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Heard instinct

Everyone, at least at some point of their lives before zen-like maturity sets in, wants to be hip and ?with it?.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 01:27 IST

Everyone, at least at some point of their lives before zen-like maturity sets in, wants to be hip and ‘with it’. To be outside the mainstream can have humiliating consequences — not the least of which is to be derided for having bad taste at a tender impressionable age. Perhaps the most crucial field in which being equipped with a ‘herd instinct’ matters is in matters related to music. To be besotted by Cliff Richards or Simon and Garfunkel while the rest of the planet is rejoicing with Beyonce or the White Stripes is to tempt Fate into handing you permanent pariah-hood. And that’s where the new field of ‘music intelligence’ could come in handy — as much for millions of fad-addicted teenagers as for record companies that want to know what the young things prefer to spend their non-earned money on.

Computer programmers are now developing software which can, if the programmers are to be believed, predict a hit song. So record companies may not have to lose millions in producing a dud album — and then spend a zillion more — in promoting it once there is a ready reckoner of hits and misses. So how does it exactly work? The software matches a list of parameters of tried and tested hits with new songs set to the test. Graphs are matched, numerical scores are compared and tweakings suggested — until one can come up with the well-tempered manufactured hit. Music companies are slowly but surely perking their ears up to the new technology. Giants like Sony and EMI have already started using music intelligence, but aren’t telling either us or the artistes which hits have been born in the ‘test-tube’ and which ones had just impressed a talent scout who had a strong hunch that James Blunt would catch the pop customers’ fancy.

But before we acknowledge those gasps from those purists in the back, is this careful, shifting-sifting method of determining what can be a hit and what can’t be really that different from the good old methodology used to manufacture boy bands? Whether it was the Spice Girls or Boyzone, Svengalis puppet-mastered platinum discs. This time it just happens to be a computer. The question is: should Bob Dylan be thankful that he made his reputation before a machine would have written him off as being ‘too nasal’ to make the grade?