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Is There a Formula For a Hit Song?

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-like-big-datasets-and-i-cannot-lie dept.

Music 243

moveoverrover writes "What happens when two Rutgers grad students analyze 50 years of Billboard Top 10 hits with MIT offshoot Echo Nest's API and turn the data into visualizations for an assignment? Great looking visualizations for one, and a fascinating look at 50 years of Pop music at the data level. Posing the question, 'Is there a formula for a hit song?' the students write, 'What if we knew, for example, that 80% of the Billboard Hot 100 number one singles from 1960-2010 are sung in a major key with an average of 135 beats per minute, that they all follow a I-III-IV chord progression in 4/4 time signature, and that they all follow a "verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus" sequence structure?' Using data extracted by Echo Nest on tempo, duration, time signature, musical key, as well as subjective criteria like "energy" and "danceability," the pair generated a number of visualizations with Google Motion Charts (warning: slow) and '(some) Tableau Results' for everyone to see and investigate. Curious about tempo and song duration trends in Pop music over 50 years? Correlation between record label and song tempo? Download the core data, the Tableau reader and look at it any way you want."

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Study? They needed a dangnabbit study!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632506)

The music you kids listen to these days sounds all the same! BOOM-BOOM-BOOM - Goodness gracious! Formula?!? More like copying!

Get off my lawn and keep it down!

Is it the 1970s again? (2)

s-whs (959229) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632510)

I remember reading about similar analysis long ago. Done in the 1970s IIRC. The programme that analysed also made a song from what I can remember and it was a hit of some sort (not sure which song that was, instrumental probably), but the article I read (1980s) noted that a second attempt didn't produce a hit song. So some variation is always needed beyond mere making a similar song. Does anyone remember/know which was that computer generated hit song?

Re:Is it the 1970s again? (2)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632794)

Most of Rush's back catalogue.
Everyone knows Geddy Lee is a robot

Re:Is it the 1970s again? (2)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633136)

Don't pick on Rush today dude, it's Canada Day (a national holiday). The world is in a sad enough state without starting a war with Canada.

Re:Is it the 1970s again? (1)

Kozz (7764) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632940)

I heard a podcast on this recently -- it might have been RadioLab but I can't find it right now.

Anyhow, they tried to use all the collected knowledge to produce a "hit", and had some human (as opposed to programs) composers write a tune. As you might expect, it sounded too familiar, not adventurous, didn't have a decent hook, and was kind of boring all around.

On the other hand, they also collected information on what kind of music people did NOT like, which included things like children's choirs, opera, bagpipes, and so on, in an effort to make the world's "worst" song. And again as you might expect, the "worst" song ended up being far more fascinating and creative. Imagine the efforts the human composers went to in order to make all these things mesh. I remember hearing a clip and it was interesting, for sure.

R&B Hit Generator (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632514)

R&B has a clearly worked out hit formula:
http://img8.imageshack.us/img8/4185/rnbcreator2tf9.jpg

Might be applicable to other styles such as pop, trance, rock...

Re:R&B Hit Generator (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632708)

Some time back I wrote a lyrics generator inspired by Destiny's Child. It didn't have nearly enough strings to draw from, and I never got around to setting up proper weighting for the various phrases, but it was definitely producing authentic Destiny's child gibberish. Here's an example:

I gon' trippin'!
I gon' frontin'?
you's actin' and you's actin'!
Nine out of ten cat owners are trippin' as You been doing playin'!
Why I see you movin'.

you's trippin' 'n' I gon' actin'?
Girls be like knowin'?
I lookin' that to' be braggin' but Keynesian Theory makin' me think You been doing knowin'.
Shell restated their 2005 financial results cuz they be keepin' it real as We actin'?

I gon' playin'.
I gon' frontin' but Keynesian Theory makin' me think Why you thinkin' 'bout playin'.
I trippin'.
U frontin'?
I trippin'.

you's trippin' 'n' I gon' actin'?
Girls be like knowin'?
I lookin' that to' be braggin' but Keynesian Theory makin' me think You been doing knowin'.
Shell restated their 2005 financial results cuz they be keepin' it real as We actin'?

better da street if he be actin'?
Thems knowin'!
I gon' actin'!
I actin'.
I be knowin' U be braggin'!

you's trippin' 'n' I gon' actin'?
Girls be like knowin'?
I lookin' that to' be braggin' but Keynesian Theory makin' me think You been doing knowin'.
Shell restated their 2005 financial results cuz they be keepin' it real as We actin'?

