Archive for category Music
One of the challenges faced by a music streaming service is to figure out what music to play for the brand-new listener. The first listening experience of a new listener can be critical to gaining that listener as a long time subscriber. However, figuring out what to play for that new listener is very difficult because often there’s absolutely no data available about what kind of music that listener likes. Some music services will interview the new listener to get an idea of their music tastes.
However, we’ve seen that for many listeners, especially the casual and indifferent listeners, this type of enrollment may be too complicated. Some listeners don’t know or care about the differences between Blues, R&B and Americana and thus won’t be able to tell you which they prefer. A listener whose only experience in starting a listening session is to turn on the radio may not be ready for a multi-screen interview about their music taste.
So what can a music service play for a listener when they have absolutely no data about that listener? A good place to start is to play music by the most popular artists. Given no other data, playing what’s popular is better than nothing. But perhaps we can do better than that. The key is in looking at the little bit of data that a new listener will give you.
For most music services, there’s a short user enrollment process that gets some basic info from the listener including their email address and some basic demographic information. Here’s the enrollment box for Spotify:
Included in this information is the date of birth and the gender of the listener. Perhaps we can use basic demographic data to generate a slightly more refined set of artists. For starters, lets consider gender. Let’s try to answer the question: If we know that a listener is male or female does that increase our understanding of what kind of music they might like? Let’s take a look.
Exploring Gender Differences in Listening
Do men listen to different music than women do? Anecdotally, we can think of lots of examples that point to yes – it seems like more of One Direction’s fans are female, while more heavy metal fans are male, but lets take a look at some data to see if this is really the case.
The Data – For this study, I looked at the recent listening of about 200 thousand randomly selected listeners that have self-identified as either male or female. From this set of listeners, I tallied up the number of male and female listeners for each artist and then simply ranked the artists in order or listeners. Here’s a quick look at the top 5 artists by gender.
Top 5 artists by gender
|2||Bruno Mars||Daft Punk||Bruno Mars|
|4||Katy Perry||Bruno Mars||Katy Perry|
Among the top 5 we see that the Male and Female listeners only share one artist in common:Bruno Mars. This trend continues as we look at the top 40 artists. Comparing lists by eye can be a bit difficult, so I created a slopegraph visualization to make it easier to compare. Click on this image to see the whole slopegraph:
Looking at the top 40 charts artists we see that more than a quarter of the artists are gender specific. Artists that top the female listener chart but are missing on the male listener chart include: Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Shakira, Britney Spears, One Direction, Christina Aguilera, Ke$ha, Ciara, Jennifer Lopez, Avril Lavigne and Nicki Minaj. Conversely, artists that top the male listener chart but are missing on the top 40 female listener chart include: Bob Marley, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Avicii, T.I. Queen, J.Cole, Linkin Park, Kid Cudi and 50 Cent. While some artists seem to more easily cross gender lines like Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Lana Del Rey and Robin Thicke.
No matter what size chart we look at – whether it is the top 40, top 200 or the top 1000 artists – about 30% of artists on a gender-specific chart don’t appear on the corresponding chart for the opposite gender. Similarly, about 15% of the artists that appear on a general chart of top artists will be of low relevance to a typical listener based on these gender-listening differences.
What does this all mean? If you don’t know anything about a listener except for their gender, you can reduce the listener WTFs by 15% for a typical listener by restricting plays to artists from the gender specific charts. But perhaps even more importantly, we can use this data to improve the listening experience for a listener even if we don’t know a listener’s gender at all. Looking at the data we see that there are a number of gender-polarizing artists on any chart. These are artists that are extremely popular for one gender, but not popular at all for the other. Chances are that if you play one of these polarizing artists for a listener that you know absolutely nothing about, 50% of the time you will get it wrong. Play One Direction and 50% of the time the listener won’t like it, just because 50% of the time the listener is male. This means that we can improve the listening experience for a listener, even if we don’t know their gender by eliminating the gender skewing artists and replacing them with more gender neutral artists.
