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Music Media Science

How Songs Get Popular 316

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers created an artificial music market of 14,341 participants split into two groups to pick music from unknown musicians. In one group, the individuals had only song titles and band names to go on. The individuals in the other group saw how others had rated the songs. Turns out popularity bred popularity, which explains why there's so much crap on the radio."
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How Songs Get Popular

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  • Just like /. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mrs. Grundy ( 680212 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:46PM (#14682945) Homepage
    I think we all understand this. For instance here on slashdot this is the way the moderation works--things either don't get mod points or get the extreme value (not that I am hinting, dear bearer of mod-points, the you in particular lack independent judgement) . Pretty soon somebody will come along and mod this post down -1 as a troll. Seeing this, the next person with mod points will quickly mod it down as well--a kind of kick in the ./ groin if you will. If, on the other hand, the first person with points happens to have a wit worthy of Falstaff he will see the genuine insightful nature of this post and graces it with a +1. The result will be an avalanche of +1 placing this post among the few of well-meaning ineptitude that rises to empyreal absurdity. I'll leave it to the reader to determine which case illustrates the "Britney effect" mentioned in TFA.
    • by od05 ( 915556 )
      If you were to post this ten times you'd get modded up.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ...and mod this down ULTRATROLL
    • Ah. That explains why your post has a score of 3 right now.
    • Re:Just like /. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by farrellj ( 563 )
      So, could one say that music, and Slashdot is a "social disease"?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 09, 2006 @10:01PM (#14683975)
      Everytime someone utters "This will probably get moderated -1 troll, but here I go anyway" ends up getting +5 Interesting or Insightful. I'm not trying to get off topic here, but I've seen this happen on numerous occasions.

      Oh well, this will probably get moderated -1, Troll but it had to be said.
      • by phlosoft ( 646130 ) on Friday February 10, 2006 @01:22AM (#14685199) Homepage
        This is perhaps due to a psychological phenomenon whereby skilled people are more aware of their own shortcomings than are unskilled people, and in this case, are more likely to realize that their comments might be interpreted as trolling by others.

        A 1999 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology entitled "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," studies this phenomenon: .html []
        Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.
      • by gavri ( 663286 ) on Friday February 10, 2006 @03:22AM (#14685598)
        Maybe it's only the ones that get +5 insightful/interesting that you see. The ones that say this will probably get moderated -1 troll and then actually do get modded down -1 Troll you don't see because they are "beneath your current threshold"
    • Actually, no. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @10:12PM (#14684032) Journal
      It's more related to the fact that articles with lots of comments tend to snowball into even MORE comments, into the hundreds. While those that only get a couple dozen tend to stay in the low numbers.

      Because the mod ratings are (ostensibly) based on quality, which in this article was shown to have nothing to do with popularity. Group B did NOT download songs based on the quality ratings that Group A gave them - only based on the number of times the songs were downloaded. Popularity was totally independent of rating/quality.

    • Really? (Score:3, Funny)

      by PsychoBrat ( 808980 )
      Well... let's see if it works; somebody mod this +1 Funny!
    • Not really... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MacDork ( 560499 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @10:47PM (#14684275) Journal
      It's just seems that way to you guys who only read +3's,+4's, and +5's. You never see the conflicted mods... For example, I made a recent post [] that defended an unpopular opinion around here. You never saw it because it only scored +1 informative. It got modded 50% informative, 30% Overrated, 20% Flamebait. At least 4 different mods there, -2, +2.

      I read +6 Troll, Flamebait, etc... A lot of mods don't know what the hell they're talking about and if it goes against groupthink, it goes down in Flamebaits. When it does, there are people there like me to pick it up and give it an informative, insightful, or interesting boost. Not everyone runs on default mod settings here at /. Genuine flamebaits and trolls are getting much rarer. I see a lot less GNAA and WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDDDDDDDDDDEEEEEEEEE crap here these days. (With the exception of Apple Trolls. They never go away. They even get Cover Storys in Forbes. [] "Likely to top 4 Million units" for iPods. Dipshits... they sold 14 Million []) Most of the down mods go to people who simply think differently lately.

