The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'manufactured culture'
More news from the leaden age of music diversity: major record labels are now using statistical hit-prediction software to pre-screen demos before wasting A&R ear-time on them. Hit Song Science, the software used, predicts whether a song is likely to be successful by comparing it statistically against a database containing the past 30 years' worth of Billboard hit singles:
HSS's crucial design flaw is that it can only look at the past. Those "leftfield", illogical and grassroots-inspired departures from the norm, such as disco or drum and bass, could not have been predicted - but they shift the mainstream and provide the momentum any culture needs to remain fresh. As Smith says, "Art is the one area where people can, and should be able to, make radical statements. Anything that encourages safe, consensus-driven music should be used with caution."
It's all in the clusters, you see. Hit songs, typically, fall into one of a number of groupings - there are around 50 in the US and 60 in the UK where, traditionally, tastes have been more diverse. Belonging to the same cluster does not mean songs sound the same, though, more that they are mathematically similar. And the analysis has thrown up some very unlikely musical bedfellows: Some U2 songs are in the same cluster as Beethoven, while spandex ultra rocker Van Halen sits right alongside MOR piano babe Vanessa Carlton. It is for this reason that Polyphonic are confident their software won't homogenise our already stratified and similar sounding charts. They are already working with one radio station to expand their playlist without losing audience share by selecting songs with the correct mathematical rhythms. In a world where drearily repetitive playlists have become the norm this could be the answer to an oft-uttered prayer.
It's interesting to consider where the fine line between well-formedness and homogeneity is. On one hand, one could probably state with mathematical certainty that serialist or aleatoric composition is unlikely to ever have mass appeal; as such, an algorithm which analysed music for having some kind of structure and rated it on that would be a good predictor of whether or not a piece of music has the potential (however small) to be popular. On the other hand, I suspect that HSS may overspecify things, to the extent of excluding perfectly workable new approaches which have not been tried or accepted yet. (via DIG)
Recording companies using computer analysis to determine likely hit songs. The program known as Hit Song Science claims to detect the deep patterns which appeal to popular tastes; several labels are using it to help plan release dates, or decide whether to put money into releasing a song at all. Could this usher in a new era of conformism and stagnation that will make the late '90s seem like an explosion of creativity, and drive everybody looking for anything other than homogeneous bubblegum in genre drag into the MP3 underground?
Knowing which side your bread is buttered on: Ever wonder who's behind the tidal wave of disposable boy/girl band pop? former pop artists, such as OMD's Andy McCluskey (once signed to Factory and singing about nuclear war, now writing for bubblegum trio Atomic Kitten), as well as retired pop starlets such as Cathy Dennis and Alison "Betty Boo" Clarkson, both now accomplished commercial songwriters.
OMD may have begun their career on the achingly credible Factory label - home to gloomy bastions of high seriousness Joy Division - but they quickly learnt lessons about music- industry survival that ultimately led McCluskey to form Atomic Kitten: "After our 1983 album Dazzleships failed commercially, it dawned on us that we'd spent five years experimenting and selling records. All of a sudden, we realised that we'd better make sure we do something that actually sells records. That started informing our decision-making.
"Yeah, but I'd do it differently. I'd have a boyband. It's a piece of piss, a boyband. Girls have to survive on instinct, wit, talent and quality of song... You can write the most contrived drivel for a boyband and sell millions because teenage girls are in love with the members. They say love is blind," [McCluskey] chuckles. "Well, I'll tell you something, it's also deaf."
And don't forget Max Martin, who may sound like he would be a New York R&B producer, but is actually a former Swedish heavy-metal guitarist.
I suppose that's what happens when you lose your youthful passion for making a statement, and the zeitgeist passes you by. You either (a) play 15-year-old songs in small revival shows to please an ever-shrinking base of aging fans, (b) take Prozac and write bland, clichéd lyrics for your own band (like certain AOL Time Warner franchises we could name), or (c) cross over to the dark side, write bland, clichéd lyrics for pretty boys/girls to dance and lip-synch to and watch the cash come flooding in.