Let’s see how this would affect our charts. Here are the new Top 40 artists when we account for gender differences.
|16||23||Lana Del Rey|
|19||27||The Black Eyed Peas|
|24||22||Macklemore & Ryan Lewis|
Artists promoted to the chart due to replace gender-skewed artists are in bold. Artists that were dropped from the top 40 are:
- Avicii – skews male
- Justin Bieber – skews female
- Christina Aguilera – skews female
- One Direction – skews female
- Demi Lovato – skews female
Who are the most gender skewed artists?
The Top 40 is a fairly narrow slice of music. It is much more interesting to look at how listening can skew across a much broader range of music. Here I look at the top 1,000 artists listened to by males and the top 1,000 artists listened to by females and find the artists that have the largest change in rank as they move from the male chart to the female chart. Artists that lose the most rank are artists that skew male the most, while artists that gain the most rank skew female.
Top male-skewed artists:
artists that skew towards male fans
- Iron Maiden
- Rage Against the Machine
- Van Halen
- Jimi Hendrix
- Limp Bizkit
- Wu-Tang Clan
- The Who
- Alice in Chains
- Black Sabbath
- Stone Temple Pilots
- Mobb Deep
- Queens of the Stone Age
- Ice Cube
Top female-skewed artists:
artists that skew towards female fans
- Danity Kane
- Cody Simpson
- Hannah Montana
- Emily Osment
- Playa LImbo
- Vanessa Hudgens
- Miranda Lambert
- Aly & AJ
- Christina Milian
- Noel Schajris
- Maria José
- Jesse McCartney
- Bridgit Mendler
- Luis Fonsi
- La Oreja de Van Gogh
- Michelle Williams
- Lindsay Lohan
By looking at the genres of the most gender skewed artists we can also get a sense of which genres are most gender skewed as well. Looking at the genres of the top 1000 artists listened to by male listeners and the top 1000 artists with female listeners we identify the most skewed genres:
Genres most skewed to female listeners:
- Dance Pop
- Contemporary Hit Radio
- Urban Contemporary
- Hot Adult Contemporary
- Latin Pop
- Teen Pop
- Neo soul
- Pop rock
- Contemporary country
Genres most skewed to male listeners:
- Hip Hop
- Album Rock
- Pop Rap
- Indie Rock
- Funk Rock
- Gangster Rap
- Electro house
- Classic rock
- Nu metal
This study confirms what we expected – that there are differences in gender listening. For mainstream listening about 30% of the artists in a typical male’s listening rotation won’t be found in a typical female listening rotation and vice versa. If we happen to know a listener’s gender and nothing else, we can improve their listening experience somewhat by replacing artists that skew to the opposite gender with more neutral artists. We can even improve the listening experience for a listener that we know absolutely nothing about – not even their gender – by replacing gender-polarized artists with artists that are more accepted by both genders.
Of course when we talk about gender differences in listening, we are talking about probabilities and statistics averaged over a large number of people. Yes, the typical One Direction fan is female, but that doesn’t mean that all One Direction fans are female. We can use gender to help us improve the listening experience for a brand new user, even if we don’t know the gender of that new user. But I suspect the benefits of using gender for music scheduling is limited to helping with the cold start problem. After a new user has listened to a dozen or so songs, we’ll have a much richer picture of the type of music they listen to – and we may discover that the new male listener really does like to listen to One Direction and Justin Bieber and that new female listener is a big classic rock fan that especially likes Jimi Hendrix.
update – 2/13 – commenter AW suggested that the word ‘bias’ was too loaded a term. I agree and have changed the post replacing ‘bias’ with ‘difference’
This past weekend was the fourth annual MIDEM Music Hack Day held in Cannes. During about 48 hours 2 dozen or so hackers collected in a beautiful hacking space at the top of the Palais Des Festivals to build something cool with music and technology.
The MIDEM Music Hack Day is no ordinary Music Hack Day. It has a very limited enrollment so only hackers that have demonstrated the ability to create music hacks are invited. Add to that, the fact that there is about 50% more time to build hacks and the result is a set of very high quality hacks.
