Look, we don't want to take all of the magic out of life. After all, can "science" and "mathematics" quantify something as mysterious as the beauty of music, or the evil of the human spirit, or the madness of a panicked mob?
Yeah, pretty much. Get enough data, create the best algorithm, and you can get some nice pretty graphs that tell you ...
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Music is borderline magic; great songs touch you on a spiritual level, instantly changing your mood or causing stirring memories of your youth to come roaring back. How could you ever predict whether or not people will like a song with some cold computer program? It all comes down to what's in people's hearts.
Or maybe not. We've already explained how your brain secretly loves "Call Me Maybe" due to the way "catchy" pop songs trigger an almost addictive response. You could say, "But what about the meaning of the lyrics, or the passion of the performer?" but then you'd remember that you loved "Gangnam Style" even though you had no idea what it was saying (we looked it up on Google Translate, and it looks like the song is about the time Psy got high on meth and had sex with a transvestite while riding a horse). So if it just comes down to manipulating your brain, we should be able to come up with hard data on what works.
"I don't know -- they just started playing, and all of a sudden I was married and a princess."
Scientists at the University of Bristol devised an algorithm to do just that: They analyzed songs from the U.K. Top 40 chart from the last 50 years. It takes into account 23 variables -- time signature, duration, tempo, loudness variability, etc. -- and from that they programmed software that could chew up any song and spit out the probability that it would become a hit with the public.
According to the researchers, the software has around a 60 percent accuracy rate for picking out songs that will make it to the top five and ones that won't even go above 30 on the U.K. Top 40 singles chart. That's a stunning figure, considering that it can't account for so many other variables, such as how heavily the label promoted it, or whether there was some other factor in the song's success (i.e., if the song was featured in a hit movie).
The algorithm's accuracy is also dependent on cultural context -- what worked in 1970 won't necessarily work now:
Which is why the Rolling Stones have basically become the herpes of music.
You see the way the blue line is starting to shoot back up? Simplicity is coming back. "Loudness," however, is on the decline after four decades on the rise:
You hear that, Enya? Now's your chance.
So, if you're a musician, take a look at the numbers and get to work. Before they find a cyborg that can do your job.