Re:R&B Hit Generator (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632744)

And R&B has one great feature in very high demand: knee grows. Lots of knee grows. Knee grows everywhere, talking their pidgin to prove how different and diverse they are.

White people trying to prove how not-racist they are is why R&B and rap make any sales. The racist Lauryn Hill found that out when she said she hoped whites don't buy her albums. Turns out about 80% of her sales came from whites. She sure didn't mind the color green even if she hates the color white.

Remember in high school when everything was normal... then you had a summer vacation... then suddenly all the suburban white kids were completely convinced they were hard-ass ghetto thugs? Course they wouldn't make it five minutes in a real ghetto with real thugs but that didn't stop their fantasy. Well anyway that's the mindless idiocy that drives most album sales of most popular music, especially rap and R&B.

At least the real good stuff like reggae hasn't been so exploited, yet.

Re:R&B Hit Generator (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632782)

R&B has a clearly worked out hit formula

Might be applicable to other styles such as pop, trance, rock...

All popular music has had a formula since at least the 1920s, and probably long before that.

Put in sex/love and/or a rhythm to move along with.

Every pop song of all time has followed that formula with the possible exception of The Ballad of the Green Beret which was an inexplicable No 1 hit in 1966.

Re:R&B Hit Generator (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633260)

R&B? Don't you mean gangsta rap? I don't seem to recall Eric Clapton or Otis Redding singing about bitches.

First song! (1)

fredan (54788) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632522)

Ha! I don't have the first post but I do have the first hit song!

really? (0)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632524)

So they got data from an existing database, plugged it into some graphs, said "look it is interesting" and got credit at MIT? Really?

Re:really? (1)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632532)

Sorry MIT - that was Rutgers students. MIT actually made the database.

Re:really? (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632610)

Happens all the time. Some students do a class project and post it on a blog and eventually word gets around. Because it's MIT (or harvard) then the press that picks it up thinks that it maybe something new and trendy.

A lot of times the news media just wants to fill air time with assorted stories that may be interesting to someone. Then it's the audience that believes that if its MIT or Harvard students doing it then it must be something that no one ever attempted before.

Re:really? (1)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632792)

Rutgers....

Also they need some basic statistics analysis. While they force a linear "trend" some of those graphs clearly are crying out for something other than a straight line approximation.

Hot Song Science is old news (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632526)

Hit Song Science has been around since 2003. See previous Slashdot story [slashdot.org] .

So is that what we want, or the other way around? (2)

Madman (84403) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632534)

There are 2 ways to look at these results. One is that out of all the music produced this formula is what the majority of people want to listen to, or it could be that this is what the record companies flog us because it's what they think we want to hear. Either way this is all that bands will be producing from now on, meaning less variety in music. It's a case of data driven choices gone mad.

My next album title's going to be I-III-IV, should make me a million.

Re:So is that what we want, or the other way aroun (3, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632586)

Pretty much any genre of creation based upon personal taste is going to have some sort of a formula that's pure lowest common denominator. The more likely explanation is that it's what record execs think will sell and consequently it's what they push. Way too often the songs that get popular get popular because they're frequently played, not because they're good.

It used to be extremely unusual for songs on the radio to break out of a standard format and going beyond 2 minutes wasn't typically done.

Re:So is that what we want, or the other way aroun (1)

causality (777677) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632936)

Pretty much any genre of creation based upon personal taste is going to have some sort of a formula that's pure lowest common denominator.

Yes, it's lowest common denominator. There's no way you could have widespread common ground among millions of different people, for something as hugely diverse and personal as individual taste in music, without recourse to the lowest common denominator. It's a race to the bottom of sophistication and variety in order to superficially appeal to the largest number of people possible, increasing sales.

The more likely explanation is that it's what record execs think will sell and consequently it's what they push.

Sometimes I call it assembly-line music. It's a rejection of the idea that music is about art and expression, that it has a message with meaning, because as soon as you recognize that you must also recognize that not all people want a particular message or appreciate a given meaning. To the execs this would mean reducing their target audience. It would mean lower sales. It is in their interests to view it not as art, but as a mass-produced product. They see it this way and it shows.

Making it as formulaic and cookie-cutter as possible just means they have a repeatable business process that yields a relatively predictable result. Every car manufacturer or chip fabrication plant wants the same thing. It's the rationale behind interchangable parts. The difference, of course, is that in manufacturing having consistent processes and relatively identical parts is an advantage to the customer; in music it's an advantage to the distributor.

Refined individual taste and a desire for uniqueness are the adversaries of this system. Those traits would mean the companies would have to do a lot more work to enjoy the same level of sales. They'd actually have to take a risk once in a while.