      Now, so that I'm not totally off topic... the article describes a system where one group could only listen, see track title, artist name, and download. The second group could see all that and could see download counts as well. Wow, the ones that were downloaded most got the most attention and additional downloads... Duh. That's not scientific. There's no F'ing experimental group! Why didn't they have a third group that could see everything group #1 saw, and *randomly generated* download counts? If I see a song has been downloaded numerous times, listen to it, and it's crap, I'm sure as hell not downloading a copy to save if it sucks. I don't care how many people listen to something, but I would consider download counts an indicator of what I should try first... At least until I realized the download counts were meaningless. If they repeat the experiment with the third group and that group downloads random crap like lemmings then maybe they have something worth reporting... Otherwise, they've proven nothing.

      • Re:Not really... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by radtea ( 464814 )
        Why didn't they have a third group that could see everything group #1 saw, and *randomly generated* download counts? If I see a song has been downloaded numerous times, listen to it, and it's crap, I'm sure as hell not downloading a copy to save if it sucks. I don't care how many people listen to something, but I would consider download counts an indicator of what I should try first... At least until I realized the download counts were meaningless. If they repeat the experiment with the third group and that
    • But do first songs always get rated at +5 or -1? I thought not.

      It's more like that stupid overly-popular bitch that everyone always does whatever she does likes a song, and the senseless trendfollowers are forced to like it, and it plagues out. *shudder*

  • by rothic ( 596907 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:46PM (#14682952)
    "It's the law of physics that states that if one girl screams for something, it will make other girls scream ... until all girls within a five-mile radius are screaming. Once you get girls screamin', you can't stop 'em! They're crazy!" --Chef, South Park
  • by no_opinion ( 148098 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:46PM (#14682954)
    "... like a crowd."
    • by Aspirator ( 862748 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:05PM (#14683103)
      Obligatory Monty Python Reference

      Brian (Talking to crowd): You need to be independant minded.
      Crowd: We are! We are!
      Person in crowd: I'm not!
    • Very true. I work on the programming board at a university (I've mentioned it in previous posts, but won't here). Anyways, we often bring a certain act to the school, in the first or second week of school. It's a free event, and at most schools, it draws a relatively small crowd (a few hundred, making it somewhat worth the value). Here at my school, about 60-70 percent of the students go, and even camp out for it the whole day waiting. The act has been coming to our school for at least 20 years (we've
  • by BillFarber ( 641417 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:47PM (#14682962)
    Air Supply?
  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:47PM (#14682966) Journal

    I wonder how much the degree to which today's world is "connected" compared to the days and emergence of the Beatles and Stones (much less Beethoven, et. al.) contributes to the "lesser quality" of today's popular music? I have to think this is a significant factor, and an unfortunate one.

    So, today stars are foisted, created, presented to the consuming public by fiat, not a great surprise. It's too bad though. I even wonder a group as good as the Beatles, or a composer as great as Beethoven (Ludwig, my opinion) would have much of a chance for recognition for their real talent -- probably not so much. Too bad.

    For those of this generation, food for thought. (and, sorry for all of the sentence fragments.)

    (Also, readers should visit the links at the bottom of the referenced article, there are some pretty interesting additional articles about human nature and music (and I have NO interest in that magazine).)

    • Would the Beatles have made it today?

      Of course not; the question is inherently absurd. Their music was popular mainly because it was radically different from anything that people were listening to on the radio at that time. Since then, they've influenced musicians thousands of times over on both sides of the Atlantic.

      But new styles still make it big now and then. Think of the fads of ska or swing dancing in the 1990s, or the gradual rise in popularity of rap from a niche in the early 1980s to the mainstream
    • "I wonder how much the degree to which today's world is "connected" compared to the days and emergence of the Beatles and Stones (much less Beethoven, et. al.) contributes to the "lesser quality" of today's popular music? I have to think this is a significant factor, and an unfortunate one."

