Wrapping up 2020: Spotify, SoundCloud, and Last.fm data

Another year, another Spotify Wrapped campaign, another effort to analyze the music data that I collect and compare it to what Spotify produces. This year I have last.fm listening habit data, concert attendance and ticket purchase data, livestream view activity data, my SoundCloud 2020 Playback playlist, and the tracks on my Spotify top 100 songs of 2020 playlist

Screenshot of Spotify Wrapped header image, top artists of disclosure, lane 8, kidnap, tourist, and amtrac, top songs of apricots, atlas, idontknow, cappadocia, know your worth, minutes listened of 59,038 and top genre of house.

It’s always important to point out that the data covered in the Spotify Wrapped campaign only covers the time period from January 1st, 2020 to October 31st, 2020. I discuss the effects of this misleading time period in Communicate the data: How missing data biases data-driven decisions. Of course, writing this post on December 2nd, nearly the entire month of December is missing from my own analyses. I’ll follow up (on Twitter) about any data insights that change over the next few weeks.

Top Artists of the Year

screenshot of spotify wrapped top artists, content duplicated in surrounding text.

Spotify says my Top 5 artists of the year are: 

  1. Disclosure
  2. Lane 8 
  3. Kidnap
  4. Tourist 
  5. Amtrac

My own data shows some slight permutations.

Screenshot of Splunk table showing top 10 artists in order: tourist with 156 listens, amtrac with 155 listens, booka shade with 147 listens, jacques greene with 134 listens, lane 8 with 129 listens, bicep with 128 listens, kidnap with 114 listens, ben böhmer with 111 listens, cold war kids with 110 listens, and sjowgren with 99 listens

My top 5 artists are nearly the same, but much more influenced by music that I’ve purchased. The overall list instead looks like:

  1. Tourist
  2. Amtrac
  3. Booka Shade
  4. Jacques Greene
  5. Lane 8

For the second year in a row, Tourist is my top artist! Kidnap still makes it into the top 10, as my 7th most-listened-to artist so far of 2020. 

Disclosure, somewhat hilariously, doesn’t even break the top 10 artists if I am relying on Last.fm data instead of only Spotify. What’s going on there? Turns out Disclosure is my 11th-most-listened to artist, with 97 total listens so far this year. If I dig a little bit deeper, looking at the song Know Your Worth which Spotify says I’ve listened to the most in 2020 by Disclosure, I can see exactly why this is happening.

Screenshot showing the track_name Know Your Worth listed 5 times, with different artist permutations each time, Khalid, Disclosure & Khalid, Disclosure & Blick Bassy, Khalid & Disclosure, and Khalid, with total listens of 20 for all permutations.

Disclosure’s latest album, ENERGY, includes a number of collaborations. Disclosure is the main artist for most of these tracks, but in some cases (like with Know Your Worth, which came out as a single February 4, 2020) the artist can be inconsistently stored by different services.

As a result, the Last.fm data has a number of different entries for the same track, with differently-listed artists for each one. Last.fm stores only one artist per track, whereas Spotify stores an array of artists for each track. This data structure decision means that Disclosure should have had about 127 total listens, and been my 7th-most-listened-to artist of 2020, instead of 11th. 

This truncated screenshot shows some examples of the permutations of data that exist in my Last.fm data collection, with a total listen count of 127 for Disclosure during 2020. 

Screenshot showing additional permutations of Disclosure artist data, such as Disclosure & slowthai, Disclosure & Common, and Disclosure & Channel Tres.

I had a sneaking suspicion that my Booka Shade listening habits are primarily concentrated on a few songs from an EP that he put out this year, so I dug into how many tracks my total listens for the year were spread across.