Really the only new development is that the Internet is challenging the record companies' position as undisputed gatekeeper. It is now much easier to learn about music that doesn't have a large marketing budget to promote it. At some point more people may decide that relying on a monied interest to promote something to you is bass-ackwards, that the industry actually exists to provide what you demand, that it'll start looking that way once individuals become easier to find.

Re:So is that what we want, or the other way aroun (1)

yarnosh (2055818) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632852)

Why would record companies have an opinion on what we want to hear? There is and always will be room from some "alternative" types of music. It is just that pop songs won't have much variety. That's the way it has been for decades. You have Top 40 and then a bunch of other stuff that satisfied various niches.

Re:So is that what we want, or the other way aroun (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633012)

I think, at least based on the summary, the results are missing some things. For instance, maybe there is such similarity in the music because every time there is a hit song, a lot of people rush to create another song just like it. And there is no consideration of how many songs become hits because people think the artist is sexy, with no regard for what the song sounds like.

Of course (1)

RandomStrategy (1951080) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632540)

Of course there is a formula, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I [youtube.com]

Re:Of course (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632750)

Of course there's Pachabel's Canon [youtube.com]

And who doesn't know how to make a techno song [youtube.com]

Axis of Awesome (5, Funny)

jonas_haase (149709) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632542)

Here is the entertaining version of this important discovery:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I [youtube.com]

Re:Axis of Awesome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632616)

Kudos! I thought for sure that was going to be a Rick Roll.

Re:Axis of Awesome (4, Funny)

Creepy (93888) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632876)

As a cellist, I have to point out that this is all a refinement of the Original 1 hit wonder [youtube.com] .

Some of the same songs even ;)

Technically this is 5 chords, but the 6th is often "skipped" by using a turn.

Re:Axis of Awesome (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633290)

Slashdot has completely fucked up its interface to the point where links don't even open when you click on them. Right-clicking a link doesn't open up a menu, either. I had to look at the link through FireBug to grab the URL and paste it into a new window.

Re:Axis of Awesome (1)

yarnosh (2055818) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632898)

I really like that bit, but I'm pretty sure they're exaggerating the similarities between songs a little. They're just singing the songs in the same key. If you do that, almost any chords you play in that key will at least not sound bad. Many probably do use the same chord progression though.

Re:Axis of Awesome (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633264)

I was looking for someone to post this.

I am not disappointed.

Scum (1, Informative)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632560)

Anyone who "writes" music based on algorithms, market research, and what a computer tells them will be a "hit", needs to be deposited in the bottom of the ocean.

Re:Scum (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632660)

How do you know the music you like isn't already generated by some computer?

Re:Scum (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633096)

Because with the music I like, there is proof of musical progression. I see a lot of bands live, and have watched many of them work on songs over the years. I avoid the pop charts like a plague.

Re:Scum (1)

kilfarsnar (561956) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633202)

Don't you talk about Lady GaGa that way!

Re:Scum (2)

LizardKing (5245) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632812)

You've been able to generate music based on algorithms with affordable software since the 1980's. A company called Dr T's produced sequencer software for the Atari ST that included sophisticated algorithmic generators - great fun to mess around with. Before that, analogue sequencers could be used to make music based on tweaking knobs or sliders, and the legendary Roland TB-303 bass sequencer also had a pattern based interface. Analogue sequencers are enjoying something of a resurgence in interest at the moment, with the web making it easy to market what are very niche machines. I'm saving up for one at the moment, having always wanted one since I first heard them used by a band called DAF.

Producers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632848)

Anyone who "writes" music based on algorithms, market research, and what a computer tells them will be a "hit", needs to be deposited in the bottom of the ocean.

There's a lot of music industry producers out there. We're gonna need a bigger ocean.

Re:Scum (1)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632862)

Let's add those who use auto-tune to the list of people who get deposited on the bottom of the ocean.

Re:Scum (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633104)

Agreed! If you can't sing, go get a job like everyone else.

Re:Scum (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632892)

Who is using algorithms to write their music? Well of course big labels are writing songs to make sure they sell, what do you expect? Are they using an algorithm? I doubt it, they're probably just writing songs around a time tested and proven formula and apparently spans generations and genres. This isn't surprising at all.

