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 Last.fm 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. It’s not just sales figures anymore, its how often are people actually listening to an artist. If you go to Last.fm 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:
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 to 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:
|75||269052||20293399||Mindless Self Indulgence|
|74||1056834||79135038||Nine Inch Nails|
|66||460518||30625121||Children of Bodom|
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:
|5||282095||1685959||The Isley Brothers|
|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.
|74||1056834||79135038||Nine Inch Nails|
|61||1397442||85685015||System of a Down|
|60||1346298||81762621||Death Cab for Cutie|
|57||1060269||61127025||Fall Out Boy|
|55||1897332||104932225||Red Hot Chili Peppers|
|54||950416||52019102||My Chemical Romance|
|43||1011131||43930085||Kings of Leon|
|40||1023666||41288978||Queens of the Stone Age|
|39||1266502||49492511||The White Stripes|
|36||1326946||48738588||The Smashing Pumpkins|
|34||955876||33376744||Jimmy Eat World|
|30||1178755||35600916||Rage Against the Machine|
|29||1030982||30044419||Yeah Yeah Yeahs|
|28||985715||28485679||The Postal Service|
|28||1305984||37807059||Guns N’ Roses|
|26||1503035||40161219||The Rolling Stones|
|23||976745||22557111||3 Doors Down|
|20||1057288||22084785||The Chemical Brothers|
|19||968885||19219364||Simon & Garfunkel|
|16||996649||16234996||Black Eyed Peas|
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.
#1 by Ally on June 18, 2009 - 9:22 am
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 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 last.fm for example.
#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 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 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 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 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.
#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 last.fm folks to do this ages ago, and it’s nice to see someone implement.
#12 by Patrick on June 18, 2009 - 4:50 pm
Really interesting to see these lists…thanks for posting them.
#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
#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
#15 by sarah on June 23, 2009 - 2:23 pm
very interesting to see this quantified!
#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…
#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 Last.fm, anyway), or LESS impressive because…oh, I dunno, Last.fm 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.
#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”.
#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.
#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.