Table showing top 10 artists and total listens, with total tracks for each artist as well. Tourist has 62 tracks for 159 listens, Amtrac has 59 tracks for 155 listens, Booka Shade has 64 tracks for 147 listens, Jacques Greene has 33 tracks for 134 listens, Lane 8 has 60 tracks for 129 listens, Bicep has 46 tracks for 128 listens, Kidnap has 35 tracks for 114 listens, Ben Böhmer has 51 tracks for 111 listens, Cold War Kids has 53 tracks for 110 listens, and sjowgren has 15 tracks for 99 listens.

Instead, it turns out that my listens to Booka Shade are actually the most distributed across tracks of all of my top 10 artists. Sjowgren is also an outlier here, because they’ve never released an album, so they only have 15 songs in their overall discography yet still made the top 10 artist listens. 

Returning my comparison between Spotify and Last.fm data, Amtrac and Lane 8 are in both top 5 lists. This is somewhat expected, because if I look at the top 10 list for artists that I’ve most consistently listened to—artists that I’ve listened to at least once in each month of 2020—both Amtrac and Lane 8 place high in that list. 

Screenshot of a table showing top 10 consistently listened to artists, with Lane 8 being listened to at least once in all 12 months of 2020, Amtrac 11 months, Caribou 11 months, Disclosure 11 months, Elderbrook 11 months, Kidnap 11 months, Kölsch 11 months, Tourist 11 months, Ben Böhmer 10 months, and CamelPhat for 10 months.

Given that only 2 days of December have happened as I write this, it’s unsurprising that I’ve only listened to one artist in every month of 2020. 

Top Songs of 2020

Enough about the artists—what about the songs? 

Screenshot of top 5 songs from spotify wrapped, duplicated in surrounding text.

According to Spotify, my Top 5 songs of the year are:

  1. Apricots by Bicep
  2. Atlas by Bicep
  3. Idontknow by Jamie xx
  4. Cappadocia by Ben Böhmer feat. Romain Garcia
  5. Know Your Worth by Disclosure feat. Khalid

That pretty closely matches my top 5 list according to Last.fm, with some notable exceptions.

Screenshot of Splunk table with top 10 songs of last.fm data, Apricots by Bicep with 38 listens, Atlas by Bicep with 32 listens, Idontknow by Jamie xx with 22 listens, White Ferrari (Greene Edit) by Jacques Greene with 21 listens, That Home Extended by The Cinematic Orchestra with 20 listens, Lalala by Y2K and bbno$ with 19 listens, Trish's Song by Hey Rosetta! with 18 listens, Wonderful by Burna Boy with 18 listens, Somewhere feat. Octavian by the Blaze with 17 listens, and Yes, I Know by Daphni with 17 listens.

My top 5 tracks according to Last.fm are:

  1. Apricots by Bicep (38 listens)
  2. Atlas by Bicep (32 listens)
  3. Idontknow by Jamie xx (22 listens)
  4. White Ferrari (Greene Edit) by Jacques Greene (21 listens)
  5. That Home Extended by The Cinematic Orchestra (20 listens)

The first 3 tracks match, though of course Spotify has an incomplete representation of those listens—I have 29 streams of Apricots according to Spotify.

However, since I bought the track almost as soon as it came out, I also have another 9 listens that have happened off of Spotify. There were also some mysterious things happening with Spotify and Last.fm connections around that time as well, so it’s possible some listens are missing beyond these numbers. 

What’s up with the 4th track on the list, though? Where is that in Spotify’s data? It’s actually a bootleg remix of the Frank Ocean song White Ferrari that Jacques Greene shared on SoundCloud and as a free download earlier this year, so it isn’t anywhere on Spotify. It did, however, make it onto my top tracks of 2020 on SoundCloud:

Screenshot of top 13 tracks in SoundCloud, with Jacques Greene - White Ferrari (JG Edit) listed as the 11th track.

And again, this is a spot where metadata intrudes again and leads to some inconsistent counts. If I look at all the permutations of White Ferrari and Jacques Greene in my data for 2020, the total number of listens should actually be a bit higher, at 23 total listens:

Screenshot of Splunk table showing the two permutations of the Jacques Greene remix, with 21 listens for the Greene Edit version and 2 listens for the JG Edit version, for a total of 23.

