In his book Irrationality, Stuart Sutherland examines the many ways in which the human brain tends to go astray. Sutherland is a British psychologist, and his goal, seemingly, is to help people make better decisions. Doctors in particular, whose mistaken diagnoses can kill their patients, would be well advised to devour this book.

My agenda is less life-and-death, but it’s just as important to me. I’d like to make a little money selling some of my original music. I’m looking at Irrationality as a handbook on how people actually think, with the idea of manipulating their perceptions.

Sutherland shines a light on several different thinking errors, but I’ll content myself with one example: the halo effect. This causes us to evaluate a thing more favorably if it’s closely associated in our minds with something else toward which we feel favorably inclined. And conversely, of course: If a thing is closely associated in our brain with something else that we dislike, we’ll tend to evaluate the thing negatively.

A year or two back, I did some work with Gina Fant-Saez, whose big project is eSession.com. At the time, I was pretty much baffled by the whole concept of eSession, which is that by signing on to their service, you can get a well-respected musician to contribute a track to your music project. Want Thomas Dolby to lay down a synthesizer part? Abe Laboriel a bass line? They’re available on eSession (or at least, Gina was kicking their names around before the site went live). For a session fee, they’ll do you a track.

Because I’m mainly interested in being creative, this made no sense to me. But in light of the Sutherland book, it makes perfect sense. If you’re a complete unknown and are trying to market your music — let’s say, as an old-school CD — your sales could easily triple if you can put the words “Featuring Thomas Dolby and Abe Laboriel!” on the cover.

That’s the halo effect. Anyone who knows the names of these high-profile players will automatically and unconsciously assume that your music is better, simply because he or she sees their names on the CD.

Whether or not I end up using eSession, I’m going to study Irrationality closely and think hard about the promotional models it hints at.

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