Why Does It Sound Dated?

Why Does It Sound Dated?

If you’re a “traditionalist” musician, you probably believe that your music should reflect the values of your idols, be they from the 60′s, 70′s or whatever. You then write and produce your own songs in that spirit… only to hear this one most dreaded quip: “DATED!”

With that one little word, your labor of love is written off and swept under the rug.

What do you do? Some of you shrug it off and carry on regardless. Others get frustrated and increase their hatered of all that “over-commercialized crap,” and walk away believing themselves to be right and everyone who doesn’t agree – wrong.

Is there a right or wrong? Not really, when it comes to the ART of songwriting. But when it comes to the PRODUCTION of music, there are objective observations which are neither “right” nor “wrong.” They just are.

So, yes, there IS such a thing as a dated sound. Put on something from the 40′s or 50′s. Can you honestly say it sounds “current?” (This NEVER means that it’s “not good” – only that it clearly sounds like it’s from another era)

OK. So you’ll have no major problems agreeing that there exists such a thing as a virtual “time-stamp” on music. It’s easy to tell the difference when comparing something “modern” with something as old as 40 or 50 years. But what about stuff which is only a few years old? Well, it gets a bit more subtle then. But, again, keen observation will reveal the differences.

Some of those differences start out as simple fads (this kick sound is “in” and that snare sound is “out!”). Others are a more organic evolution. Instruments change and evolve, special effects sound different, mixing techniques change too and even the overall production values change (here’s a pretty good comparison: think of a movie from 30 years ago and compare it to something from “today” – even the acting is different, not to mention the way they shoot or light their scenes!).
It’s no use complaining about it. Things change. And the only thing that remains is whether you care or not. If you don’t – great. But if you don’t care about that and yet still would like to win a NEW audience for your music, then you’ll have a bit of a steep hill to climb.

If you do care at least enough to find a compromise position between what you believe and what “is needed” to “connect” with new audiences, then here’s some food for thought.
What is it that “dates” a piece of music? Sounds? Production? Sure. Who wouldn’t be able to accurately identify anything from the 80′s with its prominent (some might say “cheesy”) synth sounds and electronic drums.

But there’s another, perhaps even more important aspect. It’s the melodic and chordal structure of a song. Observe how that has changed over the years. Certain types of melodies often come across as “old-fashioned” where changing only one note here or there, might suddenly give it a “new” feel. Go figure! The same goes for chords and the way the melody relates to them. Melodies lead by chords are almost always viewed as “dated” and “uncool” (that where when the chord goes up or down and the melody line predictably follows it). It’s because we’re by now so utterly familiar with progressions and melodies of this type that we can practically sing along with any such “new” song which utilizes this kind of structure.

The late 90′s and much of the 21st century has seen a resurgence of more “organic” and “natural” sounds. In rock you’ll hear many more songs totally devoid of synths (because they tend to be so easily dateable!), with straight acoustic drums, and just solid “old-fashioned” values. And yet… if you hear one of those seemingly traditionally-arranged songs, you’ll just KNOW that it’s NOT an oldie. And when you stop and think why, you’ll discover that it’s mainly about melody and (often less elaborate) chord progressions.

And there’s one other thing: vocal performance. Here too you’ll find subtle changes. In the old days “over-singing” (read: too much drama! lol) was commonplace and even frequently “expected.” Today, it’s soooo uncool to do that. Make it “too dramatic” and modern ears tend to switch off. The “modern” trend is towards more “natural” melodies and deliveries. They should almost sound like they’re “spoken,” in some modern genres at least. But not quite.
It’s subtle. Aware of all this, have another listen to some of what’s going on in the music scene today. You’ll find that there’s room for your “old-fashioned” music in today’s marketplace – with only a few small tweaks. And then go ahead and make those tweaks!

And the best part? You might even enjoy it!

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