This would actually make it my 3rd-most popular song of 2020 so far, and I’m listening to it as I write this paragraph, so let’s go ahead and call that total number 24 listens. 

The 5th-most popular song and 7th-most popular song of 2020 make the case that I haven’t been sleeping very well this year (though I recall these tracks also showed up in 2019 as well…), because those 2 tracks comprise my “Insomnia” playlist that I use to help me fall asleep on nights when I’ve been, perhaps, staying up too late doing data analysis like this. 

You can see the influence of consistent listening habits with top artist behaviors when you look at the top 10 songs that I’ve consistently listened to throughout 2020, with 2 songs by Kidnap, one by Bicep, and another by Amtrac.

Table of tracks listened to consistently in 2020, Never Come Back by Caribou listened to at least once in 8 months of 2020, Start Again by Kidnap with 8 months, Accountable by Amtrac with 7 months, Atlas by Bicep with 7 months, Calling out by Sophie Lloyd with 7 months, Made to Stray by Mount Kimbie for 7 months, Moments (Ben Böhmer Remix) by Kidnap with 7 months, Somewhere feat. Octavian by the Blaze with 7 months, The Promise by David Spinelli with 7 months, and Without You My Life Would Be Boring by The Knife with 7 months.

To me, though, this table mostly underscores how much music discovery this year involved. I didn’t return to the same songs month after month during 2020. Likely as a result of all the DJ sets I’ve been streaming (as I mentioned in my post about Listening to Music while Sheltering in Place) this has been quite a year for music discovery, and breadth of listening habits. 

My top 10 songs of 2020 had a total of 222 listens across them. However, I have a total of 14,336 listens for the entire year, spread across 8,118 unique songs in total.

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Even with possible metadata issues, that’s still quite the distribution of behavior. Let’s dig a bit deeper into artist discovery this year. 

Artist Discovery in 2020

In my post earlier this year about my listening behavior while sheltering in place, I discovered that my artist discovery numbers in 2020 seemed to be way up compared with 2018 and 2019, but weren’t actually that far off from 2017 numbers. 

What I see when comparing my 2020 artist discovery statistics from my Last.fm data and my Spotify data is even more interesting. In contrast to what seemed to be true in last year’s post, Wrapping up the year and the decade in music: Spotify vs my data (For what it’s worth, last year’s number should have been 1074, instead of 2857 artists discovered—data analysis is difficult), Spotify’s data is much higher than the number I calculated this year. 

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According to Spotify, I discovered 2,051 new artists, whereas my Last.fm data claims that I only discovered 1,497 artists this year. 

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Similarly, Spotify claims that I listened to 4,179 artists this year, whereas my Last.fm data indicates that I listened to 3,715 artists. 

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Again, this comes down to data structures and how the artist metadata is stored for each service. I wrote about the importance of quality metadata for digital streaming providers earlier this year in Why the quality of audio analysis metadatasets matters for music, but it’s also apparent that the data structures for those metadatasets are just as important for crafting data insights of varying value. 

Because Spotify stores all artists that contributed to a track as an array, I can listen to a track with 4 contributing artists on it, 1 of which I’ve listened to before, and according to Spotify, I’ve now discovered 3 artists and listened to 4, whereas according to Last.fm, I’ll have either listened to 1 artist that I’ve already heard before, or a new artist, possibly called “Luciano & David Morales”. 

Screenshot of two artist names, Luciano, and Luciano & David Morales.

Spotify would store the second artist as Luciano, David Morales, thus allowing a more accurate count of listens for the Luciano artist. Similarly, my artist discovery data includes some flawed data, such as YouTube videos that got incorrectly recorded.

Screenshot of 3 artist names in my data, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon Form 2, and Biosphere.
The Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon duet of The Lion Sleeps Tonight never gets old, but it appears the original video is no longer on YouTube so I’m not going to link it.
Screenshot of two artist names in my data, &lez and 'Coming of age ceremony' Dance cover by Jimin and Jung Kook.

