Published: November 19, 2009
In the music world, a song’s quality is a tough thing to gauge. Some people only like the music that MTV and the radio command them to like. Other people, the often self-proclaimed “connoisseurs” of music, consider committing samurai-style suicide the moment their favorite band has more than 10 fans and loathe mainstream music. Each group has its own measure of quality.
A song’s popularity, though, is an easier thing to gauge. A greater amount of appreciative listeners equals a greater amount of popularity. If a lot of people like a song, it’s a hit. But what is it that makes some songs more popular than others? Somewhere, in a dark creepy basement with a pizza-stained bed-couch, a computer nerd claims to have the answer.
The computer nerd is actually a Web site named uPlaya.com. Despite its name, uPlaya has nothing to do with how many people you’ve dated at once.
What is uPlaya, you ask? Fortunately for you, this question is frequently asked. uPlaya.com states that it is an on-line service “for independent / unsigned musicians and songwriters interested in immediate feedback on the quality and hit potential of their music… uPlaya provides tools to analyze, classify and promote music for artists of all levels.”
To determine the hit potential of a song, uPlaya uses its creatively-named “Hit Song Science.” The technology uses algorithms to compare an artist’s submitted music (two uploads for free, 15 more uploads for $90 total) to all the previous hits, and to the current trends, of the universe—the so-called “Music Universe,” if you will.
If uPlaya likes a song, it may award the song an Auddy, short for an Audionaut Award (Audionauts of the Music Universe? That is clever-ish, but still stupid. They just can’t win.). The hit-potential scale ranges from “Don’t Quit (your day job)” to “Platinum Auddy.”
Although uPlaya is not good at coming up with clever names, it does claim to be good at detecting a potential hit. According to uPlaya.com, artists Norah Jones, Ben Novak and Mika were all recognized by the Hit Song Science technology as having hit songs before they became popular.
Essentially, uPlaya is attributing musical success to a mathematical formula. As an objective and unbiased reporter of facts, I will refrain from saying that this is absurd. I will also refrain from saying this: Paula Abdul can barely count to eight, and she still had six number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
If there is some validity to uPlaya, however, what does this say about the art of songwriting? Can it really be broken down to nothing more than a string of equations? Theoretically, an artist could conquer the Music Universe by writing hit song after hit song, if he or she could determine what patterns uPlaya was recognizing.
I spoke to Matt Benjamin, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’10, of the “head-bangin’, finger-twangin’ indie-rock” band Average Girl to get his take on uPlaya. Benjamin said, “Lyrics are important. From rap songs to country songs, people are going to remember the lyrics. Personally, the lyrical content of songs is what got me into writing music. Having some algorithm that ignores [lyrical content] is a major flaw.”
Artists could benefit from receiving an Auddy on uPlaya, however. Having their song listed on uPlaya’s site would help them increase their visibility in the music world. Benjamin said, “There are a lot of things on the Internet that you can use to increase your visibility, and I guess this could become one of those things…This site could probably give you a better chance [at becoming successful], but it’s obviously not a surefire thing.”
I browsed through the list of Audionaut Award recipients and was shocked by my discovery. Hiding among the other artists, there was a boy-band that had somehow managed to escape the prison that society had vowed to keep them in forever: the 1990s. This brought to light another possible flaw in uPlaya’s system. uPlaya compares uploaded songs to songs that have been hits in the past, which includes songs written by boy-bands! I believe Matt Benjamin was speaking on behalf of the entire Music Universe when he said, “Hopefully there won’t be a lot of boy-bands in the future.”