Written by: Robert Lamb Tue Oct 27, 2009 09:11 AM ET
Musicians intent on rock stardom can now turn to a simple file scan
that uses an algorithm to improve odds at scoring a chart-topper.
That's the idea behind Music Intelligence Solutions' Hit Song Science (HSS) technology located on uPlaya.com. The technology mathematically analyzes the underlying patterns in a track, including harmony, chord progression and lyrics.
The computer then compares the song's mathematical characteristics
against past successful recordings from multiple genres and languages
and maps the data on a multidimensional grid.
This matrix, dubbed the uPlaya Music Universe, is populated with "hit
clusters," or compact constellations of popular tracks, as well as lone
pinpoints of musical obscurity.
Music Intelligence Solutions CEO David Meredith insisted that the
technology tends to elevate tracks that break free from established
"The songs that score the best include a certain amount of
unpredictability in the music," Meredith told Discovery News. "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
If a song scores a 7.00 or higher, its creator has a possible hit.
Think of the technology as the artificial intelligence counterpart of
Simon Cowell, except with more stats and less sarcasm.
So far HSS programming boasts an 80 percent success rate, classifying
tracks such as Outkast's "Hey Ya!" and t.A.T.u.'s "All the Things She
Said" as potential hits, according to a 2006 study from Harvard Business
School. That compares to a 10 percent success rate for songs promoted
by record companies as singles, according to the study.
Meredith said his technology can benefit both ends of the musical
spectrum -- producers looking to tweak tracks for maximum appeal and
struggling artists trying to decide which song to send out as a
"uPlaya democratizes the music industry, so that no great song goes
unheard again," Meredith said. "There are over 12 million artists on the
Web, and uPlaya helps them to get discovered in a unique and
That's certainly a cause Internet sensation Jonathan Coulton
supports. Known for his blend of folk music and geek culture, the
former programmer likes the idea of connecting musicians and fans, but
he's a little concerned about its creative applications.
"I think there's a danger on the creative side in thinking too much
about what you're doing and whether it's going to please people,"
Coulton told Discovery News. "The stuff that always works best for me is
the stuff that's honest and true and personal."
Technology doesn't have to be a bossy bedfellow. University of
California at Santa Cruz Professor Emeritus of Music David Cope
maintains that technology itself is an extension of human creativity.
"For me at least, algorithmic creativity demonstrates our
understanding of how we create," Cope, an expert in the fields of
algorithmic musical composition and computer music analysis, said. "And
understanding something does not demean it, but rather it enhances it."
The use of formal instructions and processes to create music dates
back to Ancient Greece. Computers first generated compositions in the
mid-1950s. Since then, artists such as Brian Eno and Autechre have
explored algorithmic composition.
uPlaya.com currently provides artists with two free track evaluations
and offers varying subscription packages. The Web site also includes
several social media features aimed at helping fans discover
"Honestly, more and more we're seeing the need for new kinds of
filters," Coulton said. "We used to have radios to tell us what to
listen to but that doesn't work so well anymore. To the extent that a
technology like this can steer fans toward artists and vice versa, I
think that's a good thing."
Robert Lamb is a staff writer for HowStuffWorks.com.