I'm the Director of Developer Community at The Echo Nest, a research-focused music intelligence startup that provides music information services to developers and partners through a data mining and machine listening platform. I am especially interested in hybrid music recommenders and using visualizations to aid music discovery.
Posted in Music on February 8, 2015
I just had a skype call with a group of young women called the Hippie Pandas, a First Lego League Team based in Rochester New York. As part of the First Lego League competition(*), they are working on a research project titled “How can we improve the way teachers learn to use music in the classroom to improve student’s performance and behavior.” In their research they found that particular types of music when played in the classroom can improve memorization, creativity and behavior. The team has created a website with a number of specialized Spotify playlists that teachers can use to enhance learning and behavior in the classroom.
For example, here’s a playlist that they’ve build for Focus and Memorization:
Here’s a playlist designed to Energize and Wake up the classroom.
The Hippie Pandas use audio attributes such as tempo and instrumentalness to create these task-appropriate playlists.
Like all good scientists the Hippie Pandas have tested their hypotheses. They have worked with a number of classroom teachers who are testing their contextual playlists with students in the classroom. Although they haven’t published any results yet, they’ve reported that the teachers have seen great improvements in the classroom when these task-appropriate playlists.
The Hippie Pandas have gone beyond creating playlists for teachers – they have also identified a number of barriers that would prevent music from being used in the classroom and are working to eliminate those barriers. For example, in many schools access to Spotify is blocked since, according to school administrators, Spotify doesn’t provide educational benefit. The HP team has been able to get access to Spotify restored in their local school district after demonstrating how music can improve student performance. Another barrier the Pandas have recognized is that not all teachers will have access to Spotify. To address this issue, the Pandas are lobbying Spotify to make free accounts available for all teachers. That sounds like a great idea to me.
In April, the Hippie Pandas journey to St. Louis to take part in the FIRST World Festival competition. They’ve competed in the world championships in previous years and have brought home a number of trophies and received special recognition for their project that could save lives. I think they will do well this year too. They’ve done quite a good job at identifying an opportunity for teachers to improve students behavior and performance in the classroom just by playing appropriate music. They are a smart, engaging group of young women who present their findings with energy and enthusiasm. I wish them well.
(*) For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), is an organization that was founded by Dean Kamann in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The program is for students K-12 and the mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership. The FIRST Lego League (FLL) introduces younger students (9-14) to real-world engineering challenges by buildingLEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface and through a research and development project to solve a real world problem. Today there are over 28,000 FLL teams around the world. This years theme was called, World Class, learning unleashed
The Spotify Web API team pushed out a new feature recently that extends the search API to include playlist search. With this new feature it is now possible to search across all of the popular public playlists created by Spotify users. To try out the new search capability I created a new web app called The Playlist Miner.
The Playlist Miner is a web app that will create a Spotify playlist for you by finding the top songs in all of the playlists that match your criteria. Say, for example, that I want to create a dinner party playlist. First, I find the top playlists that match ‘dinner party’ with The Playlist Miner:
The Playlist Miner will find up to the top 1,000 most popular playlists that match dinner party. It shows them to me, giving me a chance to refine my query to focus in on the exact type of playlist that I am interested in.
For this first try, I see lots of Christmas-oriented playlists (‘Tis the Season after all), but since I’m looking for music for a post-holiday dinner party, I’d rather not have holiday music in the playlist. So I refine my query to find non-Christmas oriented dinner party playlists like so:
The resulting playlists are suitably non-Christmasy.
I like the look of these playlists so I hit the Find Top Tracks button and The Playlist Miner will scour through all of the matching playlists (290 of them in this case) and find the most frequently appearing tracks.
Once the top 100 tracks are found, I can save them to Spotify as my own playlist.
Selecting Prefer more distinctive labor and delivery tracks adjusts the track order for popularity so that tracks that are more distinctive to the particular playlist context will rise to the top. You can also use logical operators to focus in on the exact type of playlist you want to. You can search for “work out” OR workout NOT running to find workout playlists without running in their titles/descriptions.
Under the hood – The Playlist Miner uses lots of bits of the Spotify API – user authentication, playlist search, playlist reading, playlist saving and more. The app is a an API calling beast – aggregating all the tracks from a thousand playlists requires 1,000 API calls. It’s a testament to the Spotify Web API that it doesn’t even blink under the load. You can play with the code on github.
It’s fun to use The Playlist Miner to explore the quirkier aspects of how people listen to music. There are ironing playlists and sleeping baby playlists. There are playlists for getting psyched and playlists for Labor and Delivery. With the Playlist Miner you can pull from all the playlists created for a particular purpose and build your own. Give it a try.
