The Passion Index

One of the ways that Music 2.0 has changed how we think about music is that there is so much interesting data available about how people are listening to music.  Sites like automatically track all sorts of interesting data that just was not available before.  Forty years ago, a music label like Capitol would know how many copies the album  Abbey Road sold in the U.S., but the label wouldn’t know how many times people actually listened to the album.  Today, however, our iPods and desktop music players keep careful track of how many times we play each song,  album and artist – giving us a whole new way to look at artist popularity.  beatles-countIt’s not just sales figures anymore, its how often are people actually listening to an artist.  If you go to you can see that The Beatles have over  1.75 million listeners and 168 million plays.  It makes it easy for us to see how popular the Beatles are compared to another band (the monkees, for instance have 2.5m plays and 285K listeners).

With all of this new data available, there are some new ways we can look at artists.  Instead of just looking at artists in terms of popularity and sales rank,  I think it is interesting to see which artists generate the most passionate listeners.  These are artists that dominate the playlists of their fans.   I think this ‘passion index’ may be an interesting metric to use to help people explore for and discovery music.  Artists that attract passionate fans may be longer lived and worth  a listeners investment in time and money.

How can we calculate a passion index?   There are probably a number of indicators:  the number of edits to the bands wikipedia page,  the average distance a fan travels to attend a show by the artist, the number of fan sites for an artist.  All of these may be a bit difficult to collect, especially for a large set of artists.  One  simple passion metric is just  the average number of artist plays per listener.  Presumably if an artist’s listeners are playing an artist’s songs more than average they are more passionate about the artist.   One thing that I like about this approach to the passion index is that it is extremely easy to calculate – just divide the total artist plays by the total number of artist listeners and you have the passion index.   Yes, there are many confounding factors – for instance,  artists with longer songs are penalized – still I think it is a pretty good measure.

I calculated the passion index for a large collection of artists.  I started with about a million artists (it is really nice to have all this data at the Echo Nest;), and filtered these down to the 50K most popular artists.  I plotted the number of artist plays vs. the number of artist listeners for each of the 50 K listeners.    The plot shows that most artists fall into the central band (normal passion), but some (the green points) are high passion artists and some (the blue points) are low passion artists.


For the 50K artists, the average track plays per artist/listener is just 11 plays (with a std deviation of about 11.5).  Considering that there are a substantial number of artists in my iTunes collection that I’ve played only once, this seems pretty resaonable.

So who are the artists with the highest passion index?   Here are the top ten:

Passion Listeners Plays Artist
332 4065 1352719 上海アリス幻樂団
292 10374 3032373 Belo
245 3147 773959 Petos
241 2829 683191 Reilukerho
208 4887 1020538 Sound Horizon
190 24422 4652968 동방신기
185 9133 1691866 岡崎律子
175 9171 1611106 Kollegah
173 17279 3004410 Super Junior
170 62592 10662940 Böhse Onkelz

I didn’t recognize any of these artists (and I’m not even sure if 上海アリス幻樂団 is really an artist – according to the Japanese wikipedia it is a fan club in Japan belo.1to produce a music game coterie – whatever that means).   Belo is a Brazilian pop artist that does indeed seem to have some rather passionate fans.

It is not surprising that it is hard for popular artists to rank at the very top of the  passion index.  Popular artists are exposed to many, many listeners which can easily reduce the passion index.    Here are the top passion-ranked artists drawn from the top-1000 most popular artists:

Passion Listeners Plays Artist
115 527653 60978053 In Flames
95 1748159 167765187 The Beatles
79 2140659 170106143 Radiohead
78 282308 22071498 Die Ärzte
75 269052 20293399 Mindless Self Indulgence
75 691100 52217023 Nightwish
74 332658 24645786 Porcupine Tree
74 1056834 79135038 Nine Inch Nails
72 384574 27901385 Opeth
70 601587 42563097 Rise Against
69 357317 24911669 Sonata Arctica
69 1364096 95399150 Metallica
66 460518 30625121 Children of Bodom
66 619396 41440369 Paramore
65 504464 33271871 Dream Theater
65 1391809 90888046 Pink Floyd
64 540184 34635084 Brand New
62 862468 54094977 Iron Maiden
62 1681914 105935202 Muse
61 381942 23478290 Beirut

I find it interesting to see all of the heavy metal bands in the top 20. Metal fans are indeed true fans.

