Why hit machines will sink (not save) the music biz

by Jason Gross

18 January 2006


Yes, it s the dream of every record exec: Music machine to predict tomorrow’s hits.  One little problem though- it’s bullshit.  If you notice from the article, the lab coat guys aren’t divulging details of how they know their little machine is doing so well with its predictions.  It is that they don’t want to give away the milk for free yet when they can sell the cow?  Or is it because they don’t want to admit that there’s too many other factors involved that they can’t calculate.
Here’s a few things that they might not have programmed into the hit machine yet:

- What critics rave about don’t always become hits- Velvet Underground, Big Star, Sonic Youth, Drive-By Truckers…

- What’s popular this year won’t be necessarily popular next year, even if it has the ‘right’ beat or melody, etc..  In the Net age, we might even be able to break that down to months or weeks (or days or hours…?).

- You’d als0 have to consider that a bad ad campaign or press can sink an album or how good publicity can shoot a record up the charts.

- Sad to say but it’ll always be true that mortality is an important factor.  If the artist has died recently, there’s usually a rush on their records.  Call it the morbidity factor.

- Left-field hits do happen now and then, even without the right amount of label push or write-up’s.

And so on.  The music industry is such crappy shape that you can rest assured that major labels are drooling at the prospect of a machine telling them what’s gonna be a hit.  They can then act out the self-fulfilling prophesy and not put any promo money into a band or an album or a song.  And thus, they will succeed even more into turning their own industry into an even more soul-less business that doesn’t care about music.  Once in a while, when these big-wigs are in a reflective mood, they admit that besides all the evil downloaders who aren’t paying for songs, another thing that’s sinking their bottom line is the lack of quality control happening now.  Rest assured that the whole concept of the hit machine is going to make things even more stale and predictible and thus, make their problems even worse.  Which means that we’ll have to suffer through more of the same lifeless mechanical crap.  It’s even to make you a luddite, isn’t it?


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