If you think about it, songwriters use a subconscious algorithm when writing music. There are certain time signatures, chord progressions, tempos, that equate to popular music. Also consider the fact that popular songs are generally "positive" or "upbeat". Hence you have 4/4 time signatures (easier to dance to, ever hear the phrase "4 on the floor"?), sung in a Major key (well that should be obvious, depressing songs aren't as popular), and 135 bpm (again, danceability, it shouldn't come as a surprise that certain tempos are more suited to dancing)

The I-III-IV progression doesn't surprise me either. It sounds good, and is generally "upbeat" something people want to hear on the radio. So that leaves the song structure, but I won't go into that.

Re:Scum (1)

Critical Facilities (850111) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633092)

Anyone who "writes" music based on algorithms, market research, and what a computer tells them will be a "hit", needs to be deposited in the bottom of the ocean.

I believe anyone who's a fan of the Aphex Twin [wikipedia.org] , might respectfully disagree there. It's all in how you use the "tools" whether they're instruments, computers, voices, etc.

Proof that pop music is in the gutter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632568)

Rebecca Black's "Friday" meets the criteria the study listed in the conclusion and came in at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Scary, yes?

Re:Proof that pop music is in the gutter (1)

RandomStrategy (1951080) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632846)

But....if we didn't have Rebecca Black's "Friday"..........we wouldn't have Stephen Colbert singing a cover of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqstF4V4Nl4 [youtube.com]

Correlation and causation (4, Insightful)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632570)

Did they only look at the hits or also at the misses? There are bound to be enough songs that abide the "formula" but lack enough musicality to become a hit.

Re:Correlation and causation (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632650)

> lack enough musicality to become a hit.

Non musical music, eh?

Re:Correlation and causation (3, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632674)

Indeed, the trends they spotted over the years may also apply to all the songs that never quite made it to the top, or even into the charts.

Re:Correlation and causation (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632798)

Did they only look at the hits or also at the misses? There are bound to be enough songs that abide the "formula" but lack enough musicality to become a hit.

I initially made the assumption that any analysis like this would be supervised by someone who understood such things... but maybe that's not the way the kids do things these days.

Re:Correlation and causation (3, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632962)

That isn't a correlation v. causation problem. More likely it means the regularities found are necessary but not sufficient conditions. In other words they have identified *some* of the causes, but not enough to completely define it, as in write a hit automatically. But on that basis I agree it does not constitute a "formula" for making a hit.

Re:Correlation and causation (2)

DjTjengel (2329638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633046)

If you read the intro on the project page a bit further: "To be clear, neither of the authors truly believe there can be an unchanging "formula" for a hit song, as much of what appeals to us in music is a combination of familiarity and surprise (Sacks, 2006). Currently, intangible notions such as emotional qualities also have a great affect on our experiences with music. However, while there are many outstanding questions, our inquiry may shine some light on a few characteristics that could increase the chances of a good song becoming a hit at a certain point in time."

Re:Correlation and causation (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36633006)

Hey there, I'm one of the authors of this study... the media picked this up and is sensationalizing the study. You are absolutely correct that we need to look at the misses too (in the form of a control group) to make any statistical correlations, which is what we are currently working on. What we did was simply make some observations of descriptive metadata using visualization tools. They have blown this way out of proportion by mistaking our hypothetical opening paragraph as the results of the study.

Hit song? (1)

pahles (701275) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632574)

All music currently in the hit parades are (at least partially) copied from songs popular years ago. So the fact that they have commonalities isn't that strange. You don't need to do a study to reach that conclusion.

Why not more lawsuits (2)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632602)

All music currently in the hit parades are (at least partially) copied from songs popular years ago.

If so many songs are being copied [pineight.com] , why aren't there more plagiarism* lawsuits like the one over "My Sweet Lord"?

* Plagiarism here means infringement with unattribution.

Re:Why not more lawsuits (3, Informative)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632732)

The copied songs might be owned by the same uber holding company that owns the original.

Or the new artists got permission, but the original artist didn't want to be associated with that crap, but needed to get paid.

Or the "original" and the copy both are using a well known ancient riff. (See Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California" and Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance"

Robert Heinlein said, "Steal from the best, and file off the serial numbers".

Re:Why not more lawsuits (1)

yarnosh (2055818) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633298)

I think it is generally accepted among musicians that you borrow from each other, play each others' songs, add your own twists, etc. I think people need to give up on this idea that all music should be totally original.

Re:Hit song? (1)

yarnosh (2055818) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633172)

Almost all music is at least partially copied from songs years ago. Don't fool yourself. There's not really much new in music unless you go out to the very fringes, and then it just starts to sound like random noise (to my ears anyway). I think you just have to embrace it. Music has constraints. Music in certain genres sound very similar. They sound even more similar the less familiar you are with the genre. That's just the way it is.

