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Culture & Religion

Why the Most Popular Music Is Not Always the Best

Much to the chagrin of musicians and critics alike, the best music does not always make it to the top of the charts. The market, however, does have a tendency to create an equilibrium. 

What’s the Latest Development?

When online music-selling platforms were first emerging, a team of researchers at Columbia University wanted to know how much influence social media would have on a song’s popularity. By placing the same nine songs across different platforms, they found an unpredictable variability in which songs became popular. In other words, the best songs did not necessarily become the most popular ones. “Because what people like depends on what they think other people like, what the market ‘wants’ at any point in time can depend very sensitively on its own history,” said the researchers at the time of the study. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The notion that a song’s quality does not determine its presence in the music market may offend musicians and critics alike but, thankfully, time helps the best music rise to the top. “Even on sites where the number of downloads determines song ordering, high-quality songs will gradually creep up the rankings, because, by definition, they net more downloads per sample than low-quality songs do.” Coco Krumme, an author of a new paper on the subject, says that while quality ultimately matters, it takes a long time for the music market to reach a point of equilibrium. 

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