This becomes clear in my top 20 artist discoveries of 2020 chart, where BTS and Big Hit Labels are listed separately, although they are both indicative of one of my best friends joining BTS ARMY this year and sharing her enthusiasm with me. 

Giant table of top 20 artists discovered in 2020, in order with first_discovered date last:
Re.You with 85 listens starting July 12, 2020
Elliot Adamson, 75 listens, April 15 2020
Fennec, 53 listens, March 24 2020
Southern Shores, 52 listens, November 19 2020
Eelke Kleijn, 45 listens, August 10 2020
Christian Löffler, 43 listens, April 2 2020
Icarus, 35 listens, April 2 2020
Monkey Safari, 35 listens, April 15 2020
Black Motion, 34 listens, April 30 2020
BTS, 31 listens, September 29 2020
Bronson, 31 listens, May 9 2020
Love Regenerator, 30 listens, March 30 2020
Eltonnick, 29 listens, April 27 2020
Jerro, 27 listens, April 29 2020
Theo Kottis, 27 listens, June 16 2020
Dennis Cruz, 26 listens, June 22 2020
Da Capo, 25 listens, May 10 2020
Bit Hit Labels, 21 listens, June 30 2020
HYENAH, 20 listens, June 4 2020
KC Lights, 20 listens, September 22 2020

Ultimately I’m grateful that the top 20 artists of 2020 are all artists that I discovered during the pandemic and have excellent songs that I love and continue to listen to. Many of the sparklines that represent my listening activity for these artists throughout the year have spikes, but mostly my listening patterns indicate that I’ve been returning to these artists and their songs multiple times after first discovery. Some notable favorites on this list are KC Lights’ track Girl and Dennis Cruz’s track El Sueño, plus the entire Fennec album Free Us Of This Feeling.

Genre Discovery in 2020

The most-commented-on data insight from #wrapped2020 is probably the genre discovery slide.

According to Spotify, I listened to 801 genres this year, including 294 new ones. I’m not even sure I could name 30 genres, let alone 300 or 800. Where are these numbers coming from? 

It turns out that, much like storing artist data as an array for each song, Spotify stores genre data as an array for each artist. This means that each artist can be assigned multiple genres, thus successfully inflating the number of genres that you’ve listened to in 2020. 

For example, if I use Spotify’s API developer console to retrieve the artist information for Tourist, with a Spotify ID of 2ABBMkcUeM9hdpimo86mo6, it turns out that he has 6 total genres associated with him in Spotify’s database: chillwave, electronica, indie soul, shimmer pop, tropical house, and vapor soul. 

Screenshot of JSON response from Spotify API call, content duplicated in surrounding text.

I could start discussing the possible meaningless of genres as a descriptive tool, the lack of validation possible for such a signifier, the lack of clarity about how these genres were defined and also assigned to specific artists, but that’s best for another blog post.

Instead, let’s look at what little genre data I do have available to me more generally. 

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According to Spotify, my top genres were:

  1. House
  2. Electronica
  3. Pop
  4. Afro House
  5. Organic House

All of these make sense to me, except for Organic House, because I don’t know what makes house music organic, unless it’s also grass-fed, locally-sourced, and free range. Perhaps Blond:ish is organic house. 

I don’t have any genre data from Last.fm, since the service only stores user-defined tags for each artist, and those are not included in the data that I collect from Last.fm today. Instead, I have the genres assigned by iTunes for the tracks that I’ve purchased from the iTunes store. 

The top 8 genres of music that I added to my iTunes library in 2020 by purchasing tracks from the iTunes store are:

  1. Dance (124 songs)
  2. Electronic (121 songs)
  3. House (78 songs)
  4. Pop (37 songs)
  5. Alternative (27 songs)
  6. Electronica (12 songs)
  7. Deep House (10 songs)
  8. Melodic House & Techno (9 songs)
duplicated in surrounding text

Clearly, this is a very selective sample, and is only tied to select purchasing habits, which are roughly correlated to my listening habits.