No other holiday dominates our listening like Christmas. During this season, we are exposed to a seemingly never ending playlist of Christmas music. So its no surprise that there’s a huge amount of Christmas music available on Spotify. How much? Let’s take a look.
How much Christmas music is there?
It is actually quite hard to pinpoint the exact number of Christmas songs. First, every week during the holiday season thousands more Christmas songs are added to the set. Second, some songs are seasonal – is Frosty The Snowman a Christmas song? Not literally, but it gets a lot of play at this time of year, even by the antipodes. Finally, there are a number of other holidays and celebrations at this time of year such as Hanukkah, Boxing Day, New Years, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, and Festivus that we want to include in this category. So when I say “Christmas Music” I’m referring to western music that is played primarily during December. There’s probably a better term to describe this music, but terms like seasonal, and holiday have their own special baggage – perhaps something like music coincident with the northern hemispheric winter solstice is the most precise description, but lets stick with Christmas music just to keep things simple. So how much Christmas music is there? In early December 2014, crack music + data nerd Aaron Daubman dove into the Spotify + Echo Nest music catalog and found 914,047 Christmas tracks – that’s just under a million Christmas tracks. Let’s unwrap this dataset to see what we can find.
First, some basic stats: Those 914,047 tracks represent 180,660 unique songs and were created by 63,711 unique artists – from Aaron Neville to Zuma the King. The top 20 artists with the most Christmas tracks in the Spotify catalog are all pre-Beatles artists:
Artists with the most Christmas Tracks
|4||Nat King Cole||11613|
|5||Johann Sebastian Bach||8958|
|15||The Andrews Sisters||3567|
Yes, that’s right, Bing Crosby has 22,382 different Christmas tracks (!) in the Spotify catalog. Now, a little digression on what we consider to be a unique track. Music, especially popular music, is released in many forms. A very popular song, such as Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, may appear on a wide range of albums – from the original studio release to a plethora of Christmas Compilations and artist ‘best of’ albums. Each of these track releases may have different album art, different rights holders and regional licenses. Thus, even though the audio for White Christmas may be the same on each of the release, we consider each release as a different track.
Let’s take a closer look at Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. In our catalog of nearly a million Christmas tracks, 2,196 of them are Bing Crosby’s classic. I’ll say that again, just because it is a rather phenomenal fact – there are 2,196 different albums on Spotify that contain Bing’s White Christmas. It is hard to believe, so I created a web page that contains all 2,196 of the albums so you can see them all. Click on the image below to load them all up (warning – with 2000+ album covers it’s a bit of a browser buster).
White Christmas isn’t the only uber-track of the holidays. Here are the top 25 Christmas tracks based upon the number of times they have been released on an album:
The most released Christmas tracks
|1||Bing Crosby – White Christmas||2196|
|2||Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby||1286|
|3||Elvis Presley – Blue Christmas||1285|
|4||Frank Sinatra – Jingle Bells||1121|
|5||Harry Belafonte – Mary’s Boy Child||904|
|6||Bing Crosby – Silver Bells||881|
|7||Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song||870|
|8||Frank Sinatra – The Christmas Waltz||811|
|9||Rosemary Clooney – Suzy Snowflake||788|
|10||Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock||779|
|11||Elvis Presley – White Christmas||738|
|12||Judy Garland – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas||735|
|13||Frank Sinatra – White Christmas||703|
|14||Frank Sinatra – Christmas Dreaming||696|
|15||Frank Sinatra – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas||695|
|16||Elvis Presley – Silent Night||688|
|17||Elvis Presley – I Believe||664|
|18||Frank Sinatra – Santa Claus Is Coming to Town||660|
|19||Louis Armstrong – Zat You Santa Claus||598|
|20||Dean Martin – The Christmas Blues||575|
|21||Frank Sinatra – Mistletoe and Holly||568|
|22||Louis Armstrong – Cool Yule||566|
|23||Frank Sinatra – Silent Night||563|
|24||Bing Crosby – Jingle Bells||560|
|25||Elvis Presley – Santa Claus Is Back in Town||559|
You can see all of the releases for Elvis’s Blue Christmas and Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby here:
So there are lots of copies of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby out there – but what are the most common Christmas songs overall? Which ones have been recorded the most by any artist? The following table shows the top 25:
