Are We Are SO Predictable?

kinnon —  November 10, 2005 — Leave a comment

I’m a music lover. Have been for as long as I can remember. As a result, Apple’s iTunes Store has become a favorite of mine. Yesterday I added two albums to my collection; Bruce Hornsby’s Halcyon Days (which I love) and Santana’s All That I Am (which has a few good moments, great guitar playing and more disappointing songs than not – I should have previewed all the songs). Could I have used a computer program to predict what material I would have liked?

MusicdollarsignThe Globe and Mail has a story this morning of two MIT PhD grads who claim they’ve “cracked the code” on what makes a hit – creating a program that allows them to accurately predict chart successes. Forget great ears, it’s all about data:

The goal is to pinpoint trends in pitch, rhythm and cadence that are driving consumer spending habits. However, the MIT researchers believe they’ve taken the science to another level.

“Some people really care about instrument sounds and complexity of the music,” Mr. Whitman said. “But the 14-year-old teenage girl could care less, as long as her friends are listening to it.”

The MIT method, developed at the school’s renowned Media Laboratory, also takes into account social responses to hit music that are fed into the algorithms.

The researchers pull data from weblogs, chat rooms and music reviews — anywhere a song is being discussed — and feed it into the computer, which allows the software to gauge the popularity of a certain sound.

Brian Whitman and Tristan Jehan claim that what they are attempting to do is find “good songs” in the midst of millions of tunes being released. I don’t buy it. They are searching for the Holy Grail of hit predicting – the formula for music business financial success. In a market filled with clones, they may well be able to predict what sound is presently popular and what other songs most closely fit that sound. But as for finding the “next sound”, I have my doubts. I’ll leave that to great ears who buck current trends looking for the sound that truly surprises Broca – the sound of the Third Gravitating Body, intriguing and captivating.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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