I shared all of this genre data to essentially look at it and go “wow, that wasn’t very insightful at all”. Let’s move on. 

Time Spent Listening to Music in 2020

The last metric I want to unpack from Spotify’s #wrapped2020 campaign is the minutes listened data insight. According to Spotify, I spent 59,038 minutes listening to music this year. 

relevant content duplicated in surrounding text

According to my own calculations, I spent roughly 81,134 minutes listening to music in 2020.

Let’s talk about how both of these metrics are super flawed!

Spotify counts a song as streamed after you listen to it for more than 30 seconds (per their Spotfiy for Artists FAQ), so it’s logical to assume that this minutes listened metric likely from a calculation of “number of streams for a track” x “length of track” and then rounded and converted to minutes. It could even result from an different type of calculation, “number of total streams” x “average length of track in Spotify library”, but I have no way of knowing if either of these are accurate besides tweeting at Spotify and hoping they’ll pay attention to me. 

Unfortunately for all of us, but mostly me, my own minutes listened metric is just as lazily calculated. I don’t have track length data for all the tracks that I listen to and I don’t know at what point Last.fm counts a track as being worthy of a scrobble. I do have a list of how much time I spent listening to livestreamed DJ sets online, and I do have some excellent estimation skills. I calculated my number of 81,134 minutes so far in 2020 by calculating and assuming the following:

  • An average track length of 4 minutes
  • An average concert length of 3 hours
  • An average DJ set length of 4 hours
  • An average festival length of 8 hours

Using those averages and estimates, I calculated the total amount of time I spent listening to music across Last.fm listening habits, concerts and DJ sets attended (no festivals this year), and livestreams that I watched online, thus arriving at 81,134 minutes. That doesn’t count any DJ sets that I listened to on SoundCloud, and certainly the combination of a 4 minute track length estimate with the uncertainty of what qualifies a track as being scrobbled makes this data insight somewhat meaningless.

Regardless, let’s compare this estimated time spent listening in minutes against the total number of minutes in a year.

Total minutes listened (81,134) as a gauge compared with total minutes in a year (525,600)

Beautiful. I still remembered to sleep this year. No matter which dataset I use, however, it’s clear that I’ve listened to more music in 2020 than in 2019. Spotify’s metric for this same time period in 2019 was 35,496 minutes. The less-flawed but less-complete metric I used last year, calculated using the track length stored in iTunes multiplied by the number of listens for that track, indicated that I spent 14,296 minutes listening to music in 2019. 

As one final Spotify examination, let’s dig into the Spotify Top 100 playlist.

Top 100 Songs of 2020 Playlist

Alongside the fancy graphics and data insights in the #wrapped2020 campaign, Spotify also creates a 100 song playlist, likely (but not definitively) the top 100 songs of the time period between January 1st, 2020 and October 31st, 2020. 

I found my playlist this year to be relatively accurate, perhaps because I spent more time listening to Spotify than I might have in previous years, or perhaps they made some internal data improvements, or both! I often spend more time listening to SoundCloud if I’m traveling a lot, listening to offline DJ sets on plane flights; or listening to Apple Music on my iPhone, with songs that I’ve added from my iTunes library. Without much time spent commuting or traveling this year, it’s likely that my listening habits remained fairly consolidated. 

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Similarly to what I discovered about my top 10 tracks, I had relatively distributed music interests this year. The 811 total listens for all 100 songs in my Spotify playlist represent just 0.06% of my total listens in 2020 so far. 

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Despite my overall listening habits being relatively distributed across lots of artists and songs, the Top Songs playlist is somewhat more consolidated, with 69 artists performing the 100 songs on the playlist. Nice. 

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It’s clear that I spent most of this year exploring and discovering new artists, given that 83 of my top songs of 2020 according to Spotify were songs that I discovered in 2020. 