As far as doing a s study, I think it is valuable to quantify exactly what the songs have in common. Just knowing it intuitively isn't the same.

Yes there is... (3, Informative)

DamageLabs (980310) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632580)

... and it was written ages ago

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manual [wikipedia.org]

Re:Yes there is... (1)

Fishchip (1203964) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632654)

I was wondering if anyone was going to post this. Bravo, good sir. =)

Re:Yes there is... (2)

omarius (52253) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632796)

They're Justified, and they're Ancient, and they drive an ice cream van....

Female artists who don't wear underwear is key (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632584)

There may be historical patterns which can be followed, but there are many elements of success which have little to do with talent, style or proficiency. Just as in Japan, pop stars do not need to sing well -- they just have to be hot. You can follow that pattern all day long but if the performers are obese or have skin problems, they aren't going anywhere. (Wilson-Phillips anyone?)

So if you want to be on top and stay on top, you have to be able to do some kind of music, but it doesn't have to be great. The most important stuff these days is image and how much attention you can get.

Re:Female artists who don't wear underwear is key (1)

beowulfcluster (603942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632810)

You can follow that pattern all day long but if the performers are obese or have skin problems, they aren't going anywhere. (Wilson-Phillips anyone?)

They sold 10 million of their debut album and had 3 number one singles.Their second album went platinum as well. I'd call that going somewhere.

commerce vs. art (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632590)

Of course you can create a commercial hit this way.
Whether you can create Art this way is another question altogether.

let me guess, use the same four chords? (2)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632592)

Axis of Awesome, NSFW if on speakers

http://youtu.be/5pidokakU4I [youtu.be]
 

Of course (1, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632596)

Popular music has always been formulaic. Good music, on the other hand, is not.

Pop Songs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632600)

Jon Lajoie already figured this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijr4rwb2WbE

YES !! THE SECRET SAUSE IS . . .!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632606)

Tits and Ass !! You can throw some simulated sex in there for the chicks, too !! The chicks love simulated sex in their music !! A chick thing but they do like that simulated sex !!

the government knows this too (1)

ks9208661 (1862000) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632634)

Yvan eht nioj! [allthelyrics.com]

This was demonstrated in Pinky and the Brain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632672)

Yes there is a formula and The Brain almost took over the world by using it. The formula also involves having three first names, like Bubba Bo Bob, being a certain height, and starting out in a particular bar.

Its Friday! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632678)

Tomorrow is Saturday. So we better get down on Friday....

Pop Is Getting Louder (2)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632684)

We've known this for some time, but it is nice to see it confirmed mathematically. Pop "music" is indeed getting louder over time. I suspect based on the loudness graph that the song they used for 2010 was that "you're beautiful" song that is practically whispered in comparison to other recent pieces.

Now get off my lawn.

Re:Pop Is Getting Louder (1)

LizardKing (5245) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632856)

Welcome to the current limiting and mastering preferences that take much of the dynamics out of a recording. This is done out of fear that a quieter song, or one with varying dynamics, won't grab the attention of listeners on the radio. However, in tests it's been shown that the lack of dynamics produces "listener fatigue", following which the listener stops really paying attention to what they're hearing.

Re:Pop Is Getting Louder (1)

inviolet (797804) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632966)

Welcome to the current limiting and mastering preferences that take much of the dynamics out of a recording. This is done out of fear that a quieter song, or one with varying dynamics, won't grab the attention of listeners on the radio. However, in tests it's been shown that the lack of dynamics produces "listener fatigue", following which the listener stops really paying attention to what they're hearing.

That is not why it is done. Compression of the dynamic range makes the song listenable in a car or on an ipod in a noisy environment. That is where MOST people listen to MOST of their music.

Yes yes, I realize that the acoustics are excellent in your mother's basement... but have you ever tried to listen to a song with a large dynamic range while driving a car? Or listen to an ipod on earbuds while shopping? You have to turn the volume up in order to heart the quiet parts, and then you get your ears blasted by the loud parts. My old CDs, which are often uncompressed, drive me nuts on this aspect.

Re:Pop Is Getting Louder (1)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633220)

OK, I accept what you've said - that compression makes music listenable in sub-standard environments.

However, why in the bloody hell have music-makers decided that's it's OK to destroy the source material to achieve this?

Instead of compressing the songs, why didn't the industry get together with the hardware folks and implement compression in the playback devices? My car, for example, has radio settings that automatically turn the volume up when driving faster, then lower the volume when driving slower. (This is really only needed when driving with the windows down. I leave the feature disabled nearly all the time.) Players for motorcycles have had automatic volume adjustment dependent on speed for at least a couple of decades.

