It’s difficult to tell which songs will become hits. It’s much more difficult to forecast which performers at the top of the charts today will go on to have additional successes and who will fade away.
A new analysis of the music charts offers some advice on how to avoid being a one-hit-wonder. According to Justin Berg, a social scientist at Stanford University’s business school who studies creativity and innovation, artists with a more diverse repertoire have a greater chance of landing repeat successes. However, musicians who wish to be famous in the long run have a conundrum. Berg writes in Administrative Science Quarterly on March 24 that variety isn’t what helps musicians get their first success. It’s a new song’s resemblance to previous successes.
Berg claims that “there isn’t a method to thread the needle.” “As a fresh creative, you must choose between a chance of immediate [or] prolonged success based on the uniqueness of your portfolio.”
Berg relied on a database.
The new findings may aid artists in a range of professions in better comprehending the public effect of innovation in art, including music, visual art, novels, and other forms of art.
Berg looked at the pop charts, which have a wealth of data, to see whether there’s some type of formula that might assist explain who becomes a musical mainstay and who becomes a flash in the pan. He explains, “I assumed I’d start with the business… where the phrase one-hit-wonder was originated.”
Berg utilized a database of around 3 million songs published by record companies that had at least one success in the United States from 1959 to 2010. Nearly 25,000 of those songs made the Billboard Hot 100, a weekly chart that counts the most popular songs based on sales, radio play, and now internet streaming. Berg now has a roster of approximately 4,900 artists with at least one song on the list, which he uses to define a hit.
Berg then used a Spotify method that assigns scores to songs based on 11 criteria, including danceability, energy, and key. From 1959 through 2010, this method produced information on the majority of hits and nonhits.
Berg went on to say how similar the current year’s top songs were to the prior year’s hits. He also put together portfolios for most of the musicians who had at least one song on the Hot 100, so he could assess the diversity and uniqueness of the songs they published at the time of their first success. He might also compare one-hit wonders to mega-hitmakers and those who never made it big thanks to their portfolios.
Data shows that hits are infrequent. In the original database, 93 percent of the 69,000 musicians had never had a hit, 3% had one, and 1% had two. From then, the likelihood of getting more hits decreases.
Berg recognized that musicians create music.
Berg discovered that musical artists with low-novelty portfolios that closely matched other existing songs were nearly twice as likely to achieve early success. However, individuals who created a more diverse and original portfolio before becoming famous were more likely to have a string of successes.
Storm Gloor, a music industry researcher at the University of Colorado Denver, says, “It’s a music nerd’s fantasy to read something like this.” He claims it backs up a lot of the instincts that musicians and record executives have acquired over the years.
The study may not completely reflect the present situation of popular music since the data ends in 2010. According to Noah Askin, a computational social scientist at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, musicians are modifying how they produce songs to make them more accessible on Spotify or TikTok. “A lot of it these days is about how memorable a song is. How much of it can you release as a soundtrack for a short video?”
Berg does not want his study to minimize the achievements of one-hit wonders like Los Del Rio, who had success with “Macarena” in the 1990s. “A number of them were renowned and successful in their day,” he continues. “You go out and attempt to write a catchy tune.” It is a difficult task.”