How We Listen: Paul Lamere Explains at SXSW 2015

Paul Lamere, director of developer platform for The Echo Nest at Spotify
Paul Lamere, director of developer platform for The Echo Nest at Spotify

If you want to see Spotify Insights contributor Paul Lamere at SXSW, get there early. Otherwise, you won’t get in, because people really enjoy his appearances. One guy even says Lamere’s talk last year inspired the headphones he’s launching at this year’s SXSW.

On Tuesday, Lamere took another rapt SXSW audience on a guided tour through music listening data past, present, and future, from early sheet music charts to the much more nuanced view of “how we listen” that surfaces when people stream music.

For those who couldn’t make it, the following snippets provide a glimpse into what Lamere presented today, with plenty of trivia questions answered along the way, and playlists for sampling the music. Curious readers can find all of his slides here.

The Who

Here’s how Spotify users break down by gender and age:

Gender_Graph Age_Graph

Let’s have some fun with that information. Lamere isolated the music that some people play unusually frequently relative to the rest of the population. You can really get a feel for each of these groups by listening to the music that’s distinctive to them.

18-year-old males love way this more than other people do:



18-year-old females love this way more than other people do:



18-year-old UK females love this way more than other people do:



55-year-old US males love this way more than other people do:



The How

Teenage girls and men in their fifties have quite different taste in music, as noted above. When it comes to how much they listen, older guys play a wider variety of tracks, while teenage girls listen to more music, and a wider variety of artists:


What about the first artists people play when they use Spotify for the first time?

We found that 55-year-old males’ first orders of business are classic rock and Miles Davis:

  1. Led Zeppelin
  2. Miles Davis
  3. Bob Dylan
  4. Bruce Springsteen
  5. Eric Clapton

Meanwhile, 12-17-year-old females first played male groups and female soloists:

  1. One Direction
  2. Beyoncé
  3. Miley Cyrus
  4. A Great Big World
  5. Katy Perry


The What

Deep classifications reflecting what people are choosing when they play a particular track lets us slice up data in different ways. Filtering by demographic listening by genre, for example, reveals the jazz most played by 12-17-year-old females:



The When

Things get another kind of interesting when we add time to the picture. In New York, you can actually see when the ball dropped in Times Square, and people paused their music…




… or how listeners reacted to Super Bowl 2015, with Seattle fans (whose team was on the losing end) returning to Spotify earlier than fans in the other cities, where fans ostensibly lingered for the post-game celebrations and analysis:


Super Bowl


The dips and peaks during the game vary interestingly between the cities as well.

Then, of course, there was the time we followed up on a tweet wondering whether the comet landing boosted plays of “Don’t Want To Miss a Thing.” We found that yes, it did — and also that every big space news event seems to elicit a similar boost:




The Where

Location presents an entirely new way to understand how people listen, from Lamere’s Music Doppler map of the most popular artist in each US state over time, to his widely-disseminated guide to the distinctive artist to each state:




Factoring in where artists are from can tell us which ones are most heavily “imported” into, or out of, a country. Here are Iceland’s biggest musical imports and exports: 






The Why

People play different music in different contexts. When people listen to playlists, their titles sometimes offer insights into why they are might be listening to a particular track. The most popular playlists on Spotify tend to be related to contexts rather than genres:




Here’s an example of a listening context: having that first delicious cup of coffee, when music fans might enjoy a playlist with the word “coffee” in the title, whether made by themselves or another person.

The biggest morning for that kind of listening in the US happens on Fridays in the US — really early in the morning:




Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are most popular for listening to exercise playlists. The most popular evenings are Monday and Tuesday:




The biggest US party night is Saturday:




There’s plenty more in Lamere’s full SXSW presentation.