So why ruin the recordings themselves? Why not make good recordings with wide dynamic range and then rely on the playback devices to adapt to the environment?

I'd love to have a car CD player with a button to absolutely flatten dynamic range. I'd happily play high-quality recordings of classical music in the car if I had such a thing. Even high-quality recordings of popular music from a few decades ago would be well served by such a device. And I could still play those recordings in a good acoustic environment and enjoy them.

But no. Instead, the record companies have chosen to make recordings themselves utterly defective for use on quality equipment in good environments just because most customers won't care. Piss off the real fans to satisfy the ignorant masses.

Destroy the music to sell the music.

Just seems wrong to me.

Re:Pop Is Getting Louder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36633056)

I find the loudness variable highly annoying. No wonder Country music has once again overtaken pop rock music in popularity (to my disdain), you can actually listen to it at normal volume levels and hear the words.

genres and trends (1)

Battal Boy (544978) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632698)

'What if we knew, for example, that 80% of the Billboard Hot 100 number one singles from 1960-2010 are sung in a major key with an average of 135 beats per minute, that they all follow a I-III-IV chord progression in 4/4 time signature, and that they all follow a "verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus" sequence structure?'

We will have discovered the existence of 'artistic genres' and 'trends', which as they already have names I'm sure must have been discovered before...

Re:genres and trends (3, Insightful)

carpenoctem63141 (2266368) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633134)

What if I told you that 90% of movements written in sonata form had the sequence structure 'Exposition-Development-Recapitulation'? What if I told you that blues used a lot of ii-V-I progressions? Nothing interesting in this study, move along.

Trends (1)

Dracolytch (714699) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632710)

I do find it interesting: Hit songs got progressively longer, more "dancable", and louder.

Aside from what appears to be a very clear divide in key up to vs. after 1980, key doesn't play much role.

I find the "weeks on" interesting as well... The music in the 90's stayed on a lot longer than the more modern stuff. That doesn't surprise me, really, some of the recent hits do strike me as pretty disposable.

4-Chord Songsl and Axis of Awesome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632726)

They could have just listened to Axis of Awesome and their 4-Chord Song and saved a lot of time . . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I

And for this you needed a database and analysis??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632734)

There have been 'formulas' for hit songs for years. Any musician worth his/her salt can tell you that. And Mariah Carey's a prime example of what happens when you stray too far from the formula. Her first songs, though they followed the 'upbeat' formula, were great. She started going downhill after she went to the 'soul/R&B' style - she sounds more like a moaner than a singer now!!!

Flintstones (1)

Cmdr-Absurd (780125) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632764)

There was a Flintstones episode on this topic. More about the lyrics, though.

Control Group? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632766)

Unfortunately, they didn't compare against any control group. They showed trends of hit songs but didn't show the trend of all the songs. I would've liked to have seen comparison to general songs that got airtime on the radio but didn't make it on their selection criteria. Or if they split their hit songs into two better/worse halves. Without some comparison, it isn't as useful to determine what song would be a hit. You can eliminate which songs will not be a hit, but even if a song contains all these traits, with their analysis, the song can still be a dud.

The Manual (1)

Sean_Inconsequential (1883900) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632770)

There is the manual by pop/dance music pranksters the KLF (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manual). Which, of course, they put out after releasing the song "Doctorin' the TARDIS" under the name The Timelords.

Formula for a hit song (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632788)

Shoot a video of a skinny blonde in a slutty outfit doing doing slutty things while mouthing the words to the song... for bonus cash, surround her with other skinny blondes in slutty outfits doing slutty things, with the implication that two or more of said skinny blondes in slutty outfits might engage in physical relations with each other.

It won't matter one bit what the song is about, or if it's any good. It'll sell MILLIONS of copies.

The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632790)

KLF already wrote the book on this in the 80's
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manual

Familiarity Breeds Intent (1)

retroworks (652802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632800)

Since it is well established that familiarity is a safer return on investment than risk, this is a circular argument. Saturday Night Live has a successful skit, reworks successful skit again. Broadway has a successful musical, are they going to follow with a circus act or another musical? Do people want to buy tickets to see a different team play in their local stadium every time, or do they buy more tickets based on knowing the team and basically what to expect? This is as scientifically exciting as "people like to eat hamburgers". Music has always been about "acquired taste" going back to Beethoven.