      Not another person claiming music today isn't as good as the stuff I heard growing up. Give me a break. Bands aren't manufactured today any more than they were in the 60's.
    • today stars are foisted, created, presented to the consuming public by fiat, not a great surprise

      explain to me how this differs from (and is inferior to) a traditional patronage system in which an aristocratic elite gets to decide who performs in public at all.

  • by MikkoApo ( 854304 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:51PM (#14682991)
    I blame the recording industry and its marketing. Popularity might breed popularity, but unfortunately marketing bypasses "real popularity". Unfortunately there are still artists making music which isn't spoiled by even if the system tries its best.
    • Buying airtime (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jd ( 1658 )
      New York is investigating scams in which hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in buying extra airtime for specific songs. I did not know this, but this is actually a crime. There are a lot of companies involved, apparently, but two very familiar names stuck out... Clear Channel and Sony. Sony has apparently settled, not sure if Clear Channel has.

      Part of the problem with media conglomerates is that you can buy a LOT of media outlets in a single transaction. Clear Channel, I believe, owns numerous

    • Yup! We live in the fast food version of the music world. The majority of people are happy listening to bands who play 1-2 riffs per song, use same song template over and over and lyrical content is either teenage girl's daydream or teenage angst. It's something the music industry saw and is now over producing.

      Where are the Pink Floyds of our days? Playing in small clubs of 900ish capacity because the major labels make 10 times as much money with regurgitated repetitive crap like Linkin Park.
  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:51PM (#14682994)
    Until relatively recently, the barriers to entry of the music business were sky high because of distribution costs. Now that distribution costs are going into a tailspin (iTunes & Bitorrent...Gracias!), the studios are scared out of their wits. Not because they're so worried about piracy, but because they can be cut out of the game entirely.

    So I'm quite content to have actual listeners help shepherd in popular bands rather than have mediocre cookie cutter crap foisted on me by megacorps.
  • by AK__64 ( 740022 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:53PM (#14683011)
    Most people don't listen to music in a bubble, they talk to other people about the music and ideas get implanted in their heads. Also the way people talk about music makes a difference. If you say to me, that you LOVE this song and I HAVE to hear it, and download it and listen to it all the time, I'm going to look at you funny. But if you tell me in a laid-back, smooth and cool manner that this song is cool, I'll be more inclined to listen to you and less likely to write you off. It also works backwards. "I'm used to really like that song too, now I'm getting kinda sick of it..." Now you start to feel the same way, even just a little bit.
    There are some really interesting studies on how people react in certain situations, responding to peer pressure and all that. Good stuff.
  • Uh duh.,.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phaetonic ( 621542 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:53PM (#14683012)
    Hence the Top 40 stations and lists
  • GREAT! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Shuh ( 13578 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:55PM (#14683028) Journal

    Now that I've posted, everyone is going to get in on this thread.

  • by blue_adept ( 40915 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @07:56PM (#14683033)
    Although it's not spelled out, this study tested whether those songs highly rated by group A, would become more popular in group B, WHETHER OR NOT the ratings were actually true; in other words, the truthfullness of the ratings was the variable.

    The acticle doesn't really dwell on this, but if that's not what they were doing, then what's so surprising about the fact that both group A and group B found the same songs to be "good". (d-uh, they're actually better songs!)
    • Not quite. From TFA:

      The social-influence group was further divided into eight separate, non-interactive "worlds." Members of each world could not see the decisions of the other seven. The idea behind this was to observe multiple outcomes for the same songs and bands.