Thanks for coming on this journey through my music data with me. I’ll be back at the actual end of the year to dive deeper into my top 10 artists of the year, top 10 consistent artists of the year, my music purchasing activity, as well as some more livestream and concert statistics to round out my 2020 year in music. 

Listening to Music while Sheltering in Place

The world is, to varying degrees, sheltering-in-place during this global coronavirus pandemic. Starting in March, the pandemic started to affect me personally: 

  • I started working from home on March 6th. 
  • Governor Gavin Newsom announced on March 11 that any gatherings over 250 people were strongly discouraged, effectively cancelling all concerts for the month of March. 
  • On March 16th, the mayor of San Francisco along with several other counties in the area, announced a shelter-in-place order. 

Ever since then, I’ve been at home. Given all these changes in my life, I was curious what new patterns I might see in my music listening habits. 

With large gatherings prohibited, I went to my last concert on March 7th. With gatherings increasingly cancelled nationwide, and touring musicians postponing and cancelling events, March 27th, Beatport hosted the first livestream festival, “ReConnect. A Global Music Series”. Many more followed. 

Industry-wide studies and data analysis have attempted to unpack various trends in the pandemic’s influence on the music industry. Analytics startup Chartmetric is digging into genre-based listening, geographical listening habits, and Billboard and Nielsen conducting a periodic entertainment tracker survey.

Because I’m me, and I have so much data about my music listening patterns, I wanted to explore what trends might be emerging in my personal habits. I analyzed the months March, April, and May during 2020, and in some cases compared that period against the same period in 2019, 2018, and 2017. The screenshots of data visualizations in this blog post represent data points from May 15th, so it is an incomplete analysis and comparison, given that May in 2020 is not yet complete. 

Looking at my listening habits during this time period, with key dates highlighted, it’s clear that the very beginning of the crisis didn’t have much of an effect on my listening behavior. However, after the shelter-in-place order, the amount of time I spent listening to music increased. After that increase it’s remained fairly steady.

Screenshot of an area chart depicting listening duration ranging from 100 minutes with a couple spikes of 500 minutes but hovering around a max of 250 minutes per day for much of january and february, then starting in march a new range from about 250 to 450 minutes per day, with a couple outliers of nearly 700 minutes of listening activity, and a couple outliers with only a 90 minutes of listening activity.

Key dates such as the first case in the United States, the first case in California, and the first case in the Bay Area are highlighted along with other pandemic-relevant dates.

Listening behavior during March, April, and May over time

When I started my analysis, I looked at my basic listening count from traditional music listening sources. I use Last.fm to scrobble my listening behavior in iTunes, Spotify, and the web from sites like YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Hype Machine, and more. 

Chart depicting 2700 total listens for 2017, 2000 total listens for 2018, and 2300 total listens for 2019 during March, April, and May, compared to 3000 total listens in that same period in 2020.

If you just look at 2018 to 2020, it seems like my listening habits are trending upward, maybe with a culmination in 2020. But comparing against 2017, it isn’t much of a difference. I listened to 25% fewer tracks in 2018 compared with 2017, 19% more tracks in 2019 compared with 2018, and 25% more tracks in 2020 compared with 2019. 

Chart depicting total weekday listens during March, April, and May during 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 with total weekend listens during the same time. 2017 shows roughly 2400 listens on weekdays and 200ish for 2017, 2000 weekday listens vs 100 weekend listens for 2018, 2100 weekday listens vs 300 weekend listens in 2019, and 2500 weekday listens vs 200 weekend listens in 2020

If I break that down by when I was listening by comparing my weekend and weekday listening habits from the previous 3 years to now, there’s still perhaps a bit of an increase, but nothing much. 

With just the data points from Last.fm, there aren’t really any notable patterns. But number of tracks listened to on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, or iTunes provides an incomplete perspective of my listening habits. If I expand the data I’m analyzing to include other types of listening—concerts attended and livestreams watched—and change the data point that I’m analyzing to the amount of time that I spend listening, instead of the number of tracks that I’ve listened to, it gets a bit more interesting. 

