Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Platinum Blue

The other day I was exchanging emails with k about the music suggestion site, Pandora, when I realized that I had completely forgotten to post about Platinum Blue; the next generation of music suggestion tools. Platinum Blue is a software company in NYC that has figured out how to break down a song into numerous mathematical formulas and then look at how all of those formulas relate to each other.

As I understand it, the software rips apart a song and then creates a separate formula each for the beats, the melody, the pitch, the tone etc. Then it looks at how the formula for the beats relates to the formula for the pitch and how the formula for the pitch relates to the formula for the melody and so on and so on.

Now, here's the cool part. They've loaded hundreds of hit songs from the last few decades into their database. So, now when they look at all of these mathematical relationships of a new song, they are able to compare the formulas of that song to the formulas of the hit songs of the past and with 80% accuracy predict which songs are going to be a hit.

That's right. 80% success rate in predicting hits. The best human hit makers at the record labels have a 20% success rate. As a result, all of the major labels have signed deals with Platinum Blue for them to analyze their artists' songs. It's to the point where labels can analyze songs while bands are in the studio and then get the band to alter the song to Platinum Blue's specifications.

It's pretty amazing stuff and raises a lot of interesting questions. Is the way the brain reacts to music truly that predictable? Is our brain listening to music in a mathematical manner while we romantically believe it's in our hearts? Will this lead to further homogenization of pop music as more and more songs go through the Platinum Blue test?

I have no idea what the answers are to those questions. But I do know this opens up some other cool possibilities. Platinum Blue could create a "Pandora-type" website where you feed your favorite songs into the database and it could spit back at you lists of songs that you'll also like; with much more accuracy than Pandora or any other recommendation algorithm.

Now, if you are an indie artist and the idea of such a tool in the hands of the major labels depresses you, Platinum Blue throws you a lifeline. They have made the same software available to unsigned artists also. And you don't have to sign a large contract. You can submit individual songs to Platinum Blue and for $10 a song, they'll give you a report saying how your song compares to other hit songs and whether it would be a hit.

I'm thinking of sending in a song from a friend's band to see what kind of report you get back. For $10, it would just be cool to see what it says.

WNYC Soundcheck had a podcast about Platinum Blue in late October. You can listen to it here.

The New Yorker had an article about Platinum Blue back in October also. You have to scroll down about 20% of the page to the part when they talk about Platinum Blue.


casey said...

Man, that just creeps me out.

Flatlander said...

I'm not sure why it doesn't creep me out. I think part of it is that I'm enamored with the technology and mathematics behind it. However, I also only really seing it impact Top 40 music which I don't really follow. I doubt Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire is going to care what Platinum Blue has to say about their next song. So, the artists I love will continue to do what they do. It's just the Britney Spears of the world that will pray at the altar of Platinum Blue.

Come on, Casey. Send in "Soft Rock One" and see what it says.

By the way, the disclaimer they put on their success rate is that the song will only be a hit if it is supported with the appropriate marketing effort.

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