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Spaniards develop chart-topping program

Hit or miss? HitSongScience has the answer

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A small Spanish company says it can use artificial intelligence technology originally developed for the banking and telecoms industries to predict if a record is going to be a hit or not. It boasts an impressive track record, having successfully predicted hot sales for Norah Jones and US band Maroon 5.

Barcelona-based Polyphonic HMI reckons it has identified 20 elements of song construction - including melody, harmony, tempo, pitch, octave, beat, rhythm, fullness of sound, noise, brilliance and chord progression - which its "HitSongScience" program matches against a database containing 30 years' worth of Billboard hit singles. The database, currently containing more than 3.5m songs, is updated weekly with new releases.

Each song is mapped onto a grid called "music universe" and is positioned according to its mathematical characteristics. Songs with mathematical similarities are positioned very close to one another.

Hit songs have common characteristics, the company claims. It is rare to see a hit song which falls outside its chart-busting "scientific clusters". When this happens, the aberration is often due to the rogue composition's lyrical content. Some hip hop songs have become popular for this reason, as did a patriotic ditty released just shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Predicting chart successes scientifically isn't new. Back in the 1970s, an American called Tom Turicchi got involved in what he called "psychographic research". He too was able to predict hit records, including Olivia Newton John's I Honestly Love You and Paul Anka's Having My Baby. Despite this, Turichhi quickly disappeared from the music map.

In the 1990s, international accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand said it was developing software designed to predict the success or failure of pop music releases and other consumer products ranging from movies to children's toys. The program - Fads and Fashion - sadly failed to predict its own short lifespan.

Polyphonic HMI says its computers cannot create music, they can only predict its commercial value. Naturally, there's charge for all this and the company will not return your money if your masterwork fails to chart. "We're sorry, but all transactions are final," it notes. ®

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