Study Says Popularity Impacted By, Err, Popularity
February 10, 2006 at 7:56 AM (PT)
A new study into what makes songs "hit" songs has arrived at this conclusion: listeners will select a song if they think that others like it.
The study, detailed in AOL's Entertainment News, determines that at least one key to musical success is the buzz, or bandwagon effect, and the same is true for books and other products, according to DUNCAN J. WATTS, a sociology professor at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, and the author of the study appearing in the journal SCIENCE. "Successful things tend to be more successful," he says.
"The fact they have such difficulty predicting what's going to be popular doesn't mean they are incompetent," said WATTS, cutting the music business some slack. "There are all these stories of famous acts that weren't picked up by someone," he noted. "It's just inherently unpredictable." Touching on a current hot-button topic, WATTS adds, "The (study) results are certainly consistent with the motivations for payola. ... getting it out there and getting it on people's radar screens increases its likelihood of it becoming popular."
The study involved over 14,000 participants grouped into "independent" and "social influence" groups. In the social influence groups, once some songs started to be downloaded, others would try out those songs too, sort of the way a best seller list gets people to try out a new book, WATTS commented.
"The findings are of considerable sociological importance," said OXFORD UNIVERSITY's PETER HEDSTROM, who added, "Popular songs became more popular and unpopular songs became less popular when individuals influenced one another, and it became more difficult to predict which songs were to emerge as the most popular ones the more the individuals influenced one another."
The study, "Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market," was funded by the NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, the MCDONNEL FOUNDATION and LEGG MASON FUNDS.