Title of the Song (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632838)

I'm just going to leave this here:

Da Vinci's Notebook - Title of the Song
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=734wnHnnNR4

formula for a hit pop song (1)

shoehornjob (1632387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632844)

1-record a non complex song 2-record company promoton 3-profit$$$$ The music industry has been doing it for a while now and they have the formula down pat. Then again maybe I'm just a snob because I was exposed to classical music as a kid. My father had a huge collection of tapes and played them all day long. I don't listen to classical but I tend to stray as far away from pop music as possible.

bad math (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632878)

I'd argue that if they look at the "not-hit" songs they will find the same percentage mach their formula, or very close to it. What they've found is that most songs are written in a very similar fashion based on old Blues and Bluegrass riffs.

The formula for a hit song is 20cents per play on local radio stations. It's called payola, and they've been doing it since the invention of radio.

Size Doesn't Matter (1)

StormReaver (59959) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632890)

It isn't the size of your chords that matters; it's what you do with them.

Where is the "market budget" variable? (1)

NtwoO (517588) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632912)

Without an input variable on how much money was spent convincing the masses that it is music one should listen to, it lacks the full measurement. There is most certainly a large percentage of the measurement showing just this. By the sounds of it, this algorithm can help me pick out songs I don't want to listen to ;)

"...they all follow a I-III-IV chord progression.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36632930)

Huh? Do these geeks know anything about basic Western harmony? Yeah, this progression would definitely create a hit song -- in Central Asia. They must have meant "I - IV - V"

Re:"...they all follow a I-III-IV chord progressio (1)

Raffaello (230287) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633022)

Please mod AC parent up - I - IV - V (not I - III - IV) is and has been the standard pop/rock harmony progression since the 1950s, with roots that go back to turn of the 20th century 12 bar blues from the Mississippi delta.

I - III - IV is practically unknown among pop songs (though I - III - IV- IVminor is a common enough phrase in some songs, but rarely if ever the main progression)

formula is simple (1)

Jeek Elemental (976426) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632968)

T+A

Hit? Formula? (1)

jandersen (462034) | more than 3 years ago | (#36632992)

Depending on how you shoose to interpret it, this is either a very deep question - or a daft and superficial one.

If we take the extremely superficial line and look back over just the last 50 years, then perhaps, yes, there is a "hit formula", but I am not sure that the poster get close to it. Each decade has had its own style, and I think the most important common trait has been the alternation between a "revolution phase", where a new style has found resonance with something in the time: Rock'n'Roll and the 50es was about the "rough diamond" young male a la James Dean, and so on.

But looking further back, it seems clear that there is no simple formula for what became popular - one has to realise that what we call "classic", "renaissance" etc was the pop-music of that time.

Looking to the future, I think people are getting sick of always just more of the same old thing. Can anybody tell all those dance videos apart? It wouldn't surprise me at all if the next big thing came from either China, India or the Middle East - they have each their own distinct and very good music styles, just waiting to be discovered. And I don't mean the classical music styles - modern pop music. There is certainly something going on in China; in the last few years I have heard more and more Chinese pop that is really good - and different.

Not new news. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36633050)

I have been writing songs for about 30 years. Just about every writer who has studied the topic knows these patterns and formulas. While it is somewhat difficult to identify a hit song before it charts, it is **extremely** difficult to write one. Unfortnately, knowing these formulas and patters will only get you pointed in the right direction. It takes skill and talent to write a hit song - and a hit is just as much about production values as writing. That's an entirely separate topic. Cool article, though. -JF

From the Authors (4, Informative)

sdellis (2329642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633114)

Hey everyone, just want to clear up a few things. First, we never claimed to have discovered a "hit formula". The media glommed onto our hypothetical opening paragraph and apparently didn't pay too much attention to our results. Please read the study observations, not the articles, for the full story. This was for a data visualization class and we thought it would be cool to mash up the Billboard data with the EchoNest data. There is no "control group" as we were only observing descriptive metadata from "hit songs". We are working on doing some statistical analysis to look at correlations. However, the data is available and we encourage others to play with it as well. Cheers, Shaun and Thomas

No more Friday? (1)

gubers33 (1302099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633130)

Since we came up with the genetic code for a good song, does this mean I mean have to hear a Rebecca Black song again?

Quality of sound makes a huge difference....vocals (1)

bodland (522967) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633142)

Some years back while mixing and mastering an album..in attempting to setup my listening room and to calibrate my monitors...I starting with a more quantified approach using audio visualization tools that were available from the Internet... I calibrated my monitors and identified frequencies that were dropped out by recording white noise with various microphones and found the sweetspot in the monitor field...in doing so I stumbled into looking at full songs and vocals and I made a observation that I felt was astounding...I analyzed numerous hit songs by running the song through a visualizer that produced a sonogram...I picked vocal artists who had a quality of voice that I found pleasing to listen to and were hit song singers...