      "If you look at Britney Spears, some people say she is really good. Others say she isn't good, she's just lucky," Salganik told LiveScience. "But by having just one argument, it's impossible to distinguish. However, if you have 10 worlds, a

    • by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @10:05PM (#14683996) Journal
      The point was, Group B didn't download the songs that Group A rated highly. They downloaded the ones that were downloaded the most times, regardless of how highly they were rated. Songs rated lower were just as likely to become popular as songs rated highly. And in different Group Bs (there were B.1-B.10), different songs became popular, always independent of the ratings given. There were a few songs that never did particularly badly or well, but no song was always really popular or always really unpopular, no matter the quality.
  • If all you had to go on when selecting music out of a massive list was the artist, title and ratings from other people - wouldn't you start by looking at what other people had rated most highly? I think almost everyone would.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:01PM (#14683073)
    It took all the work to realize that. Just take some Music Theory Classes and it would make since. The key to Music and popularity is the familiar. It is brings up elements that are familiar then you tend to like it more then ones that bring up elements that are less familiar. So we grow up listening to music we tend to link it as familiar, to our ears so whenever we listen to other music we judge it based on what we know. So if you grow up listening to Pop, Pop is what sounds good and listening to classical will just feel wrong to you. Or even if you have a more broad range of music you enjoy there will be stuff from other cultures that will sound sour to you ears because they use a different key for music. So if you like listening to Brittany spears you will tend to like other Brittany spears songs because you connect to the music and her voice and other voices may not match. Because Brittany Spears is popular you will tend to listen to her more thus like it more, then say some lesser known band.
    • If you like pop (in a broad sense) music, don't take music theory. You'll realize how shitty most of it is and then you'll feel empty.
    • I think you misunderstood the article. It's not saying "people found these styles good". It's saying "people found these tracks good if they thought others thought they were good". At least, that's what I got from it.

    • If "the key" were actually this simple, we'd still be listening to Gregorian chants. Referencing a music theory class seals the absurdity of this argumnent. Where did the theory itself come from?

      In music, an element of familiarity is important, of course, especially for mass audiences, for whom music is little more than its social context. But familiar elements (chord progressions, instrumentation...) can be recombined endlessly. Combinations that once seemed incongruous become normal--e.g. OutKast's use of
    • Not quite.

      The key to good music the balance between the familiar and the surprising.

      What is the soloist doing when he attempts to "build"? Actually the ideal process hardly ever takes place--that is, it is hardly ever the case that a conscientious soloist plays a thinking solo for a hard-listening hearer--but when this does happen, the key process is memory. The soloist has to establish for the listener what the important POINT, the motif if you like, is, and then show as much as he can of what it is that

  • by Anonymous Coward
    What about a group who picks music based on what is sounds like?

    Without that option, did anyone really expect people to pick music based on the names of the songs and artists?

    If people use either of these methods, it's lame.
    But, obviously, picking based on popularity makes about a billion times more sense that picking a song based on it's title. DUH!

    What a retarded measure of nothing.
    • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:14PM (#14683180) Journal
      From the mouths of Cowards comes wisdom. You're absolutely right, people find it incredibly hard to be random. Deprived of more meaningful criteria to base a selection on, they will use less meaningful, or even totally meaningless criteria. Ask me to choose between two cocktails that I've never heard of, and I'll probably choose the one whose colour I like best - I know it has no bearing on how good it's going to tase, but you have to choose, right? (Actually I'd ask for a scotch instead, but you get the point).
      • actually color can tell a lot about Scotch.
        So if offered two scotchs you have never heard of, color might be a great way to get the superious one.

        A friend of mine's granddad used to tend bar in Reno. When every a man asked for a blended drink, he's just say "No, you want a scotch."

        A comedian who's name elludes me at the moment, based a character on him. I should remember the comedians name, big guy from the 40s or 50's often threaten to abuse his wife.

  • ... is smart. People are stupid, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.
  • by Have Blue ( 616 )
    I don't see what's surprising about this. Every smart customer checks what other customers have had to say about a product before purchasing it, whether it's in-depth written reviews or a simple rating. A product most other users liked is more likely to be investigated further and purchased, and a product most other users didn't is likely to be avoided.
    • by pla ( 258480 )
      Every smart customer checks what other customers have had to say about a product before purchasing it

      Except, that works well for physical objects, not matters of preference. My washing machine, I want to know does what it claims and won't break in three months. My newest CD, I literally expect most people have never even heard of the artist(1), and I don't really care if anyone but me enjoys their music.

