The science behind 'hit' songs - Part II
A few days ago, we wrote the first part of this series. In this one, we will share the perspective of the book, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson on the same topic.
According to sociologists, hits are hard-wired into human psychology. It's a consequence of a combination of word of mouth and human conformity. As artists and fans, we tend to assume that
hits are a far bigger share of the market than they really are. Instead, they are the rare exception. This is what Nassim Taleb calls the 'Black Swan Problem'.
This assumption happens because we have a hard time putting rare events in context due to power-law distribution, where a few things sell a lot and a lot of things sell a little.
While this notion holds true in the world of scarcity, the long tail of digital world has established a market, where the biggest money is in the smallest sales, that rivals the hits.
This change is hurting the music industry for sure but, it's hurting the hit-making side more. That said, it's never been a better time to be an artist or a fan since the internet is now the ultimate discovery engine for new music.
Musician and author, Amanda Palmer in her book The Art of Asking shares the story of her struggle to get a record deal. The story emphasizes on our obsession with the hit culture and familiarity with the music.
One of the reasons her band struggled to get a deal was that it didn't sound like the then current favorite bands. Despite selling 25,000 records, her band was still considered a failure by the record label. The band was not in the hit-making business but, it believed in the connection it makes through its music. Since internet enabled us to connect with our own fans directly Amanda's philosophy about her music is illustrated in the following excerpt.
A 2010 Princeton University study conducted by two economists concluded that money DOES buy happiness, but only up to the point (which turns out to be an annual individual income of about $75,000) where you have your basic needs met along with a few extra comforts. After that, the ability to buy happiness with money nosedives. Right: it’s not rocket science. We need to eat, we need shelter, a meal in a restaurant is nice. But there’s a satiation level, a happiness threshold you hit when you have enough. I don’t know of any such formal studies of working musicians, but I see the same patterns in artistic success. The happiest artists I know are generally the ones who can manage to make a reasonable living from their art without having to worry too much about the next paycheck. Not to say that every artist who sits around the campfire, or plays in tiny bars, is “happier” than those singing in stadiums—but more isn’t always better.
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