Music and Math
“Music and Math”
The amazing advances that we have seen in the power of computing have led to information technology being applied to many aspects of our daily lives. Often information technology is working behind the scenes. A nice example of this is (which I came across during my minor “Exploration of New Markets through Innovation” at EUR):
HIT SONG SCIENCE (HSS):
HSS is a part of “Music Information Retrieval”; which is the science of retrieving information from music.
The term Hit Song Science was coined and trademarked by Mike McCready the co-founder of HMI-polyphonic and later X-ray (these operate within the so called “hit counselling business”).
HSS entails using statistical, signal processing and machine learning methods to attempt predicting the commercial success (or as some call it: “mainstream potential”) of a song by looking at characteristics of other songs that have been a success in the past.
Early studies have claimed that this technology seems to be successful in predicting the commercial success of songs. However other studies refute these claims (see: “hit song science: not yet a science”). Nonetheless these firms still exist and are evaluating songs as we speak.
The implications of the adoption of this technology by the music industry are extensive. As this technology has become widely available (Polyphonic HMI and musicxray), more stakeholders (not only the biggest record labels) in the music industry are able to benefit from this technology: producers, small record companies and even individual artists can use HSS.
I have no problem whatsoever if record companies want to use this technology as a data mining tool to be able to predict the success of songs. I also have no problem if artists and record companies use it to find one another (artists finding record labels that fit their sound and vice versa). However, the creators of this technology are now boasting that it cannot only predict the potential of a song but it is also able to suggest improvements in songs. This to me is a little worrying: I am not that keen on this software tampering with music to optimize the chance that it will be a success. I feel that music tampered in this way may lose its human touch/feel/sound.
The controversial part of HSS is that we perceive music as something very “human” and I myself don’t think machines can replace human ears when it comes to music. However this sounds a lot like the argument people use to argue on machines being able to play chess.
Even if this technology becomes successful and widely adopted by the music industry, I believe the positives (data mining and artist/label coordination) outweigh the negatives (losing the “human sound” in certain songs). I am not worried that the quality of music in general might decline due to HSS; it might have an impact on pop music. However, I believe that excellent music will always still be created. There will always be artists that refuse to use such technologies, even if such artists were to remain relatively “underground”.
Since the inception of the internet: underground is not all that underground anymore (see “from niches to riches: anatomy of the long tail”).
On a last note:
I am very curious as to musical compositions made solely by machines, which is a possible future application of Music Information Retrieval (however this hasn’t produced anything noteworthy as of yet).
What do you think of HSS? Will it survive in the (pop-)music industry? Do you think it will improve music or maybe make it more generic? Do you think it will shift the focus from artists to individual songs if this technology were to be even more widely adopted?
Author: Euclid Alexis Haralambidis