(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
fresh hell is this? Word comes in that there is yet another technological assault on the creative process that brings forth
music to the world.
I'm sure that we'll soon be assured that this new hi-tech assault will be more "efficient." Efficient,
that is, in the same way that I am continually assured by businesses that advise me that "in order to serve you better, we
are going to shaft you in incredible, as-yet-unimagined ways by cutting services and raising fees. And by mainly screwing
you by every possible means." But, you know, you kind of always imagine that the creative musical process is at least a bit
removed from the everyday temple of the money-changers. Wrong.
I mean, I know that Nashville songwriters have been
working under creative advisories for many years. Some of the advisories are spoken and some are very much sotto voce,
very unspoken: the songwriters are quietly advised to write songs for women aged 25-54, to write upbeat stuff like the "Three
Minute Positive Not Too Country Up-tempo Love Song" (thank you, Alan Jackson, for actually
writing and recording that), to write young, to write "hip" and to write ...not so country.
a new scientific process that is designed to identify hit songs before they are hit songs. A new song analysis system called
Hit Song Science (HSS) is literally deconstructing songs and comparing them to recent hits to see if they can also become
hits. That's because in the conventional wisdom of record companies, only songs that sound like recent hits can become hits.
HSS claims that what it actually does is look for "optimal mathematical patterns" in songs.
HSS says, "We use artificial
intelligence applications as well as other methods to analyze the underlying mathematical patterns in music. Our technology
does something called spectral deconvolution which is a fancy way of saying that we can isolate and separate many musical
events that occur in a song. Some of these event [sic] are patterns in melody, harmony, chord progression, brilliance, fullness
of sound, beat, tempo, rhythm, octave, and pitch. We then compare the patterns in new music (yours for example) to patterns
in recent chart hits. By doing this combined with other mathematical calculations we've been able to develop a highly accurate
and scientific tool."
HSS further says that it can "analyze approximately 3.5 million songs. This includes almost everything
that has been released by the music labels since the 1950s until the present time. The database is updated weekly with new
releases. The analysis application is able to "listen to" any CD and isolate patterns in many musical events, some of which
are melody, harmony, tempo, pitch, octave, beat, rhythm, fullness of sound, noise, brilliance, and chord progression. This
is a process called Spectral Deconvolution. Each song is then mapped onto a grid we call the music universe and is positioned
according to its mathematical characteristics. Each song is represented by a dot on the universe and the songs on one end
of the universe are vastly different from songs on the other end of the universe. Songs with mathematical similarities are
positioned very close to one another."
If this were still the '60s, I could say that that's very far out.
process is now being used by the pop divisions of the major music labels, for fees I don't know and can't imagine. The same
service is available to you as an independent artist for a sliding scale ranging from $49.99 for one song up to $399.90 for
an 11-song album and then $34.99 each for 12 songs or more. All of that so that you as an aspiring artist can present this
as your musical resume to the A&R head at a major music label. Good luck.
Fortunately for country music, song lyrics
themselves are not part of the scientific HSS process.
Even so, I can think of many major country hits that probably
wouldn't have survived the spectral deconvolution procedure. "Strawberry Wine" would not have been a hit -- there was no precedent
for a four-minute ballad being a huge country hit; never mind the unlikely hit quotient of the song's lyric that's about the
loss of virginity.
The current, unlikely country hit "Picture" by Kid Rock and
Sheryl Crow would not have happened by this process (and it's by far the best-selling
country single right now). Willie Nelson's sparsely-accompanied, behind-the-beat "Blue
Eyes Crying in the Rain" would not have stood a chance on the Spectral Deconvolution process, Randy
Travis' triumphant return to the top of the Billboard country chart with his current hit "Three Wooden Crosses,"
would have been impossible under this spectroscope. Garth Brooks' epochal "The Dance"
probably wouldn't have spiked high enough in the spectral universe; nor would have Conway
Twitty's unorthodox but massive hit "Hello Darlin'." "Stand By Your Man" likely would not have registered.
aside, lyrics remain the biggest factor in country music's appeal. So, it's good that HSS cannot dissect them under the microscope.
The best country music songs connect directly with listeners -- they wire in to them emotionally -- and that's the only way
to gauge them.
When I was studying science in junior high school and was having a hard time with it, my father told
me a story about one of my science assignments. He told me that a bunch of aerospace engineers once convened to study the
matter of bumblebees. Some of the engineers had observed bumblebees and wondered how a creature with such a huge body and
such small wings could actually fly. These aerospace engineers, my father told me, undertook extensive scientific studies
of bumblebees. They compared body mass to wing displacement and so on and on. These engineers' scientific conclusion? They
said that -- scientifically -- bumblebees cannot fly. They are logically incapable of flight.
Ah, but they can fly
free, bumblebees can. And so can country songs.