Wonder why pretty much every mainstream country single sounds ostensibly the same? It’s probably because they all pretty much do. A couple of years ago a country songwriter named Sir Mashalot sparked a massive viral event (with the help of SCM) when he exposed just how similar many of the mainstream country hits are from a technical standpoint. Now another songwriter and musician named Jim Lill, who regularly posts videos on YouTube breaking down modern country music and offering instructional guidance to novice players and songwriters, has done something similar.
His latest video posted on March 13th is titled “Why All Country Music Sounds The Same.” Unlike the Sir Mashalot video that tweaked some pitches and tempos to get its point across, Jim Lill keeps the tempo and pitches the same, and still the incredible sameness of the tracks highlighted is patently obvious to even the most novice listeners.
Lill illustrates how nine songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart all employ the same exact drum beat, and within the same 15 or so beats per minute. A few of the chart positions appear to be different than in the video, but it features a good cross section of today’s popular country singles, includes more songs than previous tests, and also includes a female artist in Kelsea Ballerini, proving this isn’t just a boys club issue.
The songs are:
- “Think A Little Less” – Michael Ray
- “Any Ol’ Barstool” – Jason Aldean
- “Fast” – Luke Bryan
- “Small Town Boy” – Dustin Lynch
- “In Case You Didn’t Know” – Brett Young
- “Hurricane” – Luke Combs
- “Hometown Girl” – Josh Turner
- “Guy With a Girl” – Blake Shelton
- “Yeah Boy” Kelsea Ballerini
Jim Lill goes out of his way to explain that he’s a fan of today’s country, and is not slagging the industry as much as pointing out the sameness that’s permeating it at the moment, especially in beats, tempo, and chord structures. We already know how similar many mainstream country songs are in the lyrical writing.
More importantly, near the end of the video Jim Lill attempts to explain why this is occurring by showing how a country mainstream song goes from idea, to demo, to studio, to hit.
“An educated public full of informed consumers will improve things,” Jim Lill says in the description of the video. “Country listeners are passive listeners for the most part (this isn’t a negative thing at all). They work 40 hours a week welding car parts and making doorknobs and when they drive home from a long, hard day of work they want noises to come out of their car speakers that make them feel happy. Country listeners are not art critics … Music is just a thing that’s on in the background while they hang out with their friends, because it would be weird to stand around in silence. Country music makes these people feel good … That’s why every time some new country sound comes along and kills it on radio, there are a thousand clones of it trying to hitch a ride on the trend. Country listeners aren’t gonna notice, capitalism forces them to slave their lives away doing labor until they’re 60, why the hell would they question something that actually gives their brain joy?”
Of course the assertion of critics is that if the public was educated for what to listen for in music, they could find even more enjoyment, and even fulfillment in music by discovering a more long-term emotional response to songs, and even a more involved understanding of the messages of songwriters. This is the deeper joy in music many active listeners find, and what many passive listeners are missing, regardless of the music they listen to.
Jim Lill goes on to say, “The disappointing thing (to me) is that a formula has been figured out to get the most dollars out of the most peoples’ pockets and into the music industry. It changes slowly over time, but the formula is there and has always been there and that’s part of the reason there is so much similarity between songs in an era of music … So it’s up to you to make the music industry up its game … If there’s a band that you think is killing it and puts their heart into it, say that they’re cool! If enough people are saying something is cool, the music industry will reward that thing. Drown out the mediocrity. Love cool things, proudly. And if you’re a creator, create things you love proudly. Be intentional. Make decisions. Express yourself. Go make some music.”