      As for what surprises me about this study... It lacks a glaringly obvious "control" group - Namely
  • Mod me up! (Score:2, Funny)

    by slart42 ( 694765 )
    Others will mod me up, too.
  • A social experiment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Belseth ( 835595 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:17PM (#14683203)
    Go to most any store, supermarkets especially. Now stand and stare at an item on the shelf. Even if the isle was empty before within a minute or so at the most some one will be looking at the same shelf. I've quite often had people muscle me out of the way or at least stand in front of me. They will tend to stand there as long as you do and quite often won't pick something from the shelf. It's pretty common to draw a crowd. Marketing companies have known about this effect for years and used it to market products by hiring people to stand and look at displays. Humans are very territorial and are by nature very concerned that they will miss out on something or some one else will get the bargin and not them. If you anounced on the radio that sales were exploding for an album by an unknown group and that the stores would be sold out before the end of the day people would line up so they wouldn't miss out knowing no more about the group than everyone else wanted the album. Advertising works for a reason. You create a craze by convincing people they are missing out. Remember Beanie Babies? People were desperate to get them yet they were nothing more than a small stuffed animal and effectively worthless.
    • "If you anounced on the radio that sales were exploding for an album by an unknown group and that the stores would be sold out before the end of the day people would line up so they wouldn't miss out knowing no more about the group than everyone else wanted the album."

      Yup that is also a very common marketing trick too. It is exactly why every single new movie that comes out is "The #1 Movie In America!!!" and why every single new book is "The Best Selling Book" etc.

    • by brian0918 ( 638904 ) <> on Thursday February 09, 2006 @09:00PM (#14683545)
      "Remember Beanie Babies? People were desperate to get them yet they were nothing more than a small stuffed animal and effectively worthless."

      Everything is worthless unless people want it.
    • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @09:06PM (#14683584)
      >You create a craze by convincing people they are missing out. Remember Beanie Babies?

      People are mindless conformists! So what flavor of Linux do you run?
    • I used the same trick when i used to sell at swap meets and shows. one person from the booth would stand in front of the table when it got slow, never failed to bring a few more people over.
  • by zuki ( 845560 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:17PM (#14683206) Journal
    This has become such a science, there is just too much at stake for people who routinely invest 6 and 7-figure sums of money into a new album. (And I am not necessarily speaking about record labels here, it could just as well be about the associated release tour, which by now generates far more income than the actual CD sales). Focus groups, endless studies of people's buying patterns, major pressure from the 'top' (i.e.: management) to conform to a predictable sound, etc...

    Here's a funny one, on a recent flight I was sitting next to the manager for some very well-known heavy metal and rock acts, who flatly declared that if U2 was a new band today, they wouldn't have a chance in hell of getting signed the way they did in 1983 when their breakthrough album propelled them into stardom. The people he deals with both at the label and promotion level would never take a chance on something that original.... Which of course means that after years of this kind of behavior, the general public's ears do not have a desire for anything new or unusual.

    I could very well see a broke Jimi Hendrix today, still playing $100 fill-in gigs at Cafe Wah in the Village (still around too) and no one giving a rat's ass about his life-changing guitar playing because it would be too strong and outside of the norm....

    Here's another example, last year a major game developer allegedly saw an increase of sales of their flagship PS2 game to the tune of 5,000 more units per week when they tweaked the music on their current TV campaign and featured background music that was more familiar to their target audience.....

    This if doesn't seem like a game of chance and talent anymore, that's because because it isn't. Like P-Diddy said, it's all about Da Benjamins.

    Still, it comes down to this: if you are going to do it, do it because you like it, not because of the expected returns.
    If you actually have talent, you might go a lot further on that than the empty promises and broken stardom dreams most end up shelving when they get their girlfriend pregnant.

    On another (closer) note, maybe someone should transpose this study to /. and do a research on what posts get rated and modded the highest, and how this does influence the writers to conform to a certain style that they know will get them modded? ... and does this make their style more boring and predictable?

    How Darwinian!! Z.
    • you might go a lot further on that than the empty promises and broken stardom dreams most end up shelving when they get their girlfriend pregnant.

