Going for the Gold – or at Least Platinum

Want to write a best-selling pop song? Wonder what it takes for a song to climb the charts?Steve Berardi might have the answer, after he completes research as a Summer Fellow. In his project,  “The Platinum Formula: Analyzing Musical Trends in Popular Music,” he is assessing what tempo might have to do with success.

Steven Berardi 2014

Steve Berardi 2014 Summer Research: “The Platinum Formula: Analyzing Musical Trends in Popular Music”

Berardi, a senior who grew up in Hartsville, Pa., is combining his interests in his majors, Business and Economics, and Music. He wondered what makes a song popular and decided to look at how tempo affects longevity and peak on the Billboard “Hot 100” lists. The Billboard charts tabulate the relative weekly popularity of songs or albums in the U.S. The Hot 100 assesses single sales, radio airplay, digital downloads and streaming activity.

So far, Berardi is finding that faster tempos sell songs today, but budding songwriters should keep in mind that in times of economic recession, slower music prevails. He defines the tempo as beats per minute.

His advisor, Eric Gaus of the Business and Economics faculty, explains that “Steve will be looking at both the peak and the duration of the song on the billboard chart. This will require some sophisticated econometric techniques to illicit the truth from the data.”

Ironically, pop music is not Berardi’s favorite music. He says most of the pop songs sound the same. “I have pretty much recognized all of the songs I have listened to,” he says. “Most are not really my most favorite music to listen to, but there are some that I have enjoyed.”

With an interest in history, he wants to get the historical viewpoint too. In order to analyze as many years  as possible, he is only looking at songs that peak in the Top 10. He will review how long the song stayed on the chart, and how many weeks it stayed at its peak. Billboard started in 1958 and there are 4,000 songs, he explains.  He is hoping to get through the 1990s this summer.

He has found that there is a loose community of aficionados who analyze hit songs based on lyrics or genre, and predict hits. Continuing his research on tempo, he plans to take his it a step further and develop a “hit song” equation using variables other than tempo, for example, genre, time signatures, gender of the singer, instrumental, duet, solo, voice part and duration.

These days Berardi can be found with headphones and a laptop, tapping out tempos on the space bar, but his eclectic interests include pitching for the Ursinus baseball team, singing with the College Choir, serving as a Resident Assistant and leading tours as a Senior Admission Fellow. An ice hockey player (he considered playing collegiate ice hockey before deciding on Ursinus), he is a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Commission and is a student representative to the Centennial Conference. He attended the NCAA national conference.

Berardi explains that he will not be able to draw definitive conclusions until he takes his project even further, to honors research in the fall.

Dr. Gaus feels that the “research will help us understand if there is some underlying preference for a particular rhythm to the most popular songs of the last decade or two. While this information would not perfectly predict a future hit song, it could certainly influence a recording artist or studio to adjust their songs to tempos that might be preferred.”