Chart shows roughly 12000 minutes spent listening in 2017, 10000 in 2018, 12000 in 2019, and 22000 in 2020While the number of tracks I listened to from 2019 to 2020 increased only 25%, the amount of time I spent listening to music increased by 74%, a full 150 hours more than the previous year during this time period. And May isn’t even over yet! 

It’s worth briefly noting that I’m estimating, rather than directly calculating, the amount of time spent listening to music tracks and attending live music events. To make this calculation, I’m using an estimate of 3 hours for each concert attended, 4 hours for each DJ set attended, 8 hours for each festival attended, and an estimate of 4 minutes for each track listened to, based on the average of all the tracks I’ve purchased over the past two years. Livestreamed sets are easier to track, but some of those are estimates as well because I didn’t start keeping track until the end of April.

I spent an extra 150 hours listening to music this year during this time—but when was I spending this time listening? If I break down the amount of time I spent listening by weekend compared with weekdays, it’s obvious:

Chart depicts 10000 weekday minutes and 5000 weekend minutes spent listening in 2017, 9500 weekday minutes and 4500 weekend minutes in 2018, 14000 weekday minutes and 2000 weekend minutes in 2019, and 12000 weekday minutes and 13000 weekend minutes in 2020

Before shelter-in-place, I’d spend most of my weekends outside, hanging out with friends, or attending concerts, DJ sets, and the occasional day party. Now that I’m spending my weekends largely inside and at home, coupled with the number of livestreaming festivals, I’m spending much more of that time listening to music. 

I was curious if perhaps working from home might reveal new weekday listening habits too, but the pattern remains fairly consistent. I also haven’t worked from home for an extended period before, so I don’t have a baseline to compare it with. 

It’s clear that weekends are when I’m doing most of my new listening, and that this new listening likely isn’t coming from my traditional listening habits. If I split the amount of time that I spend listening to music by the type of listening that I’m doing, the source of the added time spent listening is clear.

Depicts 11000 minutes of track listens and 1000 minutes of time spent at concerts in 2017, 8000 minutes spent listening to music tracks and 2000 minutes spent at concerts in 2018, 10000 minutes spent listening to music tracks and 3000 minutes spent at concerts in 2019, and 12000 minutes spent listening to music tracks and 9000 minutes listening to livestreams, with a sliver of 120 minutes spent at a single concert in 2020

Hello, livestreams. If you look closely you can also spy the sliver of a concert that I attended on March 7th.

Livestreams dominate, and so does Shazam

All of the livestreams I’ve been watching have primarily been DJ sets. Ordinarily, when I’m at a DJ set, I spend a good amount of time Shazamming the tracks I’m hearing. I want to identify the tracks that I’m enjoying so much on the dancefloor so I can track them down, buy them, and dig into the back catalog of those artists. 

So I requested my Shazam data to see what’s happening now that I’m home, with unlimited, shameless, and convenient access to Shazam.

For the time period that I have Shazam data for, the correlation of Shazam activity to number of livestreams watched is fairly consistent at roughly 10 successful Shazams per livestream.  

Chart details largely duplicated in surrounding text, but of note is a spike of 6 livestreams with only 30 or so songs shazammed, while the next few weeks show a fairly tight interlock of shazam activity with number of livestreams

Given the correlation of Shazam data, as well as the continued focus on watching DJ sets, I wanted to explore my artist discovery statistics as well. Especially when it seemed like my listening activity hadn’t shifted much, I was betting that my artist discovery statistics have been increasing during this time. If I look at just the past few years, there seems to be a direct increase during this time period. 

