Is there a formula for the perfect hit song?

Two scientists are trying to find out.


Words by: Charlie Jones

If music is maths, and the preference statistics are there in the charts, then you should be able to write an algorithm for the perfect song, right? Well, two information science masters students, Shaun Ellis & Tom Engelhardt, have attempted to crunch 50 years of Billboard data to work out.

“What if we knew, for example, that 80% of the Billboard Hot 100 number one singles from 1960-2010 are sung in a major key with an average of 135 beats per minute, that they all follow a I-III-IV chord progression in 4/4 time signature, and that they all follow a “verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus” sequence structure? What would this mean for the music industry? For artists and record producers? Would this teach us things about human auditory preferences? Or how these preferences have been manufactured and masterfully fine-tuned over the past half century by cunning L.A. record execs?” – Shaun Ellis & Tom Engelhardt

Their conclusions?

First, keep your tempo at a medium pace, around 120 beats per minute. Write in a major key. Make your song danceable and around 4.5 minutes in length, and “turn it up to 11”.