In popular music, rock collaborations

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Few who have given Harvard Business School an address have a CV like that of Khaled Mohamed Khaled, who spoke there in 2016. The 42-year-old music producer began his career as a record store clerk and radio host. Today, DJ Khaled, as fans call him, is one of the most famous hip-hop artists in the world. While critics may disagree on the merits of Mr. Khaled’s music, his sales strategy – bringing together the hottest pop stars of the moment – is worthy of any school class. of business. The American music industry is increasingly following its formula.

Collaborations like those brought together by Mr. Khaled are not new. Ever since hip-hop group Run-DMC teamed up with rock band Aerosmith to record “Walk This Way” in 1986, record companies have recognized that the combination of fans from several artists can be a godsend. for record sales. The practice has spread. According to data from the Billboard Hot 100, weekly ranking of the most popular singles in America, collaborations now represent more than a third of hits (see table). Of the top ten songs in the current Hot 100 chart, half are attributed to more than one artist.

Many of them are songwriters. Today’s pop songs are made by an assembly line of writers and producers, in what Larry Miller, director of the Steinhardt Music Business Program at New York University, calls a “song typewriter.” industrial ”. It takes on average almost four songwriters to create a hit song, compared to two in the 1980s. Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like,” which was named Song of the Year at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on January 28, numbered no less than eight.

The growing influence of hip-hop has meanwhile brought more guest artists into the recording studio. Nielsen, a market research company, considers R & B / hip-hop to be America’s most popular genre. It has a culture of collaboration. The best representation of this might be the “posse cut,” a style of song in which up to half a dozen rappers take turns delivering a verse. Hip-hop artists continue to collaborate at higher rates than their peers. Hit Songs Deconstructed, a music analysis company, estimates that 64% of hip-hop tracks that have reached the Billboard the top ten in 2017 featured more than one artist, compared to 40% of pop songs.

Streaming services can also encourage popular artists to jump on each other’s tracks. While radio stations remain highly segregated, based on what Nate Sloan, musicologist and co-host of the “Switched on Pop” podcast, calls “mostly fictitious categories designed by marketers,” services like Spotify and Apple Music blurs the lines between genres. . A Spotify user who searches, for example, Kendrick Lamar, a hip-hop artist, may find tracks featuring Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons, bands rarely heard on conventional hip-hop radio stations.

It can be tempting to dismiss DJ Khaled-style pop songs as artificial and inauthentic. But new research suggests listeners are drawn to the familiar but distinctive sound often found in collaborative tracks. Using a database of nearly 27,000 songs appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 charts between 1958 and 2016, Noah Askin of INSEAD, a French business school, and Michael Mauskapf of Columbia Business School find that the most successful songs tend to be different but not too different, an ideal point that the authors call “optimal differentiation.” Collaborations that combine a familiar artist with a newcomer, or a mainstream group with a more daring group, can result in precisely the kind of music listeners want.

This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Regrouper ensemble”

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