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When it rains, we put on a raincoat or get under an umbrella, because we can’t control the weather. We can, however, control what we hear while it’s raining, especially with services that let you play whatever you want.
We wondered: Do people make different music-listening decisions based on weather?
This simple question led to what could be the largest-scale research ever conducted into the connection between music and atmospheric conditions. For the weather data, we partnered with Accuweather, a leading weather provider with over a billion users worldwide, and correlated a year’s worth of five kinds of weather data (sun, clouds, rain, wind, and snow), from nearly a thousand weather stations around the world, to over 85 billion anonymized, aggregated streams on Spotify on those same days and locations.
We then looked at the mood and audio attributes of the music most played in each weather type in each city, to determine how weather affected the mood and acoustic attributes of the music played in those conditions. We were prepared for the possibility of finding no connection between weather and music. But, in the words of Spotify data researcher Ian Anderson, who analyzed the combined weather and music data set, “There is definitely a connection between what’s in the skies and what’s on users’ play queues.”
At spotify.com/climatune, you can see not only your weather, but details about a city in our study with the same weather, including how moods and audio attributes change there during that type of weather (you can also click to see what happens there in other weather conditions). There’s also a Spotify playlist where you can hear music that popped up disproportionately under that weather condition in that city during the timeframe we analyzed, November 2015 to November 2016.
We analyzed the music from each weather type with acoustic attributes developed at The Echo Nest that ‘listen’ to music and measure things like energy level and “valence,” or how happy or sad a song is likely to be, based purely on how it sounds.
“For almost all of the top cities around the world, sunny days translates to happier-sounding music,” said Anderson, who also created the charts below, where you can learn how weather affects listening in various cities around the world. “This also seems to be broken down by location – sunny weather has a bigger impact in Europe.”
Some findings (there’s more city-level data in the graphs below):
- Sunnier days bring higher-energy, happier-sounding music.
- Conversely, on rainy days, people generally tend to listen to lower-energy, sadder-sounding music.
- Rainy day tracks were much more acoustic than electronic, and exhibited higher levels of “organism,” a measure of how “human” a track sounds (i.e. a live drummer instead of a drum machine).
- Some cities respond strongly to the weather in their listening, while others respond less.
- In the US (more cities in the graphs below).
- New York City and Philadelphia are most musically-affected by the rain.
- Dallas listens to the same kind of music when it’s overcast and when it rains.
- Seattle and Chicago are more impacted by overcast days than rain.
- Chicagoans are excited by rain, unlike most cities, and least excited by clouds.
- Houston responds the most strongly to rain, out of the cities in our study. The acousticness of Houston’s listening in the rain increases 121 percent.
- In the UK, like other countries, rainy weather leads to sadder music –but brits aren’t always happiest in the sun.
- Leeds is happiest on cloudy days.
- Unlike almost every other major city, Liverpool and Manchester play happier music when it snows.
- Cloudy days are more danceable in the UK than sunny days, bucking the global trend — especially in London and Liverpool, which see the biggest boosts in danceable music in the sun.
- Manchester goes for instrumental music on rainy days, and also listens to music that’s good for running when it rains.
- Of major Australian cities, Sydney listens to the saddest music when it rains, and is one of the most affected cities in the world in that way.
- Australian cities tend towards acoustic music on rainy days, while Kiwis want acoustic-sounding music when the sun’s out.
- Unlike the rest of Australia (and most of the world), Brisbane chooses more runnable music on cloudy days.
How 30 Cities Respond to Weather Across 8 Audio Attributes:
Acousticness is a measure of how many prominent “acoustic” sounds (for example acoustic guitar and tambourine) a given track has, versus how many electronic sounds (synthesizer, drum machine) it has, as determined by computers listening to music.
Danceability describes how suitable a track is for dancing based on a combination of musical elements including tempo, rhythm stability, beat strength, and overall regularity.
Typically, energetic tracks feel fast, loud, and noisy. As a couple examples, death metal has high energy, while a Bach prelude scores low on the energy scale. Perceptual features contributing to this attribute include dynamic range, perceived loudness, timbre, onset rate, and general entropy.
Instrumentalness predicts whether a track contains no vocals. “Ooh” and “aah” sounds are treated as instrumental in this context. Rap or spoken word tracks are clearly “vocal”. The higher the instrumentalness value for a track, the greater likelihood that it contains no vocal content.
“High organicness/organism means more acoustic instrumentation and more human tempo fluctuations (think sumptuous, fluttery harp music), and low organicness means more electric and more click-tracky (think relentlessly pounding techno),” explained Spotify data alchemist Glenn McDonald when we explored how popular music has gotten more mechanical sounding over the decades.
The runnability attribute measures how good a track is likely to be for running based on tempo, beat strength, energy level, and other factors.
Valence measures the musical positiveness conveyed by a track. Tracks with high valence sound more positive (e.g. happy, cheerful, euphoric), while tracks with low valence sound more negative (e.g. sad, depressed, angry).
As mentioned here, “Some music just seems to bounce right along, like the proverbial bouncing ball that guided televised sing-alongs of yore. It sounds spikey, with a in-and-out rhythm — think choppy reggae guitar, or booming techno beats. Other kinds of music are more sonorous, languorous, and smooth, with sweeping string sections, flowing synths, and other sounds that glide smoothly from one note to the next.” Music with a high bounciness rating is the former.
To get the weather and music for your city, go to spotify.com/climatune.