Why Do Mainstream Songs Sound the Same?

Another explanation of a musical mystery

Rachel D Adams


Photo by Gigxels com

When I listen to the radio, I’m often boggled by how songs sound familiar to me or similar. And it’s on more than one level. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking cross-genre — obviously, something in metal or alternative doesn’t have the same sound as something in pop.

However, hip-hop, pop, and mainstream music have similar sounds. So, I began paying attention and found several reasons why.

The goal of the music industry is to make money. To that end, record labels have purposely marketed songs that make sounds that appeal to us, have dialed into our nostalgia, and have literally forced songs into earworms. That’s why many popular, mainstream songs sound the same!

Let me break this down further for you, so you can see and “hear it” yourself!

The Four Chords & The Millennial Whoop

Discovered by the comedy band The Axis Of Awesome, four chords are present in so many pop songs that it cannot be ignored as a coincidence. Humans seem to go crazy for this sound. And it may be something that came about in a purely accidental situation.

A fundamental concept in learning to play songs by ear is the “1 4 5 progression”, also known as the “3 chord song.” Alternatively, there is the “1 4 5 6 progression” or the “4-chord song.” This means that most musicians are taught this progression of chords from the beginning of their musical journey. Therefore it often becomes the most common underlying sequence of chords in songs.

There might be different keys, arrangements, or even styles, but those 3 or 4 chords (usually 4) are the same progression! And you wondered why cross-overs were becoming more prevalent? Because whether it’s country or hip-hop, there is a very similar chord structure or pitch progression.

Musician Patrick Metzer calls the second phenomenon the “Millennial Whoop.” It’s a melodic sequence of notes that alternate between the fifth and third notes of a major scale before quickly returning to the fifth note. This has been around for as long as music has been composed. However, in recent years we are seeing an over-abundance of its use — particularly in pop music.



Rachel D Adams

(she/her/pan) I’m not a well-behaved woman. I am an ally, amateur photog, content creator, novelist, empty nester, traveler, wife, & friend.