Guest post by Stephen Pierce

When I listen to music, I am looking for true beauty—a simple phrase, but one packed with meaning. Perhaps this is because of my love of creation and the unending, enveloping beauty that it shows every day in splendid fashion.

However, I understand I am not in the majority. Consider pop radio: from Madonna, to Britney Spears, to Nicki Minaj, it doesn’t change—it is simply made to appease the base emotions, creating a brief euphoria that serves as a “pick-me-up” of adrenaline.

I get that. I’m not ashamed to admit that when I start to fall asleep while driving, the first thing I do is turn on pop radio and blast it—full volume, windows down, you get the drill.

However, I’m also a composer. As I am constantly looking for true beauty in the music I listen to, I’m also trying to create true beauty in music. As a creator, I understand that self-expression is a big part of creating music. But for me, there is an even bigger impetus to compose music: to satisfy the heart, mind, and soul of whoever hears it.

In the last ten years, pop music has changed. In my mind, artists like Mumford and Sons, Vance Joy, and Phillip Phillips are changing it. The whole wave of “indie” music and “folk pop” has swept the nation. If you browse Spotify, you’ll find at least five or six Spotify-curated playlists that have folk/folk pop genres.

I think this is happening because “true” pop music is too simplistic, and people are getting tired of it. Consider these lyrics up against your normal, everyday pop song with repeated lyrics and frantic beats:

Where there is light,
A shadow appears.
The cause and effect
When life interferes.
The same rule applies
To goodness and grief;
For in our great sorrow
We learn what joy means.

This is from the song “Sorrow” by Sleeping at Last, the musical project of composer Ryan O’Neil. I believe O’Neil is the greatest lyricist of our generation—and he’s pretty high up there with his composing skills. And the public loves him. He’s written music for movies, soundtracks, commercials, and more.

Of course, if you turn on the radio you will still hear the same old same old—pop music driven by a heavy, quick beat, light emotional lyrics, and a catchy tune.

But which is true beauty? While songs on the radio may be entertaining, I don’t believe pop music (as a whole) is beautiful. Not to say that it isn’t music, but it just should not be categorized as beautiful music.

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So, the real reason you all read to the end: my picks. I can think of four main artists or bands who are creating truly beautiful music (factoring in lyrical strength, musical depth, and emotional power):

1. Sleeping At Last

2. Gregory Alan Isakov

3. Ian Randall Thornton

4. The Oh Hellos

I hope that this stimulates you to think outside your genres. If you listen to pop or rock consistently, give indie/folk or folk/pop a try. I admit that for years I listened to rock and pop just for the beat. Once I got to college, however, I really started to dig for beautiful music. My quest was inspired by the rise of bands like of Mumford & Sons and aided by the success of programs like Spotify. So use the tools given to you and give some different genres a spin!


About the author

Stephen Pierce is a composer who also works as an admissions counselor for Patrick Henry College in northern Virginia. All of his spare time is devoted to writing music, something he has done since age 6. In addition to releasing an album of instrumental music, Pierce has written music for commercials and plays. To learn more about Pierce and his music, visit his Facebook page, website, or Noisely profile.