Going to the other end of passion, we find the 20 popular artists that have the least passionate fans:

Passion Listeners Plays Artist
6 270692 1767977 Julie London
6 284087 1964292 Smoke City
6 294100 1784358 Dinah Washington
6 295200 1799303 The Bangles
6 295990 1832771 Donna Summer
6 306018 1905285 Bonnie Tyler
6 307407 2123599 Buffalo Springfield
6 311543 2085085 Franz Schubert
6 312078 1909769 The Hollies
6 313732 2190008 Tom Jones
6 325454 2025366 Eric Prydz
6 331837 2259892 Sarah Vaughan
6 332072 2016898 Soft Cell
6 407622 2622570 Steppenwolf
5 275770 1605268 Diana Ross
5 281037 1615125 Isaac Hayes
5 282095 1685959 The Isley Brothers
5 283467 1666824 Survivor
5 311867 1694947 Peggy Lee
5 333437 1925611 Wham!
5 388183 2244878 Kool & The Gang

I guess people are not too passionate about Soft Cell.

Here’s a passion chart for the top 100 most popular artists. Even the artists at the bottom of this chart are way above average on the passion index.

Passion Listeners Plays Artist
95 1748159 167765187 The Beatles
79 2140659 170106143 Radiohead
74 1056834 79135038 Nine Inch Nails
69 1364096 95399150 Metallica
65 1391809 90888046 Pink Floyd
62 1681914 105935202 Muse
61 1397442 85685015 System of a Down
61 1403951 86849524 Linkin Park
60 1346298 81762621 Death Cab for Cutie
57 1060269 61127025 Fall Out Boy
56 1155877 65324424 Arctic Monkeys
55 1897332 104932225 Red Hot Chili Peppers
54 950416 52019102 My Chemical Romance
50 1131952 56622835 blink-182
49 2313815 115653456 Coldplay
48 964970 47102550 Sigur Rós
48 1108397 53260614 Modest Mouse
48 1350931 65865988 Placebo
47 1129004 53771343 Jack Johnson
44 1297020 57111763 Led Zeppelin
43 1011131 43930085 Kings of Leon
42 947904 39970477 Marilyn Manson
42 1065375 45459226 Britney Spears
42 1246213 52656343 Incubus
42 1256717 53610102 Bob Dylan
41 1527721 62654675 Green Day
41 1881718 78473290 The Killers
40 1023666 41288978 Queens of the Stone Age
40 1057539 42472755 Kanye West
40 1108044 44845176 Interpol
40 1247838 49914554 Depeche Mode
40 1318140 53594021 Bloc Party
39 1266502 49492511 The White Stripes
38 1048025 40174997 Evanescence
38 1091324 42195854 Pearl Jam
38 1734180 67541885 Nirvana
37 978342 36561552 The Kooks
37 1097968 41046538 The Shins
37 1114190 42051787 The Offspring
37 1379096 51313607 The Cure
37 1566660 58923515 Foo Fighters
36 1326946 48738588 The Smashing Pumpkins
35 1091278 39194471 Björk
35 1271334 45619688 The Strokes
34 955876 33376744 Jimmy Eat World
34 1251461 42949597 Daft Punk
33 989230 33257150 Pixies
33 1012060 34225186 Eminem
33 1051836 35529878 Avril Lavigne
33 1110087 36785736 Johnny Cash
33 1121138 37645208 AC/DC
33 1161536 38615571 Air
32 961327 31286528 The Prodigy
32 1038491 33270172 Amy Winehouse
32 1410438 45614720 David Bowie
32 1641475 52612972 Oasis
32 1693023 54971351 U2
31 1258854 39598249 Madonna
31 1622198 51669720 Queen
30 1032223 31750683 Portishead
30 1178755 35600916 Rage Against the Machine
30 1249417 38284572 The Doors
30 1393406 42717325 Beck
29 1030982 30044419 Yeah Yeah Yeahs
29 1187160 34712193 Massive Attack
29 1348662 39131095 Weezer
29 1361510 39753640 Snow Patrol
28 985715 28485679 The Postal Service
28 1045205 30105531 The Clash
28 1305984 37807059 Guns N’ Roses
28 1532003 43998517 Franz Ferdinand
27 1000950 27262441 Nickelback
27 1395278 37856776 Gorillaz
26 1503035 40161219 The Rolling Stones
25 1345571 33741254 R.E.M.
24 1311410 32588864 Moby
23 973319 22962953 Audioslave
23 976745 22557111 3 Doors Down
23 1123549 26696878 Keane
22 998933 21995497 Justin Timberlake
22 1025990 23145062 Rihanna
22 1109529 24687603 Maroon 5
22 1120968 24796436 Jimi Hendrix
22 1160410 26641513 [unknown]
21 1151225 25081110 The Who
20 1057288 22084785 The Chemical Brothers
20 1105159 22925198 Kaiser Chiefs
20 1117306 22390847 Nelly Furtado
20 1201937 25019675 Aerosmith
20 1253613 25582503 Blur
19 968885 19219364 Simon & Garfunkel
19 974687 18528890 Christina Aguilera
19 1025305 20157209 The Cranberries
19 1144816 22252304 Michael Jackson
16 996649 16234996 Black Eyed Peas
16 1019886 16618386 Eric Clapton
15 980141 15317182 The Police
15 981451 15289554 Dido
14 973520 13781896 Elton John
13 949742 12624027 The Verve

