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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Pop Music: Hit Making Becoming A Science

Polyphonic HHS
Hit Song Science (HSS) Software visualization of "hit universe"
Joe Lavin at mono.net reports: One Spanish company, Polyphonic HMI (www.polyphonichmi.com), has created Hit Song Science, an application that can take any song and break it down to its mathematical core. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even know that pop music has a mathematical core, but it does, and apparently this can be used to determine a song’s “hitability.”

This software will compare the song to a database that contains the “top-30” hit songs of the past five years in order to search for mathematical similarities. The algorithm then assigns each song a score between one and 10. Any song rated more than seven is likely to become a hit. Fewer than four, and the musicians might want to keep their day jobs.

On the surface, the idea seems ludicrous, as if Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer, had some younger, underachieving brother who was really into the music scene. But many major record labels are already using this software. So far, the company claims to have predicted several hits, including those of Grammy award winner Norah Jones. At the time, her music sounded like nothing that was being played on the radio, and yet her songs still rated highly. Her album, Come Away With Me, has since sold more than 6 million copies, much to the surprise of many who doubted that a jazz singer could attract such mass appeal.

Polyphonic HMI has even released a scaled-down version of the program at www.hitsongscience.com, where aspiring songwriters can have MP3s of their songs analyzed for $49.99 per song. These reports are not as thorough as the ones music labels receive, but they do give a new band the chance to see how viable its dreams really are.

The technology was first developed when researchers at Group AIA, the parent company of Polyphonic HMI, decided to analyze the entire music universe. The company took the approximately 3.5 million songs that have been released commercially since the late 1950s and ran them through a computer.

We've Got Algorithm, but How About Soul? [NY Times]

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