Hit Clusters and Catalunia

Hit Song Science is a high-tech music analysis system that compares new songs to a massive database of chart-topping singles and predicts hit potential based on shared attributes.

In other words, the more your song has in common with Usher’s “U Don’t Have To Call” or Santana’s “Smooth,” the better your prospects for stardom.

All five of the major record companies – BMG, EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. – are currently using the service, founded last year by Barcelona-based Polyphonic HMI. A modified online version, geared toward songwriters, was introduced this week at www.hitsongscience.com.

“Our technology is to music what X-rays are to medicine,” says Polyphonic HMI’s chief executive, Mike McCready. “We help the record industry see their market and their music in a way they were previously unable to do.”

Hit Song Science technology isolates sonic patterns in a song, ranging from tempo and chord progressions to melody, harmony and pitch, and then compares the song to “hit clusters” gleaned from its database of 3.5 million songs. The system is updated weekly with new releases in order to effectively predict a song’s potential for success in the current market.

The Hit Song Science FAQ also links to a discussion of the logarithmic scales they use for their ranking system (something which a childhood of earthquake drills has instilled a deep inexplicable fondness in me.)

Which leads to the subject of psychophysics and what scale is used to measure subjective value. In this case, the database is comprised of “hits” of a particular commercial caliber. It’s not clear if the database is at all populated with “good” songs, or if they remain value neutral on this.

The company that started this service, Polyphonic HMI, is based in Barcelona. They sure are kooky in Barcelona. Something about Catalunia seems to encourage abstract thinking about scale and value.