Most recorded songs
|5||Joy to the World||9093|
|6||The First Noel||8731|
|7||Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas||8511|
|8||O Holy Night||7925|
|9||Hark The Herald Angels Sing||7727|
|10||The Christmas Song||7673|
|11||Away in a Manger||7544|
|12||God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen||7524|
|13||O Little Town of Bethlehem||7480|
|14||Santa Claus Is Coming To Town||6851|
|15||I’ll Be Home for Christmas||6844|
|16||O Come All Ye Faithful||6273|
|17||Deck The Halls||6057|
|20||What Child Is This?||5755|
|21||We Wish You A Merry Christmas||5619|
|22||It Came Upon A Midnight Clear||5019|
|25||Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!||4598|
Of course this data may be confounded by the uber-tracks like White Christmas that have thousands of versions by a single artist, so lets look at the most recorded songs by unique artists – that is, we only count Bing Crosby once for White Christmas instead of 2,196 times. When we do that the top 25 changes a bit:
Most recorded Christmas songs (Unique Artists)
|3||Joy to the World||3593|
|5||O Holy Night||3536|
|6||The First Noel||3181|
|7||What Child Is This?||3150|
|8||Away in a Manger||3140|
|9||God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen||2871|
|10||Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas||2823|
|11||O Come All Ye Faithful||2675|
|12||Hark The Herald Angels Sing||2638|
|13||Angels We Have Heard on High||2494|
|15||The Christmas Song||2398|
|16||We Wish You A Merry Christmas||2281|
|17||Deck The Halls||2274|
|18||O Little Town of Bethlehem||2197|
|19||We Three Kings||2048|
|20||Santa Claus Is Coming To Town||1837|
|21||It Came Upon A Midnight Clear||1768|
|23||Auld Lang Syne||1603|
|25||I’ll Be Home for Christmas||1577|
The songs in green are the songs that are unique to each list.
Artists with the most number of unique songs
Bing Crosby is at the top of the Most Christmasy artists mainly because of the widespread re-issuing of White Christmas. But if we look at unique songs (i.e. White Christmas only counts once for Bing Crosby), the top Christmas artists look very different – with classical composers, Karaoke ‘artists’ and music factories topping the charts:
Artists with the most number of unique songs
|1||Johann Sebastian Bach||3681|
|3||The Karaoke Channel||1098|
|4||George Frideric Handel||903|
|7||ProSound Karaoke Band||762|
|8||Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky||691|
|9||SBI Audio Karaoke||641|
|10||Mega Tracks Karaoke Band||577|
|12||Ameritz Karaoke Entertainment||508|
|13||Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra||506|
|16||Karaoke – Ameritz||428|
|17||Nat King Cole||413|
|18||Ameritz Karaoke Band||397|
|19||Merry Tune Makers||385|
Current popular Christmas crooner Michael Bublé, with 31 unique Christmas songs has a way to go before he makes it on to the most-unique-songs-recorded chart.
Speaking of Karaoke – there’s lots of Christmas Karaoke – 23,472 tracks to be precise. The top 25 Karaoke songs are the classics:
Top Karaoke Christmas Songs
|9||The Christmas Song||185|
|10||Jingle Bell Rock||172|
|11||Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas||171|
|12||Please Come Home for Christmas||163|
|13||Little Drummer Boy||163|
|15||O Come All Ye Faithful||154|
|16||Here Comes Santa Claus||150|
|18||All I Want for Christmas Is You||146|
|19||O Holy Night||144|
|20||I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus||143|
|21||Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree||135|
|22||Santa Claus Is Coming to Town||126|
|23||Frosty the Snowman||125|
|24||Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer||121|
|25||We Wish You a Merry Christmas||118|
We can build a good list of seasonal terms by finding the most frequently occurring words in song titles. Here are the top 75 or so, as a word cloud created by wordle (stop words are removed of course).
Longest Christmas song name
There are lots of very long song names in the set of Christmas songs – the longest is this Christmas medly.
Andrea und Manuela – Morgen kommt der Weohnachtsmann – Medley / Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann/Leise rieselt der Schnee/Oh du Fröhliche/Ihr Kinderlein kommet/Süßer die Glocken nie klingen/Oh Tannenbaum/Kling Glöckchen/Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht/Alle Jahre wieder – Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann/Leise rieselt der Schnee/Oh du Fröhliche/Ihr Kinderlein kommet/Süßer die Glocken nie klingen/Oh Tannenbaum/Kling Glöckchen/Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht/Alle Jahre wieder
A great song for testing how well your music player UI deals with unusual titles.
One would think that with a million Christmas tracks we’d already have more than enough Christmas music – but, it seems, we still like new Christmas music. Ariana Grande’s recently released Santa Tell Me is climbing the streaming charts (currently #44 at charts.spotify.com).
