Streaming is Changing the Very Sound of Pop Music. Here’s How.

There’s been an ongoing and dynamic symbiotic relationship between music and tech since the process of recording music was invented almost 150 years ago. Wanna know why we’re happy with songs that run about three minutes long? Because that was the capacity of the earliest recorded music mediums. The microphone turned singers from belters who had to sing loud enough to reach the back rows into performers who could sing quietly and with more intimacy. Bing Crosby wanted to golf in the afternoon, so he kickstarted the use of magnetic recording tape in broadcasting. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Streaming is another technology that’s changing music in ways no one ever expected. Pitchfork digs in.

A romantic guitar unfurls a tender melody. Male voices bark shout-outs and then croon like they’re auditioning for “American Idol.” There’s an electronic whoosh. A rat-a-tat vocal phrase. And that’s all before “Despacito” even really starts.

The first 20 seconds of Luis Fonsi’s international smash with Daddy Yankee brandishes hooks hinting at the elements of Latin balladry, reggaetón, and slick digital pop that play out through the rest of the song. “It’s almost like an executive summary,” says songwriter Charlie Harding, co-host of the “Switched on Pop” podcast, where he breaks down Top 40 hits through music theory. “And lots of songs are using this method.”

Alongside its Justin Bieber-featuring remix, “Despacito” straddles multiple trends in contemporary pop music. Globalization. Multi-artist collaborations. Slower tempos. And yet it might tell us the most about a related subject: How hits are made now that streaming is the way most of the world listens to music.

You will never listen to modern pop music the same way again if you keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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