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Crooners! Luck vital to fame

This one might hurt aspiring artists. While talent distinguishes good from bad, social pressure and pure dumb luck are also big influences on which musicians gain most fame, says a new study

india Updated: Feb 11, 2006 21:24 IST

This one might hurt aspiring artists. While talent distinguishes good from bad, social pressure and pure dumb luck are also big influences on which musicians gain most fame, says a new study.

Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Columbia University, and colleagues, who wanted to know whether peer pressure contributes to bands going platinum, conducted the study, the Science magazine reported in its latest issue.

Watts started by collecting 48 songs from unknown but real bands listed on a garage band website. Visitors could listen to any of the rock songs and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 on the website. They could also download them free if they liked.

Some songs were downloaded much more than others, and because all the visitors' judgments were independent, the researchers termed these as good songs.

After tabulating the results of 14,000 visitors, the researchers learned that there was some accounting for taste - good songs always ranked high, and bad songs ranked low.

According to the researchers, when visitors had access to information about what other people were downloading, they were much more likely to download songs with high download rates, even if they were not the highest quality, and pushed the highest-ranked toward superstardom.

"Stardom is indeed a crapshoot," Watts said.

So, if the independent rankings show that there actually is some accounting for taste, why does it lose out to popularity?

"There's a social function to all of us liking the same thing," he said. "It's not the thing that's important, but having something to share."

Sociologists have called the experiments "path breaking" as they illustrate how a small advantage can snowball, making popularity hard to predict.

First Published: Feb 13, 2006 10:45 IST