      You must be new here.

    • Funny, I know people in music, and they take chances all the time.
      Maybe you should listen to more genre?

      U2 would be signed today because they became hugely popular before they were signed.
      If I started a band, sold out every small club, and people started clamoring to hear me on the radio, I'd be offered a contract.

      That guy makes it sound like someone just walked up to Bono and said, "start a band and we'll give you a contract" without doing any research.
  • by Drunkulus ( 920976 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:32PM (#14683304)
    I hate 'em
  • by DeveloperAdvantage ( 923539 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:36PM (#14683345) Homepage
    Following the crowd probably evolved as a pretty good way of shortening the decision making process. If someone else ate a berry or mushroom and didn't get sick or die, then there was a pretty good chance that I could eat it too and would be ok. This saves a lot of time and energy instead of having to sort through everything by yourself.
  • Turns out popularity bred popularity, which explains why there's so much crap on the radio."

    So... has popularity not always bred popularity?

    Or are we to conclude that the radio has always been crap?

    I think this theory is missing something, somehow

  • Bellwether (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbum ( 121617 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @08:50PM (#14683440)
    Connie Willis's novel Bellwether [], which is about the science of fads, deals with this phenomenon in depth.

    The title comes from a middle english word used describing a practice in sheep farming. Sheep tend to follow each other. But farmers would sometimes use a castrated ram with a bell around his neck to lead the rest of the flock. The ram would tend to move first, but in a very subtle, nearly undetectable way.

    At the center of any cloud of popularity must be a seed of initial impulse - the bellwether.
  • I go to a gym and this gym plays a "90's and today" station over their loudspeakers. Now, I've been at this gym nearly two years now and the radio station is playing -- I kid you not -- nearly ALL OF THE SAME DAMN SONGS they were playing when I first started.

    What is this? Do people really like this much repetition? Really? I have so much trouble wrapping my head around this. Why on earth would anyone want to listen to something over-and-over again for years, never exploring new ideas, never poking at new ta
  • Truly and utterly bad science. Truly and utterly bad reporting. the first line says it all
    When Ashlee Simpson tops the charts while a critically acclaimed ex-Beatle's album fails to crack the top 200, eyebrows go up in the marketing world. This is called starting with you conclusion and finding evidence to match it. You take one of the most loved bands, that has stood the test of time, and arguable has some artistic merit, and compare it to what is arguable trash. Is every new artist trash? Were there
  • Seriously... the mob rules.

    However, people like music a lot, and it is important to most people in some way or another. (By the way, have you ever seen a movie you really liked that didn't have music in it?) Look at a bunch of folks (folks that were hidden in a jungle for centuries without outside contact) and you'll find that they make music in some way or another. Music seems to actually be something that is important - whether or not it is mainstream, popular or "pretty bad."

    I REALLY like B.B. King.
  • First, the research seems to assume that there is no connection between the band and song names and the music. You can get a pretty good idea of the type of music from the band's name (compare industrial rock bands like Skinny Puppy, Fear Factory, and Nine Inch Nails to boy bands like N*Sync and The Backdoor^H^H^H^Hstreet Boys).

    Second, songs get popular because they are played on the radio and MTV. Pop radio stations will mostly stick to playing songs from a list of the 50 most popular new songs, mixing i
  • They didn't prove what they say they proved.

    Humans tend to understand that popularity is determined by quality; we learn that good things are recommended and bad things are not. So, absent other quality information, we use popularity as an indicator of quality.

    Which means people are actually smart for making such an induction, not simply stupid for following the crowd.