Martyn Davies, master Music Hack day coordinator, kicked off the event with a talk to the MIDEM attendees about what Music Hack Day is all about. Martyn talked about the things that drive the hackers to spend their weekends hacking on code – in particular how the Music Hack Day is a chance to combined their love for music and technology, be creative and to build something new and cool during the weekend. Martyn demonstrated two representative hacks built at previous Music Hack Days. First he showed the demo given by master hacker @sydlawrence of a hack called Disco Disco Tech. The excitement in Syd’s voice is worth the price of admission alone.
Next he showed one of my favorite Music Hack Day hacks of all time, Johnny Cash is Everywhere by @iainmullen
One of the special features of the MIDEM Music Hack Day is that non-hackers get to pitch their hacking ideas to the hackers about what apps they’d really like to see created over the weekend. There were a number of pitches ranging from a proposal for an artist-centric tool for organizing a creative music production team to a whimsical request to show what the music on the Internet sounds like when it decays. (Here’s one answer). All of the idea pitches were interesting, but here’s the secret. The hackers are not going to build your idea. It’s not because they don’t like your idea, it is because they already have tons of good ideas. The hackers are a very creative bunch, each with a long list of ideas waiting to be built. What the hackers usually lack is a solid block of time to implement their own ideas and so a hackathon is the perfect time to take that best idea on the list and work for a solid 24 hour to get it done. It is rare for a hacker to get excited about building someone else’s idea, when they have so many of their own. As they say: “ideas are cheap, execution is everything“.
Once the opening talks concluded we hackers made their way up to the top of the Palais des Festivals (the heart of MIDEM) to our hacking space. It’s a great space with lots of natural light, a terrace that overlooks the French Riviera, and it is some distance away from the main conference so we were not bothered by stray walk-ons.
To kick things off, we went around the room introducing ourselves, briefly talking about our background skills, and ideas, and almost immediately got to hacking. Since all the hackers were experienced hackers there was no need for the typical API workshops or learning sessions. Everyone knew, for instance, that I was from The Echo Nest and was ready to answer any questions about the Echo Nest API that should arise.
The next 46 hours was a blur of coding, punctuated by food delivery, the sound of the espresso maker and the occasional wandering pigeon.
Hacker Self Portraits
There’s a math error lurking in there …
Early morning coding on the French Riveria
After 48 hours, we gathered in the Innovation Hall to demonstrate what we built. Each hacking team had about three minutes to show their stuff. Eighteen hacks were built. Here are some of my very favorites:
DJ Spotify – built by Yuli Levtov – This is a real hacker’s hack. Yuli had a problem. He wanted to use Spotify when he DJed, but Spotify won’t let you beat match and cross fade songs. In fact, Spotify won’t even let you play two streams at once. So Yuli got to work to make it happen. Along the way Yuli augmented his DJ playlists with BPM and key information from The Echo Nest (using a very clever growl hack). One of the highlights of my MIDEM week was listening to Yuli try to explain what OS virtualization is and how Soundflower works to a room full of Music Biz types. Yuli has a detailed blog post that describes how his hack works. Yuli’s hack was voted the best hack by the hackers. Well done Yuli!
That One Song - by Matt Ogle and Hannah Donovan – For this hack, Matt added a feature to his super popular This Is My Jam site. Type in any band and let the Jam community tell you the one song you should hear first. Plus: playback options, commentary, and an alternative “B-side” song recommendation for each artist.
Skrillex Invader 20 – by Vivien Barousse – Imagine Guitar Hero meets Space Invaders meets Skrillex meets a Piano Keyboard. Skrillex Invader 20 is a small game designed to help you improve your skills on a piano keyboard.
Scratchy Record – by Alastair Porter – Playing music from mp3s today has no soul. Scratchy Record reproduces the joy that can be had listening to music on vinyl. From the dirty needle causing extra noise, to the pops and skips that we all love, to the need to get up half way through the album and turn it over. Scratchy Record has it all.
HappyClappy - by Peck, ankit and mager – an IOS app that lets you queue up songs by clapping the rhythm. Uses The Echo Nest to search for songs by BPM.
PhatStats – Syd Lawerence – Syd tried to build a sustainable subscription business during the hack with PhatStats – A new tool to discover up and coming talent across the social web, and to monitor your videos and their engagement levels across the social web.
