The Infinite Jukebox generates plots of songs in which the most similar beats are connected by arcs. I call these plots cantograms. For instance, below is a labeled cantogram for the song Rolling in the Deep by Adele. The song starts at 3:00 on the circle and proceeds clockwise, beat by beat completely around the circle. I’ve labeled the plot so you can see how it aligns with the music. There’s an intro, a first verse, a chorus, a second verse, etc. until the outro and the end of the song.
One thing that’s interesting is that most of the beat similarity connections occur between the beats in the three instances of the chorus. This certainly makes intuitive sense. The verses have different lyrics, so for the most part they won’t be too similar to each other, but the choruses have the same lyrics, the same harmony, the same instrumentation. They may even be, for all we know may even be exactly the same audio, that perfect performance, cut and pasted three times by the audio engineer to make the best sounding version of the song.
Now take a look at the cantogram for another popular song. The plot below shows the beat similarities for the song Tik Tok by Ke$ha. What strikes me the most about this plot is how similar it looks to the plot for Rolling in the Deep. It has the characteristic longer intro+first verse, some minor inter-verse similarities and the very strong similarities between the three choruses.
As we look at more plots for modern pop music we see the same pattern over and over again. In this plot for Lady Gag’s Paparazzi a cantogram we again see the same pattern.
We see it in the plot for Justin Bieber’s Baby:
Taylor Swift’s Fearless has a two verses before the first chorus, shifting it further around the circle, but other than that the pattern holds:
Now compare and contrast the pop cantograms with those from other styles of music. First up is Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to heaven. There’s no discernable repeating chorus, or global song repetition, the only real long-arc repetition occurs during the guitar solo for the last quarter of the song.
Here’s another style of music. Deadmau5′s Raise your weapon. This is electronica (and maybe some dubstep). Clearly from the cantogram we can see that is is not a traditional pop song. Very little long arc repetition, with the densest cluster being the final dubstep break.
Dave Brubeck’s Take Five has a very different pattern, with lots of short term repetition during the first half of the song, while during the second half with Joe Morello’s drum solo there’s a very different pattern.
Green Grass and High Tides has yet a different pattern – no three choruses and out here. (By the way, the final guitar solo is well worth listening to in the Infinite Jukebox. It is the guitar solo that never ends).
The progressive rock anthem Roundabout doesn’t have the Pop Pattern
Nor does Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of the Cello suite No. 1.
Looking at the pop plots one begins to understand that pop music really could be made in a factory. Each song is cut from the same mold. In fact, one of the most successful pop songs in recent years, was produced by a label with factory in its name. Looking at Rebecca Black’s Friday we can tell right away that it is a pop song:
Compare that plot to this years Youtube breakout, Thanksgiving by Nicole Westbrook, (another Ark Music Factory assembly):
The plot has all the makings of the standard pop song for the 2010s.
In the music information retrieval research community there has been quite a bit of research into algorithmically extracting song structure, and visualizations are often part of this work. If you are interested in learning more about this research, I suggest looking at some of the publications by Meinard Müller and Craig Sapp.
Of course, not every pop song will follow the pattern that I’ve shown here. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that this very simple visualization is able to show us something about the structure of the modern pop song, and how similar this structure is across many of the top pop songs.
update: since publishing this post I’ve updated the layout algorithm in the Infinite Jukebox so that songs start and end at 12 Noon and not 3PM, so the plots you see in this post are rotated 90degrees clockwise from what you would see in the jukebox.