    The record industry has known of this heuristic for decades. In launching an unknown product, they pretend it's already famous and popular,
  • by MayorDefacto ( 586113 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @10:02PM (#14683979)
    That's not the way music gets popular. Here's how it happens:
    1. Hold auditions at local malls, car lots, county fairs, etc. to find hot young white jailbait
    2. Tart up aforementioned jailbait and teach them some slammin' dance moves
    3. Get a committee of marketing people together to craft some lyrics that are as sexualized as common decency (read: FCC) will allow. Bonus points if corporate sponsors can synergize their product into the lyrics somehow (if not, don't worry, the product placement people will cram as many soft drinks, cell phones, and designer handbags into the video as possible later)
    4. Get some underpaid, under-recognized sound engineers (read: geeks) to put together a cathcy little number on the sequencer. Don't worry about horrendous vocals, those can be corrected in the final mix.
    5. Shoot video. Don't worry about making it creative, just fill it with Bentleys, Prada, diamonds, and lots of writhing, Cristal-soaked booty. Bonus points if the video is so over-the-top that a controversy ensues (don't worry, MTV doesn't show full videos anymore anyway-- they'll just show the 20 seconds of the video that isn't offensive on TRL and we can make a mint by selling the "uncut" version on iTunes.)
    6. This is the most important part: PAYOLA, PAYOLA, PAYOLA! How will your song ever get popular unless all the top-40 stations play it once an hour, every hour? Make your check out to Clear Channel, and they'll take care of the rest.
    7. ???
    8. Profit!
  • by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @10:08PM (#14684011) Journal
    As I've had to point out to a couple people already, the summary is misleading. It makes it sound like highly-rated songs became popular. This was not the case. Songs that were downloaded more often kept getting downloaded more often and became popular - regardless of whether or not they were highly rated!

    The whole point is that the ratings (ie, quality) of the songs had little or nothing to do with their popularity - low-rated songs became popular as often as highly-rated songs! And in different test groups (there were 10), different songs became popular, still independent of ratings.

  • by ktakki ( 64573 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @11:29PM (#14684536) Homepage Journal
    Turns out popularity bred popularity, which explains why there's so much crap on the radio.

    True, up to a point. There's a network effect here, since groups of people use common cultural touchstones as a means of relating with each other (e.g., talking about a movie, an album, or a sports team). A teenaged girl will buy Britney's album because her friends bought Britney's album. A system administrator will rent Office Space and will understand the references to "PC LOAD LETTER" and the red stapler when they come up in conversation (or in posts on Slashdot).

    But none of these works would make it into the collective culture if they hadn't gotten past a gatekeeper.

    The gatekeepers of our culture are the people who manage movie studios, publishing houses, and record labels. Producers, editors, and A&R people are risk averse people in risky businesses. Every album that's recorded, every book that's published, every movie that's produced means that hundreds of thousands, millions, or tens or hundreds of millions are risked in a venture that might not even break even. And even if such a venture does break even or run a modest profit, these people look upon such a return as a lost opportunity for a best seller, platinum album, or blockbuster hit.

    So, they hew to the lowest common denominator. They play it safe. They run endless focus groups, listening parties, sneak previews. They catch the sequel disease: witness the Harry Potter phenomenon, the bidding war for Seattle grunge groups after Nirvana's breakout album Nevermind, multiple Lethal Weapon movies. Two movies about asteroids obliterating the Earth, two movies about monster volcanoes, two movies about Mars missions, all released within months of each other. Could the two Matrix sequels hold a candle to the first movie? Do I have to invoke the crawling horror of Star Wars I, II, and III?

    It's rare that a unique work emerges from our popular culture, something so distinctive that imitating it would be a sacrelige. A Schindler's List, a Don DeLillo novel (I'm hard pressed to find a major record label example, since I mostly listen to indie acts -- that's where the unique talent has fled).

    It's telling that Spielberg gets to make a work like Munich or Schindler's List because he's made billions for Hollywood. George Clooney said as much about Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck; after these films he'll owe the studio an Ocean's Thirteen. Sequelmania is Hollywood's answer to risk. Hence the crap that's clogging our culture.

    Twenty years in the music industry taught me a one of many hard lessons: the risk averse A&R guy loves to know that your band sounds like someone who's made money for them. "We wouldn't know how to market you guys" is not what you want to hear from them. "You're in the business of marketing bands. Fucking learn." is not what they want to hear from you.

    I ended up forming an indie label. It made all the difference.