This is your tour - Sam Phippen – Going on tour is hard. You’ve got to find someone to tour with. You’ve got to pick cities and venues. You’ve got to book hotels, find places to eat and drink. All of this takes far too much time.
Nikantas – Sabrina Leandro – a clever app that helps you learn a new language through music lyrics. Fill in the blanks in lyrics of your favourite English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, or Italian artists. Can you recognise a word in a song? A word will be displayed on the screen, press the space key when the artist sings it
neoScores meets Deezer - Bob Hamblok – HTML5 sheet music score following inside Deezer.
Seevl hipster - by Alexandre Passant – Be a real hipster. Impress your friends with obscure music tastes. Do you want to impress your friend who’s into electro-folk, or that other one who only listens to avant-garde metal? Now you can! With seevl hipster, find obscure artists that match your friend tastes, and show-off on their Facebook wall.
Playlist Plus - Iain Mullan – Playlist Plus allows you to create a richer interactive version of a playlist. Add notes and comments to each track, to share with friends, or distribute an in-depth album review. Like a particular lyric? Bookmark it at the exact timestamp in the song. Think a track has a heavy Zeppelin influence? Link to the song/album it reminds you of. Cover version? Link to the original and let the reader stream it instantly from within your PlaylistPlus!
ScapeList - Mohammed Sordo – How does a landscape sound like? You take a picture of, let’s say, the Grand Canyon in Colorado, a la Instagram, but you also want to attach a song to it, a song that makes sense to you while you were taking that picture. Now imagine that other people went to the same place, took another picture of it but picked a different song. You end up with a playlist of songs related to that landscape, a ScapeList, curated by the users themselves, which you can listen to.
VideoFairy - by Suzie Blackman – A radio-style music discovery app designed for smart TV! It’s a bit like channel hopping, but for music videos. VideoFairy finds music videos from artists you’ll like with a simple interface that works with a remote control (use arrow keys and ‘enter’ on a keyboard).Designed for ‘lean back’ TV viewing with minimum interaction, you can sit back and watch new music recommended from your last.fm profile. Skip skip anything you don’t like with a simple tap of the remote.
Cannes Burn - my hack – a music visualizaton of Ellie Goulding’s Burn
I was unusually nervous and quite tired when I gave my demo, so I fell for a newbie demo mistake and had trouble getting my desktop to display properly. But when I finally did, my demo went off smoothly. I only had to say a few words and hit the play button, so despite the nerves, it was a pretty easy demo to give. Here’s my view of the audience while giving the demo:
After we presented the hacks the hackers themselves voted for the best hack which went to Yuli for his amazing DJ Spotify. Yuli is quite the gracious and humble winner, making sure everyone got a glass of his winning champagne.
After all the hacking the exhausted hackers took some time to kick back, have a good dinner, a few drinks and long conversations into the night about life as an international music hacker.
Halfway through the MIDEM Music Hack Day I paused to take stock. Here I was, on the other side of the world sitting at the top of the Palais des Festival, overlooking the French Riviera, surrounded by friends and writing code. It was a great place to be, and I felt very fortunate to be there. This was all possible because the music biz folks realize that we hackers have lots of ideas that will advance the state-of-the-art in music tech, and even more importantly we have the ability to actually turn those ideas into reality. And so, they treat us very well. It is good to be a music hacker.
My hack at the MIDEM Music Hack Day this year is what I’d call a Creative Hack. I built it, not because it answered any business use case or because it demonstrated some advanced capability of some platform or music tech ecosystem, I built it because I was feeling creative and I wanted to express my creativity in the best way that I can which is to write a computer program. The result is something I’m particularly proud of. It’s a dynamic visualization of the song Burn by Ellie Goulding. Here’s a short, low-res excerpt, but I strongly suggest that you go and watch the full version here: Cannes Burn
Unlike all of the other hacks that I’ve built, this one feels really personal to me. I wasn’t just trying to solve a technical problem. I was trying to capture the essence of the song in code, trying to tell its story and maybe even touch the viewer. The challenge wasn’t in the coding it was in the feeling.
