Music Doppler: Watch Each State’s Favorite Artist Change Over Time

People try to understand the weather by watching precipitation, cloud cover, and storm systems move across a doppler radar map like this one from the National Weather Service: People also decide what to listen to every day. What if we were to view the biggest recording artists like weather systems? Could we observe “Hurricane Lorde” […]

The Most Distinctive ‘Fourth of July’ Songs in 50 U.S. States

(This post originally appeared here.) The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day in the United States, is nearly here. Folks across the country are gearing up for annual barbecues, parties, picnics, firework displays, and, of course, the “American” songs that get queued up more on that day than on any other — although […]

Summer Jams: An Acoustic Analysis

(An earlier version of this post appeared here.) The “summer jam” has been with us for thousands of years. The first documented example, “Sumer Is Icumen In,” dropped in 1260 A.D., probably long before burger first sizzled on grill. Only one thing creates this annual rite of passage, and that’s whether people collectively get together behind […]

7 Decades, 7 Musical Evolutions

(This post originally appeared here.) Humankind has had music for as far back as we’re able to define ourselves as such. Some of that music has always been favored by the other cave people, hunters-and-gatherers, farmers, shamans, and whoever else was hanging around. As society changes, our favorite music changes too, and variations in musical […]

64 Years of Music Innovation in One Playlist

(This post originally appeared here.) There are only 12 notes in all western music. Somehow, musicians have forged those musical chromosomes into millions of recorded-and-released songs in over 1255 distinct genres. Like biological species, artistic movements evolve independently, inter-dependently, and dependent on the environments that shape their development. In the music scene, new “discoveries,” such as […]

Plotting Music’s Emotional Valence, 1950-2013

(This post originally appeared here.) You might remember “valence” from high school chemistry. It has to do with how many electrons an atom will lose, gain, or share when it joins with another atom. Psychologists put a spin on that concept, using the word “valence” to describe whether something is likely to make someone feel […]

Popular Music Has Grown Less Organic Over Time

(This post originally appeared here.) When cave people made the first music by chanting, banging rocks, and so on, music was arguably at its most organic. Ever since, from the invention of rudimentary flutes and drums through to today’s tightly-orchestrated, technically elaborate Las Vegas EDM sets, music has grown more rhythmically precise and artificial sounding. The […]

How Pop Music’s Bounciness Has Shifted Since 1950

(This post originally appeared 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 […]

As The Beat Goes On, It Gets More Accurate

(This post originally appeared here.) The idea of playing music to a click track isn’t new; it predates recording. Composers Beethoven and Salieri were both early proponents of the modern metronome, patented in 1815, which keeps a steady time so that musicians can keep a beat with more accuracy.

Acoustic Instruments: A Tale of Two Millennia

(This post originally appeared here.) When Bob Dylan notoriously went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, his folkie fans freaked. Here was their hero, known for singing solo in the Village with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica around his neck, with an electric Fender Stratocaster, a leather jacket, and a backing band. (At least […]

The Loudness War Is Real and We Can Prove It With Science

(This post originally appeared here.) “Hey, kids, turn it down!” It’s been a popular refrain for decades. As it turns out, there’s something to it. We might more accurately aim that request towards the producers and recording engineers who have packed more and more loudness into popular music, over the course of several decades. The […]

People Liked Their Music Fastest in the ‘80s

(This post originally appeared here.) That the pace of modern life has been accelerating is taken as a given. And in some ways, it’s actually true. Last year, people took 10 percent of all of the photographs ever created in the history of the world. And a mere glimpse at your email, Twitter, and Facebook […]

From Elvis to Miley, Danceability Remains Constant

(This post originally appeared here.) Hemlines rise and fall. Stocks fluctuate. Music styles arise, shift, and combine. One thing that hasn’t changed: how danceable we like our music. From the days when Elvis ruled the airwaves through the hippy ’60s, the smooth rock and disco ’70s, the new wave, synthpop, and hip-hop of the ’80s, the grunge-y […]

Is Music Getting More Energetic Over Time?

(This post originally appeared here.) Does it seem to you that today’s music packs more energy than the music that came out last year, decade, or century? You’re onto something. Chalk it up to music having to compete with an increasing number of distractions, an overall increase in the speed of our lives these days, […]