If you ever want to start an argument, simply ask a group of music fans to name the most influential act of the Rock era. Then step back and watch the sparks fly!

As a musician myself, popular music, its origins and evolution have long been a topic of interest and passionate debate among my circle of friends. Everyone has an opinion and even the shyest among us has no problem wading in to this discussion. Sometimes it’s a matter of personal taste, but more often than not I’ve noticed that we tend to argue in favor of the acts we loved in our formative years.

People who came of age in the 1950s identify acts like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry as innovators. For those who grew up in the 1960s you can expect responses to include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. From the 1970s, you’ll hear names like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, amongst others. And the list goes on and on.

HAJ41254 music blog[1]Actually, until now, most people widely regarded The Beatles as the greatest and most influential act of the Rock era and perhaps, all time. But new music research employing big data and analytics to examine the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list from 1960 – 2010 has concluded that The Beatles were simply following a growing trend.

In 1964 new styles of music were prevalent when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came on the music scene. They were part of a growing trend of musicians who used major chords, increased guitar aggression, and decreased use of mellow vocals.

Here’s proof. Few would debate that The Beatles 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band broke new ground and set the stage for other musical artists for years to come. But even The Beatles themselves have cited Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album as a major influence on their composing for Sgt. Peppers. See:


This leaves us with the question, “If not the Beatles, who?”

Well, according to the researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London the most radical change in American music had nothing to do with “the British Invasion.” Instead, it occurred much more recently, when musical chords were minimized and songs with energetic speech surged in popularity—marking the rise of hip-hop and rap. That means the honors go to the SugarHill Gang and the first rap hit “Rapper’s Delight.” And yes, I realize many people will respond to this statement with shock and disbelief!

While this bit of musical trivia is revealing, the lesson here is that the application of big data and analytics can uncover hidden insights and help separate fact from myth. Organizations increasingly rely on big data and analytics to gain deeper insight and enable the transformation of their business. They are asking and answering questions such as, “What does my data know about my business that I don’t?”, “What biases and false assumptions are undermining our decision making?” and “What new data, when combined with our traditional data, might give us greater accuracy and a more complete view?”

For example, the analysts who track the US Billboard Hot 100 have improved accuracy and become more data driven by expanding their methodology from just air-play to include, paid downloads, digital streaming, and most recently YouTube video streaming, on-demand audio streaming and online radio streaming. In fact, music has been part of the Internet of Everything movement since 2005.

HAJ41213 music blog

The marriage of new and traditional data sources is a key strategy that consumer and industrial firms are employing as they embrace the Internet of Everything to create deeper relationships with customers.

In most industries becoming a data-driven business is now a prerequisite to survival and analytic skills are required to achieve competitive differentiation. In my next blog, we’ll discuss some often overlooked hurdles to becoming data-driven.

In the meantime, please leave a comment below sharing your musical insights or predictions about the next music revolution.


Howard Fields

Senior Director, Advanced Services for Analytics