After every hack day, I’m usually feeling a little depressed. I call it post-hacking depression. It is partially caused by being sleep deprived for 48 hours, but the biggest component is that I’ve put my all into something for 48 hours and then it is just over. The demo is done, the code is checked into github, the app is deployed online and people are visiting it (or not). The thing that just totally and completely took over my life for two days is completely gone. It is easy to reflect back on the weekend and wonder if all that time and energy was worth it.
Monday night after the MIDEM hack day was over I was in the midst of my post-hack depression sitting in a little pub called Le Crillon when a guy came up to me and said “I saw your hack. It made me feel something. Your hack moved me.”
Cannes Burn won’t be my post popular hack, nor is it my most challenging hack, but it may be my favorite hack because I was able to write some code and make somebody that I didn’t know feel something.
This weekend brought me to Cannes and the French Riviera for the MIDEM Music Hack Day where I’ve spent about 40 hours working on my music hack called Cannes Burn. Cannes Burn is a visualization that accompanies the song Burn by Ellie Goulding. Go check it out if you haven’t already seen it before reading on. It requires a modern computer and browser that supports webgl.
The Hack uses the new ENsync.js library that I created last week. ENsync uses the Echo Nest analysis to provide synchronization of a JS web app with music. With ENsync you can setup elaborate animations that are triggered by musical events (such on every bar, beat or tatum). The Hack also uses threejs – the amazing 3D library by Mr.Doob.
Creating the hack was a whole lot of fun – I spent hours building 3D shapes out of flying cubes. I probably listened to the song Burn many hundreds of times this weekend. (Thanks to my hacker neighbors who put up with my endless Ellie looping without complaint).
It has been a great weekend here in Cannes. It is so inspiring to be surrounded by a bunch of really smart folks who are passionate about music and technology and see and hear how they are building their stuff. Such a great, sharing vibe from all of the hackers. I feel really lucky to part of it all!
Today at the Echo Nest we are pushing out an update to our Genre APIs. The new APIs lets you get all sorts of information about any of over 800 genres including a description of the genre, representative artists in the genre, similar genres, and links to web resources for the genre (such as a wikipedia page, if one exists for a genre). You can also use the genres to create various types of playlists. With these APIs you build all sorts of music exploration apps like Every Noise At Once, Music Popcorn and Genre-A-Day.
The new APIs are quite simple to use. Here are a few python examples created using pyen.
List all of the available genres with a description
This outputs text like so:
We can get the top artists for any genre like so:
Here are the top artists for ‘cool jazz’
We can find similar genres to any genre with this bit of code:
% python sim_genres.py cool jazz bebop jazz hard bop contemporary post-bop soul jazz big band jazz christmas stride jazz funk jazz fusion avant-garde jazz free jazz
We can use the genres to create excellent genre playlists. To do so, create a playlist of type ‘genre-radio’ and give the genre name as a seed. We’ve also added a new parameter called ‘genre_preset’ that, if specified will control the type of songs that will be added to the playlist. You can chose from core, in_rotation, and emerging. Core genre playlists are great for introducing a new listener to the genre. Here’s a bit of code that generates a core playlist for any genre:
The core classic rock playlist looks like this:
- Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf
- All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix
- Kashmir by Led Zeppelin
- Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream
- Let’s Work Together by Canned Heat
- Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
- It’s My Life by The Animals
- 30 Days In The Hole by Humble Pie
- Midnight Rider by The Allman Brothers Band
- The Joker by Steve Miller Band
- Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Black Betty by Ram Jam
- Heart Full Of Soul by The Yardbirds
- Light My Fire by The Doors
The ‘in rotation’ classic rock playlist looks like this:
- Heaven on Earth by Boston
- Doom And Gloom by The Rolling Stones
- Little Black Submarines by The Black Keys
- I Gotsta Get Paid by ZZ Top
- Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band
- Blue On Black by Kenny Wayne Shepherd
- Driving Towards The Daylight by Joe Bonamassa
- When A Blind Man Cries by Deep Purple
- Over and Over (Live) by Joe Walsh
- The Best Is Yet To Come by Scorpions
- World Boss by Gov’t Mule
- One Way Out by The Allman Brothers Band
- Corned Beef City by Mark Knopfler
- Bleeding Heart by Jimi Hendrix
- My Sharona by The Knack
While the emerging ‘classic rock’ playlist looks like this:
- If You Were in Love by Boston
- Beggin’ by Shocking Blue
- Speak Now by The Answer
- Mystic Highway by John Fogerty
- Hell Of A Season by The Black Keys
- No Reward by Gov’t Mule
- Pretty Wasted by Tito & Tarantula
- The Battle Of Evermore by Page & Plant
- I Got All You Need by Joe Bonamassa
- What You Gonna Do About Me by Buddy Guy
- I Used To Could by Mark Knopfler
- Wrecking Ball by Joe Walsh
- The Circle by Black Country Communion
- You Could Have Been a Lady by April Wine
- 15 Lonely by Walter Trout
The new Genre APIs are really quite fun to use. I’m looking forward to seeing a whole new world of music exploration and discovery apps built around these APIs.
