Matt Daniels is a data analyst, and he just partnered with Converse to do a study of punk utilizing Spotify and YouTube playlists to crowdsource the definition of the genre. His findings were pretty interesting; for instance, Green Day was on 51% of all “punk” playlists, followed by Blink 182 on 50% of playlists. I had a little Q+A with him over email to find out more about the project, as well as his feelings about the current state of music consumption // read up on all that below, and be sure to check out the interactive infographic he created from the data here.
How’d you get involved w/ Converse on this project?
I’ve done several music projects in the past. I’ve always wanted to do something on the subjectivity of genres, and Converse was open to commission the project (since I spend so much time on these things).
And what was the exact plan for analysis // how’d you settle on which streaming services to examine, genre, etc.?
Is Blink-182 punk music? There’s no one place where people categorize bands based on genre. Streaming services are interesting because they have publicly-accessible playlists, so I can examine the most frequently occurring bands on peoples’ “punk” playlists.
What was the most surprising statistic you found in this particular study?
I think that I was most-shocked by the data for No Doubt. They were one of the pioneering bands for ska-punk in the 90s, though today, the connotations they carry are now more centered on pop music rather than punk.
What are your thoughts about Spotify as a streaming service? Do you think it’s a positive tool, a negative tool…an in-between tool…?
Absolutely a positive tool. Right now, I can go listen to No Doubt’s entire catalogue. People are paying (myself included) $120/year on music files. Before Spotify, I was paying zero dollars. There’s many arguments against Spotify (e.g., that it hurts smaller artists), but it’s essentially saving the industry and bringing more people into music and discovery.
To be able to make sense of this data, it seems you’d need to be pretty well-versed in the genre at hand; what’s a genre you’d be terrible at analyzing?
Classical. Or opera.
What are your feelings about the current state of music in terms of how listeners consume it? Do you feel optimistic, pessimistic, none of the above, etc.?
Per my comments above, I’m optimistic on the current state of affairs. Lots of people are complaining about the commercial-nature of Spotify, but overall, it’s never been a better time to a musician. The barriers to entry are remarkably low, and the power wielded by large record labels is shrinking.
And if you could widely reinstate the listening patterns of the pre-digital era, where people were primarily listening to physical copies of records (vinyl, cassettes, CDs…) instead of on iPods + smartphones or via online streaming, would you?
Vinyl makes a ton of money, sometimes more than streaming. Arguably, those pre-digital era activities still exist – they just don’t receive as much attention. There were a lot of things broken about pre-digital, such as the monopoly within radio and the marketing machine behind pop hits. But I do think there was far more serendipity in the music discovery process (e.g., “digging in the crates”) and “talking” to people learn about new bands.