x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Do The Beatles add up?

Can a computer really identify which pop music tunes will succeed and which ones won't? Humans have never managed that consistently.

There was a time when young musicians hoping to "break into the business" needed to impress the bigwigs at the major record labels. Thanks to YouTube and MySpace, artists increasingly started fending for themselves, cutting out the talent scouts who were known to make or break careers. The number of hits became the ultimate barometer of popularity.

Now it seems that computers have become the ultimate talent spotters, with researchers at the University of Bristol developing software that can predict the potential of pop songs to climb the charts.

The program, the scientists say, can predict chart positions with about 60 per cent accuracy based on categories such as loudness, "danceability" and harmonic simplicity.

Many will see this as sad indictment of just how formulaic popular music has become. Could a computer really have predicted the genius of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo or a Michael Jackson beat?

Not that human judgement is infallible by any stretch.

In 1961, a young band from the north of England performed an audition for the music label Decca Records in London. The head of the label was unimpressed, famously declaring "guitar groups are on the way out". He went even further: "The Beatles have no future in show business". Perhaps we should give this new program a chance after all.