it is shaped by the technology used to spread it around the globe.

Without careful observation, we may not realize how many artistic decisions (such as modern songs getting shorter) are influenced by changes in technology.

Writers on the internet are the same; constantly being shaped by the algorithms they are trying to date. 

I’m personally trying to impress the algorithm from my couch as I do research with a bag of popcorn and my husband watches Bob Ross in the background. (I’m in my Sunday best though in case I need a vintage-style selfie here and there.)

Next week I’ll discuss SEO terminology and how economic realities are impacting writing.

Have you thought about how technology and economics impact your favorite songs? How long is your favorite song?

What about your favorite articles? Have you thought about how SEO influences writing?

DISCLAIMER: AS ALWAYS, IF YOU NEED PSYCHOLOGICAL OR FINANCIAL ADVICE PLEASE SEEK A PROFESSIONAL FOR YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.

6 Replies to “Does SEO Create the Pop Songs of the Internet? (Part 2: History of Pop)”

  1. Awesome Part 2 and been thinking a lot about this topic since Part 1. As a long time musician and relatively new writer, I’ve not spent a lot of time about how tech and economic impact songs (or writing). I’m aware that there are formulas, algorithms, hacks, etc. that can be used to hopefully gain more listeners/readers However, it’s clear to me when someone is attempting to do so and find it offputting. For example, if I read a blog post and it’s painfully obvious that the writer has specifically, intentionally tried to craft a message and uses a style that is clearly attempting to beat an algorithm, I pretty much stop reading them altogether as my takeaway is that they care more for mass appeal than they do the creative work. Same with music and the reason I have always embraced and made music that it honest in spirit and intent. For me, integrity, innovation, and passion will always draw me in. Even if I don’t particularly like it, I will respect it.

    Also, as a lifelong vinyl collector, nice to know it’s poised to eclipse CD sales again

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! There are several directions a post like this can go, so I’m glad I narrowed down some thought-provoking topics. Like you, I’m immediately disgusted by blatant displays of click-bate or formula following.

    My parents have a large collection of Vinyl floating around somewhere. I’ll have to go to their house and dig around for it! Some great memories in that music (Bruce Springstein, Beach Boys, CCR, etc.)

  3. My last band used to do a pretty cool cover of Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, it’s a fun song to play.

    Great post, I think the resurgence of vinyl is mostly just a hipster trend. Although it’s great to see kids rediscovering the value of having full-size artwork with your music. But I think it will fade away eventually like avocado toast and artisanal bear oil.

    1. I really enjoy Weezer. The band has actually grown on me as I’ve gotten older. Maybe I’m regressing (ha ha).

      I’ve never thought of vinyl that way, but you make a good point. Apparently the 1990s are back in fashion for young people too (like middle schoolers). I hope these trends stick around. I enjoy when old things are back in style (not surprising)!

  4. as a generally stand-offish person i don’t even think i would play ball with those streaming thieves like pandora and spotify. i would rather subsist on rocks and bugs than see them get rich off hard working artists. it pains me to see creatives bend to SEO type things. i’m sure you are aware how many great country songs of the 60’s and 70’s were filled out with those cheesy strings because the record label wanted it that way. did you watch any of the country music series on PBS? it was magnificent and gave credit to real acts like emylou harris. i guess my point is that at one time it was the labels dictating and now it’s an algorithm.

    i had tom waits’ “mule variations” on vinyl but left all my records in new orleans. they wouldn’t fit in the little u-haul trailer. outer ring could be the beginning of a fatboy slim type dance tune if you laid some beats behind all the synth glory.

    1. Your comment makes me think about the general issue here – what happens when big business intersects with art and disappoints genuinely interested fans and insightful people. I like your distinction about when the record labels dictated vs. the AI that is playing an increasingly larger role in influencing people now.

      I am immensely ashamed of myself for not watching that PBS documentary yet!!! I have had so many people in person and online approach me about it. I’ll put it on the list of things to consume over Christmas break. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions about it and it will prompt several thoughts. Didn’t know what prompted all those “cheesy strings” but that explains it!

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