Finding Hits With Modern Technology: Algorithmic Hits

With the advancement of musical technology, practically anyone can create a hit song from the comfort of his or her own home. Audio workstations like GarageBand, Logic, Pro Tools, Reason, and Digital Performer enable musicians to create, record and mix their own songs with ease. Although these products allow for easy access to an artistic medium for many, it’s hard to tell if your song could be a hit. That is, up until now. A website called uPlaya.com caught the attention of many artists globally back in 2005 with its launch. Since then the website has evolved into a sort of hit song generator. Integrated with the technology of Music Intelligence Solutions’ “Hit Song Science” (HSS), any artist can upload their song and within minutes determine whether or not it has the potential to break the Billboard charts.
The way HSS works is based on a series of algorithms. Upon hearing a new song, HSS will mathematically analyze the underlying patterns in a track, including harmony, bass lines, chord progressions, and lyrics. These results are then compared against past hit recordings from a wide range of genres and languages. With all this information the program will enter it into a multidimensional grid or matrix, referred to as the “uPlaya Music Universe” on the website. Music that has been submitted is rated on a scale of 1-10. Scores of 7.00 or higher mean that the song is a potential hit. While lower scores don’t necessarily reflect poor musicianship, they are meant to inform the artist or artist intermediary if that particular song will make it to the top of the charts based on past hits. Despite the fact that the songs submitted are scored against “hit clusters” of music, or compressed files of popular tracks, songs rated by the program to be potentially profitable (7.00 or higher) are allowed as many unique components as contributors. David Meredith, CEO of Music Intelligence Solutions, reported that, “the songs that score the best include a certain amount of unpredictability in the music…Norah Jones is a great example of an artist who pulled from jazz and pop to create a sound that was different from other artists at the time, but the underlying patterns of her music was strong and the music scored very well.”
Artists can upload two songs to the uPlaya site for free before having to pay a $90 six-month subscription fee. This subscription allows fifteen additional uploads within the six-month period. If you’ve uploaded fifteen songs before the end of your premium membership (6 months) there is an option to pay yet another $90 for the same ability to upload fifteen more songs. Once a member, songs that have been uploaded and rated from an individual’s account stay in the uPlaya database and are accessible by not only the artist, but the programmers and developers of the site as well as limited access to major record labels.
According to studies done at the Harvard Business School, HSS programming has an approximate success rate of 80 percent, compared to a mere 10 percent success rate for songs promoted by record companies as singles. This high percentage allows artists to utilize the HSS software for a variety of career launching decisions. That said, record labels have begun to utilize the client to determine whether or not they will sign an artist. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, “…record industry executives said they lean heavily on Music Intelligence Solutions’ pre-release reports to weed out probable sonic duds.” The uPlaya client has also gotten praise from newspapers, artists around the globe, and economists. Sony Music commented, “the kind of information Music Intelligence Solutions provides in their pre-release reports helps reduce uncertainty before releasing a given song,” (Muff Winwood, Senior VP A&R). According to The Economist Technology Quarterly, “Music Intelligence systems that can distinguish hits from misses could change the way which music is made and marketed.”
Certainly, technology has changed the face of the music industry, but does the introduction of HSS technology mean that all songs are going to sound similar in the future? Despite the fact that every song submitted is scored against a wide variety of genres and lyrics, it seems as if uPlaya is creating a sort of grid for musicians to work with. In having such structure for each song deemed a hit by the site, it leaves many wondering if there is any room for musical evolution. Music has always changed over time, spouting out new genres and waves of popular artists influenced by culture, individual experiences and global events. If big record labels start to rely solely on HSS programming to weed out “unprofitable” songs, would the music industry fall into a rut? Would creative evolution come to a halt? Fortunately, artists will always have different influences contributing to the song writing process, inevitably making each song produced different from the previous. However, there is always the possibility that “mainstream” music and songs found at the top of the Billboard charts could slowly conform to a grid in such a way that listeners may get bored with new material.
With uPlaya’s immediate success around the Internet (as well as looking great on paper), not all artists are inclined to jump on the algorithmic bandwagon. The idea of trusting a computer for input on a personal song or recording doesn’t sit well with some. Alternative non-technological websites have been created to combat and compete with uPlaya. Garageband.com for example (not affiliated with the Apple GarageBand software) made it into the music scene in late 2007, operating similarly to uPlaya while still keeping its independence from the mainstream. Garageband.com doesn’t use any HSS technology, rather it’s a type of open forum where, once a member, one is free to browse songs, give feedback and upload original tracks for free. Since feedback is given from humans and not computers, there will not be as much accuracy or consistency within the comments, however the administrators of the website have implemented a system in which to keep track of fraudulent accounts (people who “down-rate” for no apparent reason), therefore making the site more enjoyable and friendly. While many artists are satisfied in using the uPlaya programming and simply getting a number as feedback, there are alternatives out there for those who would like to gather more input and not be branded by the success rate of a particular song.
The introduction of Music Intelligence Solutions’ Hit Song Science technology has turned many heads in the music industry. All across the board, music executives are turning to the internet to find new stars. uPlaya has almost mastered the recognition of new hit songs by use of algorithms and multidimensional matrixes. Whether or not these trends in forums and technology will continue to grow is a decision to be made by record label executives and software programmers, although it’s safe to say that for the short-term this technology is another useful tool for upcoming and established artists alike.

By Jamie Anderson

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2 Replies to “Finding Hits With Modern Technology: Algorithmic Hits”

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