I think it would be really interesting to incorporate the passion index into a recommender, so instead of just recommending artists that are similar to artists that a listener already likes, filter the similar artists with  a passion filter and offer up the artists that listeners are most passionate about. I think these recommendations would be more valuable to the listener.

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  1. #1 by Ally on June 18, 2009 - 9:22 am

    great post!

    As you said, one limitation is that song length isn’t taken into account. I’m sure Isaac Hayes would fare a lot better if he didn’t have lots of 10-20 minute long songs! Now excuse me while I go and find out about Belo!

  2. #2 by bruce on June 18, 2009 - 10:14 am

    this is a really great post. thanks. I am just wondering if recommenders used an index like this, wouldn’t we end up listening to music that was ‘steered’ by heavy users of for example.

  3. #3 by Stefan on June 18, 2009 - 10:56 am

    From your top 10 I only know “Böhse Onkelz”.
    They are a german rock/punk band, which is often criticised because of their past (they belonged to the far right scene and never really broke with it).
    Playing with this “dark” image they established a loyal fanbase (when you visit germany you’ll perhaps see some cars with the bandname on the back window).
    Some people consider them the only real german punk band – they are more right than left, but it’s the music you listen to if you want to piss of your parents.

  4. #4 by azaz on June 18, 2009 - 1:08 pm

    “one limitation is that song length isn’t taken into account”, but a second is how many songs the artist release. For an artist, it is easier to have more plays if your discography is bigger. And you should take a part a the top listener, to evacuate those who tried the artist but didn’t keep up.

  5. #5 by Wendell on June 18, 2009 - 1:31 pm

    These kind of metrics always end up getting skewed by how many songs of an artist you are likely to listen to. If I am equally “passionate” about two bands, but one of them has four times as many songs, then I’m likely to listen to more songs from the band that has more songs to choose from. Even if you love that one hit wonder, you can only stand so many listens to just one song.

    It might be interesting to try to correlate these numbers to the number of core released songs by each artist to see if there’s a way to compensate.

  6. #6 by Michael-Bradley on June 18, 2009 - 2:48 pm

    ok. i know the song length thing has been pointed out. but that is a major flaw. avg song length i think needs to be accounted for.
    While a band like System of a Down has a fairly high Passion Index (61), they have an about an avg of 3 mins per song.
    The Mars Volta on the other hand might have a lower passion index (38), their avg song is 7.5 mins.
    So if I listen to more songs of SOAD, but i listen to twice as long to the mars volta, the passion is in the minss.

  7. #7 by brian on June 18, 2009 - 3:28 pm

    The song length thing is kind of a red herring. I doubt Yes/Terry Riley/GSYBE! fans are listening “more” to songs by their favorite bands than fans of “normal” bands listen to songs. Just because some bands take longer to express a musical idea should not give them a handicap in the Passion Wars. Step it up, prog rock dorks, you’ve got some more listening to do….

    (To wit: “I Am… Sasha Fierce” and “The Yes Album” are only 4 seconds different in length.)

    • #8 by Michael-Bradley on June 18, 2009 - 5:22 pm

      Red Herring? Your example of a Beyonce Album vs a Yes album- yes both are very nearly the same length. But one would be counted twice as much because it has twice as many songs. That is exactly the problem.

      • #9 by brian on June 19, 2009 - 9:26 am

        I understand my juxtaposition was confusing. Two points:

        1) I think it takes the same “fan energy” to listen to a 10 minute Yes song as it does to listen to a 4 minute Beyonce song. I don’t think the amount of time that goes by while you are listening should affect how passionate you are. If that were the case, we could claim that only classical, drone, prog, etc fans were truly “passionate” about music, which is obviously not true.

        2) Beyonce and Yes obviously agree about the proper length of a full musical statement, down to 4 seconds. In the same amount of “wall time”, you can listen to Single Ladies once and Starship Trooper once, but it’s buffeted with all that nasty non-single music people feel the need to slog through.