I also analyzed some tunes that were great musically but lacked that vocal sparkle.

What I found is that great singers produce a sonogram that shows significant instrument like qualities with several bands of semitones working together to make the actual note sung very rich and full of harmonic vibration and natural dissonance....a thin voice is just that...it lacks the semitones or they are unevenly distributed semitones that accompany the main frequency of the note sung. When the voice lacks a instrument like sonogram...the voice is unpleasant. Of the voices that were the most rich, Mahlia Jackson had several evenly distributed bands of frequencies accompanying the base note both above and below. The distribution of the semitones led me to assume they were near perfect overtones and harmonies that to our ears made the voice sound full and rich. Even Bob Dylan showed the pattern...despite his broken, breathy, nasal singing style his sonogram was rich with character. I thought for sure his would not.

On hit songs from a variety of genres and eras one thing that stood out was the vocals exhibited the same semitone patterns...in varying degree...most amateurs simply do not have this. I though it might of been tape saturation of vocal effects processing but after looking at raw digital vocal tracks from accomplished vocalists those tones were present on unprocessed tracks.

For comparison I also looked at various instruments...cello, violin, saxophone and guitar and it was shown that the semitones were very pronounced and quite numerous above and below the base frequency....one of the tools I used was a simple iTunes visualizer plug-in that provide a horizontal real-time scrolling image of the music. I simply watched the music with a tool that biologists used for analyzing bird calls and various other sounds of nature.

from this analysis I determined a few things, 1. That my own voice is not pleasing. (lol) 2. The music and sound operate on our brains and in a very complex manner and that our ears and brain are perfectly adapt at understanding the sound of music (no pun) at a very minute level of detail. So the structure of a song, key and tempo I believe is simply a coincidence and if you look at the the vocalist and the character and quality of the voice as well as the sound and tonal balance of the instrumentation, that has a very huge influence on our acceptance of one song over another.. What was interesting is that great vocalists seem to be able to control the number of semitones produced and do so to illicit maximum emotional effect in the song itself...which is the artistry and talent of the musician to take the listener beyond simply listening and to create an emotional response..

All in all my few weeks of dorking around with sound from various instruments, vocal tracks, songs and tone generators I came away with a new found appreciation of great music and how special the people are that make music...and that we separate and celebrate these people and their ability because it is a very rare gift indeed.

Complexity of Songs (2)

cpscotti (1032676) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633144)

No mention to Knuth's work of art?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Complexity_of_Songs
Isn't this slashdot?

George Martin said it (1)

munozdj (1787326) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633158)

I took a course in my university that was called "Introduction to music", which was pretty good. One day, our teacher showed us a BBC documentary that was narrated by George Martin. Sadly, I haven't been able to find it. It was a very interesting show, because he talked exactly about this subject. He analyzed some popular songs and related them to the way he thought music producing is, and shared some interesting ideas. For instance, he said that popular songs tend to be in the 120 bpm range because our hearts beat approximately at that frequcency, and we find it more pleasurable to walk at that particular speed. To illustrate that idea, he took a Bee Gees song and tore it apart (Stayin' Alive, IIRC), and said that we like to walk and sing-along with tunes that have some correlation with our heartbeats. On a personal note, I find that most songs in the popular repertoire have the same verse-chorus structure because, in some ways, it's easier for a writer to compose a song in that way instead of having to ellaborate in different key circles for each part that share a common idea. Think of Coldplay's "42" or Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" (Doug Adams should be proud!). Those two songs don't have a normal verse-chorus structure and are somewhat difficult to follow because of it. For a pop singer it's easier to write a catchy song if it has a very singable chorus to which people can sing-along. Sir George Martin really made me think about popular music, being an amateur musician myself.

"Bananas" (1)

wfstanle (1188751) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633166)

Harry Chapin touched on that subject in his song "Bananas". It was a formula for a hit country-western song. In it it said you had to mention motherhood, infidelity (hurting songs), and trucks. He also said that you needed a fiddle, steel guitar and it also helped to have a choir ( the audience - aka he Mormon Tubercular Choir ). The resulting song was rather funny.

"Harry, IT SUCKS!"

It really works! (1)

webbiedave (1631473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36633228)

If you look closely at the visualizations, you can totally see where Berry Gordy is giving payola to the DJ's.
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