Scientific formula – predicting a hit song

You hear a new song. Will it be a hit or a flop? Researchers from Bristol University in the U.K. say they can now tell you – well, sort of. After studying the Top 40 singles charts over the last 50 years and examining the audio characteristics for hits and flops, the team has come up with a formula as to what makes for a successful song and used it to devise software that “predicts” hits. The next step is a web app to allow budding musicians to score their own songs.

The prediction characteristics include musical features such as time signature, tempo, beat-variation, “danceability,” as well as the harmonic simplicity of the songs and how noisy/loud they are. Importantly, these variables are examined for how they shift over time so in a sense, it is a shifting formula.

As Dr. De Bie, Senior Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence at Bristol University explains, “Musical tastes evolve, which means our ‘hit potential equation’ needs to evolve as well. Indeed, we have found the hit potential of a song depends on the era.” For example, the ability to dance to a song was a huge determining factor of how well they would fare on the charts in the 1980s, but this characteristic became less and less important as music moved into the early 90s rock ballads.

In the 80s, when slower musical styles (tempo 70-89 beats per minute) were more likely to become a hit, Simply Red‘s version of If You Don’t Know Me By Now, with its mix of slow tempo, harmonic simplicity, and sing-along chorus ticked many of the boxes for success – even before it was released.

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2011 – Year the CD died.

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Cheering for Online Music This Christmas


Published December 13, 2011 |

Will this be the first Christmas no one gives you a CD? No remastered Pink Floyd box set, no Tom Petty live anthology? It may be an online music service-only yuletide.

Today, a new subscription service joins the ranks of nearly a dozen online offerings currently available. starts out at just 99 cents a month for on-demand access to roughly 10 million songs. After the three month honeymoon is over, the regular subscription is $4.99 a month. joins services such as MOG, Rdio, Slacker, Spotify, Napster, Rhapsody, Pandora, and Sony Unlimited.

Bolstering’s opinion, there’s a growing sentiment that two types of online music services can co-exist.

The first is a free, radio-like service such as Pandora. It can play any commercially available music — including the likes of Metallica, which refuses to offer digital tracks — thanks to a streaming licensing deal in the U.S. But there are restrictions on the number of replays and there are usually ads.

The second type of service is like, which is analogous to a personal record collection. You have to pay to play music, but you can select any track you want, whenever you want. These services generally rely on licensing music directly from the record labels, so in theory there’s a lot of music they can’t get — such as Led Zeppelin hits — but the total number of tracks they offer is greater than what many free services offer.

So is this good or bad for the music business? It depends on your perspective.

The trend is away from albums in favor of individual tracks, however. That means CDs are as dead as prog rock concept albums and disco. We’re more tuned in to downloading a Black Keys or Foster the People song than a dozen tracks from one artist. 

Consequently, big record labels continue to struggle. Warner Music, the label behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers, recently posted $103 million loss for its latest quarter — more than double its losses of a year ago. There were various reasons for the decline, but one of the primary causes was the move from CDs to digital track sales and subscription services.