Plus, there’s seemingly no-end to the variety of Christmas Music. If White Christmas with Bing Crosby is not your style, then there’s Blue Christmas by Elvis.
And If that’s not your thing, maybe you’ll enjoy Red Christmas by Insane Clown Posse.
‘Tis the season for artists to release Christmas music … and they release lots of it. In the last two weeks Spotify has added thousands of releases with ‘Christmas’ in the title. I though it would be fun to build a little web app that lets you explore through all the releases. Here it is: ‘Tis the Season.
It shows you all the Christmas albums that have been released in the last few weeks, lets you listen to them and lets you open them in Spotify.
It makes use of the Spotify Web API – there’s a nifty search feature that lets you restrict album searches to albums that have just been recently release. That’s what makes this app possible. Check out the app at ‘Tis the Season. The source is on github.
Over the last six months or so The Infinite Jukebox had a link to a survey about features peopled would like to see in a mobile version of The Infinite Jukebox. Since then, over 10,000 people have taken the survey. Here are the results.
The survey was linked to directly from the Infinite Jukebox. The questions asked were:
Since the text in link to the survey was “Interested in a mobile version of the Infinite Jukebox? Then take this one minute survey” it is no surprise that 99% of all respondents are interested in a mobile version of the app.
The split between Android and iOS aligns with other iOS vs Android metrics out there on the webs.
As for how much people would be willing to pay, 64% would be willing to pay something for the app.
This was a bit surprising – 70% of folks want to play music from their own collection, and only 11% are interested in playing music from a streaming service like Spotify or Rdio.
The final question was an open-ended question asking about what other features would you like to see in the Infinite Jukebox. Many of the responses were about what features would like to see in the current web version, while many were about what features should be in a mobile version. Some of the more common results are here:
Common new feature suggestions
- Background playing
- Offline playling
- No Ads
- Simple tuning options
- Playlist support
- Choose song length
- Time limits per song
- Infinitise multiple songs
- Color schemes
- Volume controls
- Social features (voting on best tunings)
So, you may be wondering where is the mobile version of the Infinite Jukebox? It is coming along, all the hard coding bits are done, but it has been very much a spare time project. I do hope to release it sometime in the near future. Here’s a short clip of the app in action:
Thanks to everyone who took the survey, its been quite informative.
Yesterday, I upgraded the Infinite Jukebox to make it less likely that it would get stuck in a section of the song. As part of this work, I needed an easy way to see the play coverage in the song. To do so, I updated the Infinite Jukebox visualization so that it directly shows play coverage. With this update, the height of any beat in the visualization is proportional to how often that beat has been played relative to the other beats in the song. Beats that have been played more have taller bars in the visualization.
This makes it easy to see if we’ve improved play coverage. For example, here’s the visualization of Radiohead’s Karma Police with the old play algorithm after about an hour of play:
As you can see, there’s quite a bit of bunching up of plays in the third quarter of the song (from about 7 o’clock to 10 o’clock). Now compare that to the visualization of the new algorithm:
With the new algorithm, there’s much less bunching of play. Play is much more evenly distributed across the whole song.
Here’s another example. The song First of the Year (Equinox) by Skrillex played for about seven hours with the old algorithm:
As you can see, it has quite uneven coverage. Note the intro and outro of the song are almost always the least played of any song, since those parts of the song typically have very little similarity with the rest of the song.
Here’s the same song with the new algorithm:
Again, play coverage is much more even across all of the song outside of the intro and the outro.
I like this play coverage visualization so much that I’ve now made it part of the standard Infinite Jukebox. Now as you play a song in the Jukebox, you’ll get to see the song coverage map as well. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
It has been over two years since the Infinite Jukebox was first released after Music Hack Day Boston 2012. Since then millions of people have spent nearly a million hours listening to infinite versions of their favorite songs. It has been my most popular hack.
There has always been a problem with the Infinite Jukebox. Certain songs have sections with very dense interconnections. For these songs the Infinite Jukebox would sometimes get stuck playing the same section of the song for many minutes or hours before breaking free. This morning I finally sat down and worked out a good way to deal with this problem. The Infinite Jukebox will now try to steer the song toward the beats that have been played the least. When the jukebox is deciding which beat to play next, it will search through all the possible future paths up to five beats into the future to find the path that brings the jukebox to the least played part of the song. The result is that we exit out of the rats nest of connections rather quickly. The code is quite succinct – just 20 lines in one recursive function. Good payback for such a small amount of code.
While I was in the codebase, I made a few other minor changes. I switched around the color palettes to favor more green and blue colors, and I use a different color to draw the beat connections when we make a jump.