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Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Future Is Shiny

I'm far from the first person to talk about HSS but it seemed like as good a place to start as any. It's the fancy software service where you pay a company $50 and they analyse a song for you and tell you how likely it is to be a hit. They do this by mathematically comparing your song to every hit song in the past 50 years or so, and seeing how much it has in common with them. Their big discovery was that the vast majority of hit songs were incredibly similar to each other on their fancy math scale. This wasn't that big a discovery, as many people had suspected this for some time, and the KLF even told us how to do it without the use of analysis software. And since they were able to burn a million pounds in a bonfire, I think they know what they're talking about.

There are a few things I would like to say about this. First off is that if you read the HSS site, they talk about the occasional song that doesn't fit into their formula, namely that they were all songs that had strong lyrical content, which they admit that their software can't do a damn thing to detect. This of course points out the big flaw in the use of HSS, which as I understand it is used rather widely now. Package is more important than content. No one will seek you out for your beautiful poetry. Try telling someone that you like a band because their words are really really good and wtach their eyes glaze over. Which is also no surprise. This is why you can achieve worldwide fame for having a song that goes "baby baby uhh yeah baby". The power is all in the music itself. This is why people listen to the Cocteau Twins, or talk about how much they love the music of The Sims 2. You can spout utter gibberish and people will still identify with the song.

As a side note I wonder if this is also partially to blame for all the protest songs that stay with us. Keep it generic enough to make your song last. "War is stupid" has much more staying power than "Nixon is a dipshit". This is why Marilyn Manson tells us that angry teenagers should rise up in revolt against...something. When was the last time you listened to Eminem's "Mosh"? November 2004? No kidding.

The other thing I wanted to say about the HSS phenomenon is that to me it rather closely matches the notions of what we find attractive in human beings. Studies were done showing that we all have a fairly standard notion of what is beautiful. We tend to find beauty in the average, or perhaps the median. Subjects were shown photos of various faces and told to ratetheirface. Then they would start superimposing different faces on top of the originals, adding more and more faces each time. And it was this large amalgamation of all these different faces that scored the highest. The interesting part of this was that it wasn't actually the perfect average that is considered the most beautiful, but rather something that is slightly off from it. The eyes being slightly too far apart, or maybe the mouth is a tad crooked. Anyway, the scale is now determined for beauty in human form as well as music. And I suspect that they are similar. Like there's some perfect song out there, exactly in the middle of the scale that we would mathematically determine to be the best song ever, but maybe all the really good stuff is just slightly off of it. Anyway, I'm done now.


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