    • #10 by room34 on June 20, 2009 - 2:38 pm

      There’s a flaw in your argument: it’s not how “passionately” fans are listening to the music. It’s that the passion index isn’t measuring the number of minutes fans are listening to songs; it’s how many songs they’re listening to. It’s irrelevant if the albums are both 40 minutes — if one contains 12 songs and the other 6, the fans who listened to the 12 songs will seem twice as “passionate” about the artist.

  8. #11 by stephen on June 18, 2009 - 3:43 pm

    agreeing with several commenters: calculating song-by-song will help address the issue of prolificness. plus it will be interesting in its own right, e.g. to see whether singles or deep tracks get more listener fidelity.

    it’s interesting that one-hit wonders and “archival” bands (bands that music fans like to own for completeness’ sake but who aren’t relevant to modern musical styles) seem especially penalized.

    thanks for doing this! i’d nagged the folks to do this ages ago, and it’s nice to see someone implement.

  9. #12 by Patrick on June 18, 2009 - 4:50 pm

    Really interesting to see these lists…thanks for posting them.

  10. #13 by Get Your Ears Out on June 23, 2009 - 5:22 am

    The nit-picking aside this is good info for anyone with an interest in wanting to understand how digital music consumption is VERY likely to change the perception of what a popular band/song actually is – there are similar observations to make around search engine traffic – the correlation between what the main media outlets claim to be a popular/successful band and what is actually going on illustrates some interesting discrepancies particularly for advertisers/brand money which whether we like it or not has a massive role to play in which digital music sites win or lose…GYEO

  11. #14 by Garg on June 23, 2009 - 10:12 am

    That would be really interesting. Especially since it seems metal bands would be recommended all the time :D

  12. #15 by sarah on June 23, 2009 - 2:23 pm

    very interesting to see this quantified!

  13. #16 by Orlando Gómez on June 23, 2009 - 3:35 pm

    It’s curious to see Opeth so high in the list you provided. Their songs average 10 minutes or more…

  14. #17 by MattmanBegins on June 24, 2009 - 1:12 am

    That is pretty darn interesting, particularly the first list of “most passionate” attractors, all of whom I, too, have never heard. If music is supposed to be a universal language, it’s clear to this thought-he-had-eclectic-tastes American that there are some popular dialects I’ve never heard spoken.

    The question is, are the listeners of these musicians MORE impressive because they apparently listen to nothing but these artists (on, anyway), or LESS impressive because…oh, I dunno, is the only place they can listen to them (I grant you this is clearly not the case for Super Junior)?

    The “least passionate” list strikes a note of truth, too; anyone who thinks of themselves as having a representative playlist of the history of rock and roll has to have “Born To Be Wild” in there somewhere, but how often do they really want to listen to it?

    Big question, though (and the true outlier in all this data): who is “[unknown]” in the last chart? Is that one artist or many? Is it what comes up for Prince’s unpronounceable symbol-thingie? It’s driving me nuts. And I wonder if it’s somehow skewing that list.

    • #18 by plamere on June 24, 2009 - 10:11 am

      ‘[unknown]’ is a standard artist name used to indicate where an artist name is lacking or not provided. So it is indeed many artists.

  15. #19 by Lane Phillips on June 25, 2009 - 4:59 pm

    A lot of the artists on the popular-but-not-passionate list have songs that I think of as “impulse buy” songs on iTunes. They have that big hit that everybody enjoys but probably thinks of as more a novelty song rather than something to listen to every day. I’m thinking of songs like “Walk Like An Egyptian”, the Shaft theme, “Eye of the Tiger”, and “Tainted Love”.

  16. #20 by zazi on July 15, 2009 - 9:05 am

    Yeah, I also agree that the time is the important thing of passion. So it will be interesting how long (in minutes or hours) a user listens to music of a specific artist or even a specific track. In a paper of the ISMIR 2004 (?) the mentioned such behavior as thickness index or something like that.
    On the other side one can calculate a non-passion index, which consist of the artists/tracks a user spend less time in listening to. Besides the play count a skip count will be interesting. I don’t actually know, wether Last.FM retrieve the skip count or not.

    Cheers zazi

  17. #21 by screambloodygore on December 13, 2009 - 4:51 pm

    上海アリス幻樂団 is Team Shangai Alice, the one-man company who produces the cult video game series, Touhou. Since so few people have heard of Touhou it’s normal that you haven’t heard it; but since the game is really addicting and great, and the small fanbase is really devoted, and the soundtrack for Touhou is awesome; it didn’t surprise me to see it as the artist with the most fanatics.

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