How To Make Unwanted Music

Those who invest in pop music success are constantly seeking more reliable ways of determining how to minimise risk on their investment. This means that they want to know if a song can be a hit before they put huge amounts of money into promoting it – and crowdsourcing is gaining considerable traction in this regard…
(from Sales & Promotion)

Wisdom Of The Audience

Crowdsourcing is the process of allowing a large group of people to make a decision, or series of decisions, on a particular project. This could be picking the winner for a competition, devising a strategic course of action or designing a product. The underlying idea has of course been around for centuries, but a lot of its recent momentum has been informed by James Surowiecki’s 2004 book, Wisdom of Crowds.

The debate rages on regarding the validity of crowdsourcing as a method for picking a potential hit; however, Komar and Melamid and Dave Soldier have taken it in the other direction and used a form of crowdsourcing to create a song that “fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy”.

Making America’s Most Unwanted Song

Soldier created a highly-scientific survey of 200 people to determine what musical features were ‘most wanted’ and ‘least wanted’ by Americans. After compiling and analysing the results of this exhaustive survey, he came to these conclusions in defining America’s ‘most unwanted music’:

The most unwanted music is over 25 minutes long, veers wildly between loud and quiet sections, between fast and slow tempos, and features timbres of extremely high and low pitch, with each dichotomy presented in abrupt transition. The most unwanted orchestra was determined to be large, and features the accordion and bagpipe (which tie at 13% as the most unwanted instrument), banjo, flute, tuba, harp, organ, synthesizer (the only instrument that appears in both the most wanted and most unwanted ensembles). An operatic soprano raps and sings atonal music, advertising jingles, political slogans, and “elevator” music, and a children’s choir sings jingles and holiday songs. The most unwanted subjects for lyrics are cowboys and holidays, and the most unwanted listening circumstances are involuntary exposure to commercials and elevator music. Therefore, it can be shown that if there is no covariance—someone who dislikes bagpipes is as likely to hate elevator music as someone who despises the organ, for example—fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy this piece.

It is refreshing to see such scientific rigor being applied to musical creativity; at last we have some sort of benchmark against which to measure bad music. Although it is 25 minutes long, I highly recommend that you listen to this song now, so that you will be able to recognise other unwanted music whenever you encounter it. If you are planning in investing in an up-and-coming pop act, this calibration exercise could save you millions.

Listen to ‘America’s Most Unwanted Song’

As a pleasant (!) contrast, they also used their research data to create ‘America’s Most Wanted Song‘ – “A musical work that will be unavoidably and uncontrollably “liked” by 72 ± 12% of listeners”.

The science of hit prediction has indeed reached its zenith.


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