My top ‘must-listen’ podcast is now Andrea Leonelli’s Digital Music Trends. This weekly podcast is jam packed with analysis and info about what’s going on in the digital music space. The latest podcast includes Music Hack Day master Martyn Davies and Ben Graham from StrategyEye in a round table discussion on Gracenote’s recent sale, their Rhythm announcment, CES and more. Good stuff.
For my Christmas vacation programming project this year, I revisited an old hack: Six Degrees of Black Sabbath. I wrote the original, way back in 2010 at the very first San Francisco Music Hack Day. That version is still up and running, and getting regular visits, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth and so I’ve given it a total rewrite from the ground up. The result is the new Six Degrees of Black Sabbath:
Six Degrees of Black Sabbath is like the Oracle of Bacon but for music. It lets you find connections to just about any two artists based upon their collaborations. Type in the name of two artists, and 6dobs will give you a pathway showing the connections that will get you from one artist to another. For instance, if you enter ‘The Beatles’ and ‘Norah Jones’ you’ll get a path like:
- We start with The Beatles
- The Beatles had member George Harrison
- George Harrison performed with Ravi Shankar on the song Bangla Dhun and 26 others.
- Ravi Shankar was parent of Norah Jones
If you don’t like a particular connection, you can bypass it generating a new path. For instance, if we bypass Ravi Shankar, it will take us eight steps to get to Norah Jones from the Beatles:
The Beatles -> Paul McCartney -> The Fireman -> Youth -> Pigface
-> Mike Dillon ->Garage A Trois -> Charlie Hunter -> Norah Jones
Not all connections are created equal. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been playing together for over 50 years in the Rolling Stones. That’s a much stronger connection than the one between Mick Jagger and Fergie for performing a single song together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We take these connection strengths into account when finding paths between artists. Preference is given to stronger connections, even if those stronger connections will yield a longer path.
The new version of Six Degrees of Black Sabbath has a number of new features:
Video – Each step in a path is represented by a Youtube video – often with a video by the two artists that represent that step. I’m quite pleased at how well the video works for establishing the connection between two artists. Youtube seems to have it all.
Live stats – The app tracks and reports all sorts of things such as the longest path discovered so far, the most frequently occurring artists on paths, the most connected artists, most searched for artists and so on.
Larger database of connections – the database has about a quarter million artists and 2.5 million artist-to-artist connections.
Autocomplete for artist names – no need to try to remember how to spell ‘Britney Spears‘ – just start typing the parts you know and it will sort it out.
Spiffier looking UI – It still looks like it was designed by an engineer, but at least it looks like it was designed in this decade by an engineer.
Path finding improvements – faster and better paths throughout.
Revisiting this app after 4 years was a lot of fun. I got to dive deep into a bunch of tech that was new to me including Redis, Bootstrap 3, and the YouTube video search API. I spent many hours untangling the various connections in the new Musicbrainz schema. I took a tour through a number of Pythonic network graph libraries (Networkx, igraph and graph-tool), I learned a lot about Python garbage collection when you have a 2.5gb heap.
Give the app a try and let me know what you think.