Chart depicts 260ish artists discovered in March, April, and May of 2018, 280 discovered in 2019, and 360 discovered in 2020Chart depicts 260ish artists discovered in March, April, and May of 2018, 280 discovered in 2019, and 360 discovered in 2020. Second chart shows the same data but adds 2017, with 390 artists discovered

However, after I add 2017 into the list as well, the pattern doesn’t seem like much of a pattern at all. Perhaps by the end of May, there will be a correlation or an outsized increase. But at least for now, the added number of livestreams I’ve been watching don’t seem to be producing an equivalently high number of artist discoveries, even though they’re elevated compared with the last two years. 

That could also be that the artists I’m discovering in the livestreams haven’t yet had a substantial effect on my non-livestream listening patterns, even if there’s 91 hours of music (and counting) in my quarandjed playlist where I store the tracks that catch my ear in a quarantine DJ set. Adding music to a playlist, of course, is not the same thing as listening to it. 

Livestreaming as concert replacement?

Shelter-in-place brought with it a slew of event cancellations and postponements. My live events calendar was severely affected. As of now, 15 concerts were affected in the following ways:

Chart depicts 6 concerts cancelled and 9 postponed

The amount of time that I spend at concerts compared with watching livestreams is also starkly different.

Chart depicts 1000 minutes spent at concerts in 2017, 2000 minutes at concerts in 2018, 2500 minutes at concerts in 2019, and 8000 minutes spent watching livestreams, with a topper of 120 minutes at a concert in 2020

I’ve spent 151 hours (and counting) watching livestreams, the rough equivalent of 50 concerts—my entire concert attendance of last year. This is almost certainly because I’m often listening to livestreams, rather than watching them happen.

Concerts require dedication—a period of time where you can’t really do anything else, a monetary investment, and travel to and from the show. Livestreams don’t have any of that, save a voluntary donation. That makes it easier to turn on a stream while I’m doing other things. While listening to a livestream, I often avoid engaging with the streaming experience. Unless the chat is a cozy few hundred folks at most, it’s a tire fire of trolls and not a pleasant experience. That, coupled with the fact that sitting on my couch watching a screen is inherently less engaging than standing in a club with music and people surrounding me, means that I’m often multitasking while livestreams are happening.

The attraction for me is that these streams are live, and they’re an event to tune into, and if you don’t, you might miss it. Because it’s live, you have the opportunity to create a shared collective experience. The chatrooms that accompany live video streams on YouTube, Twitch, and especially with Facebook’s Watch Party feature for Facebook Live videos, are what foster this shared experience. For me, it’s about that experience, so much so that I started a chat thread for Jamie xx’s 2020 Essential Mix so that my friends and I could experience and react to the set live. This personal experience is contrary to the conclusion drawn in this article on Hypebot called Our Music Consumption Habits Are Changing, But Will They Remain That Way? by Bobby Owsinski: “Given the choice, people would rather watch something than just listen.”. Given the choice, I’d rather have a shared collective experience with music rather than just sit alone on my couch and listen to it. 

Of course, with shelter-in-place, I haven’t been given a choice between attending concerts and watching livestreamed shows. It’s clear that without a choice, I’ll take whatever approximation of live music I can find.

 

The Evolution of Music Listening

Pitchfork recently published a great longform essay on music streaming. It covered the past, history, and present of music streaming, and brought up a lot of great points. These are my reactions.

The piece discussed how “the “omnivore” is the new model for the music connoisseur, and one’s diversity of listening across the high/low spectrum is now seen as the social signal of refined taste.” It would be interesting to study how this omnivority splits across genres, age groups, and affinities. I find myself personally falling into omnivore status, as I am never able to properly define my music taste according to genre, and my musical affinities shift daily, weekly, monthly, with common themes.

Also discussed is the cost of music, whether it be licensing, royalties, or record label advances. Having to deal with the cost of music is a difficult matter. I wonder if I would have been such a voracious consumer of music if I hadn’t grown up with so many free options with the library, the radio, and later, music blogs. Now that I’m older, I make the effort to purchase music when I feel the artist deserves it, but as I distance myself (incidentally, really) from storing music on my computer, that effort becomes less important to expend.

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