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The voice of the lead singers of music bands has been diminishing in powercompared to previous decades, new research reveals.
Scientists from the University of Oldenburg (Germany) analyzed hundreds of recordings of popular songs from 1946 to 2020 to determine the relationship between the lead vocal and the backing, or LAR.
Their results appear in JASA Express Letters, published on behalf of the Acoustical Society of America by AIP Publishing, and show that, contrary to expectations, the LAR of popular music declined over the decades in questionno. This means that, relative to their bands, the lead singers are increasingly quiet.
The database resulting from 300 songs were studied by separating the voices from the sound mix of each recording. Since most recordings are not available as multiple tracks, a computer program was used to separate each song into four tracks: vocals, bass, percussion (drums), and all other sounds.
“Our analysis showed a significant downward trend in the LAR from about 5 decibels in 1946 to about 1 decibel in 1975from which time the LAR remained constant”, says Karsten Gerdes, author of the study.
Possible change in technology
The researchers wanted to determine if LAR values changed over time to improve letter intelligibility or if changes in music technology intervened. Instrument electrical amplification, for example, could be a factor, as could stereophonic and multitrack recording technology. The authors found that changes in music technology appear to be behind the observed decline in LAR up to 1975.
“Another possibility is stylistic evolution of popular music“, says Kai Siedenburg, co-author of the study.
To test this last idea, researchers conducted a gender dependency study considering songs nominated for Grammy Awards country, rap, pop, rock and metal genres. Not surprisingly, country had the highest LAR, followed by rap and pop. The LAR was close to zero for rock, negative for metal, and significantly higher for solo artists versus bands. The sound amplitudes were calculated by subtracting them from the maximum of the voice so some results were negative.
“The guitar riffs are a distinctive feature of rock and metaland the guitars occupy a position comparable to that of the lead vocal,” says Siedenburg.
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