  • by KarmaOverDogma ( 681451 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @11:37PM (#14684597) Homepage Journal
    I for one am thankful that no matter where I go in the nation, I can be sure that every station of the same genre (assuming there is more than one) will sound just like home. Thank goodness for consolidation of radio.

    I used to really get bent out of shape when I went up and down the radio dial and heard different music and different artists throughout the day. So much variety! It was so hard to figure out what was good and what to choose! Now, thanks to Clearchannel, Congress and the FCC, not only do radio stations sound the same up and down the dial, but they play the same songs all day long, day in and day out. Life is so much simpler this way; I no longer have to make decisions, since they can just tell me what is good by virtue of playing it all day long. Plus, all the commercials make for great content, too.

    Mega radio knows exactly what I like: Shake 'n bake/Cookie Cutter Radio. Play a song until it is *beyond* dead, and then only play what they think the public will like, based on what other radio stations just like them are playing. And then there is payola in its various guises, to keep the playing field "predictable and stable" (i.e safe) for the major labels.

    By the way, who are these "Sirius" people ayway?
  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Thursday February 09, 2006 @11:41PM (#14684624) Journal
    Just because *you* don't like a radio station doesn't mean others don't like it. Maybe you are listening to the wrong radio station? Maybe your radio station doesn't exist.

    Some people like to listen to rock, some like country. Others like "contemporary" or whatever. Others still, listen to NPR and some listen to Rush Limbaugh. Not many listen to all of the above.

    Radio is not about pleasing you it is about making money by attracting enough listeners. MP3 downloads not withstanding, you are not entitled to free entertainment that you like.

    Just as there are not enough listeners for an all-opera-all-the-time station. Maybe there are not enough listeners to support your odd taste in music (maybe you want all-opera?). If you think most people have crappy musical tastes, what do you think most people will think of your choices in music?

    If you don't like the radio, buy your own music. If you don't like the normal labels, try "independent" sellers. I have purchased several albums from "" - but, you know what? Much of the music is unremarkable... maybe the labels do know something about picking music that people will like?

    Sometimes you do find a gem; one indy album I bought was the album. At least I like it, but that's the problem - there is no objective standard to test music. So, you are left with markets, marketers, hucksters and hype. People like what they like, or what they think they like; What's the difference?

  • Popularity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vanyel ( 28049 ) * on Friday February 10, 2006 @12:47AM (#14685025) Journal
    Popularity breeds popularity because it's easy: someone else has done the work for you. If someone else likes something, there's a much better chance that it's good than a random sample of all the music (or whatever you're rating), because 90% of everything really is crap. It takes someone determined to find the jewels to wade through it all to find the new stuff that really is both original and good. If you think something is crap because it's popular, aside from the arrogance and elitist attitude that implies, the same principle still applies, because it scales down to the people who like the same type of <x> that you do: when one of your subgroup finds something, you'll probably like it too (and the multitudes will probably think it's crap in return). And popularity will breed popularity in your subgroup.
  • A Poor Study (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Se7enLC ( 714730 ) on Friday February 10, 2006 @10:42AM (#14687035) Homepage Journal
    The study grouped people into two groups "Independant" and "Social Influence". The problem is, they have no control group, as BOTH groups are real people, and thus have social influence already.

    The way the study worked (from my understanding of the article) is that one group could pick songs by title and artist and the other could search by title, artist, and popularity. The results were that the same songs were popular in both groups! Wow, Amazing! All you did was prove that the outside influence on the study was the same! People don't need a list of "most recently downloaded songs" to know what they heard on the radio. I imagine that a lot of the people in the study (when given the opportunity to legally download as much as they wanted) went to another site to find what music is popular and looked all of them up. Or asked their friends "what should I download?" thus reproducing the same effect.

    What would have made an interesting test is to have NO artist or title information at all (Artist 123 - Song 6) and run the same test. The problem would still exist (when people recognize a song, they would rate it higher or download it more often), but you would have to listen randomly and rate songs based on actual quality, not on popularity. It would be like a radio station but random instead of being force-fed the popular songs 5 times per hour.

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan